A glance at five top storylines for Sunday's Cardinals-Colts game at University of Phoenix Stadium:
- Beating back emotions
The fact it is the coaches who feel the most emotion in this game probably bodes well for the game itself; There shouldn't be much drama other than two teams fighting for a playoff spot. One of the things that struck me about the Pagano-Arians-Colts story this week: Colts-turned-Cards-assistant James Bettcher saying last year's journey was a once in a lifetime thing. Now, it's about the football.
- Run to daylight
Fourteen yards on 24 carries is about as ugly as it gets anyway, and to have it come in an actual win, well, the Cardinals are living right. But as soon as last week's game ended in Jacksonville there wasn't a player or coach who understood the bullet dodged. The Cardinals' running game had been better before last week's debacle. Andre Ellington and Rashard Mendenhall have to right that going forward. You don't want Robert Mathis able to know he can just pin his ears back every play.
- Getting Lucky
The Colts, despite the massive disappointment of Trent Richardson, have been able to run the ball a bit. Reggie Wayne's injury dented Indy's receiving corps. But the Colts' offense still revolves around quarterback Andrew Luck, and his already star-like ability to create plays and lead the Colts back whenever he needs to do so. Can the Cards pressure him enough? The Cardinals lead the NFC with passes defensed and interceptions combined (82 according to Stats, Inc.) and the sacks have been coming via John Abraham (seven in four games). Creating havoc will be crucial.
- The irresistible force vs. the immovable object
You know what the Cardinals do very well? Adjust at halftime with their defense and shut down the other team. You know what the Colts do very well? Adjust at halftime with their offense and score a bunch of second –half points. Something, you would think, has to give. That may lie in the location of the game, since the Cardinals are playing at University of Phoenix Stadium and the vibe should be playoff-like. It's hard to see either team getting a big lead by halftime, so the second half should be set up to determine which second-half unit is better.
- Every game is the playoffs
Bruce Arians said it after the Jacksonville game: Every game is the playoffs. Colts coach Chuck Pagano is telling his team something similar (although the Colts have built up such a cushion with their AFC South lead a loss this weekend would not hurt as much as a Cards' loss would). The Cards were dealt a blow last week when the Patriots could not beat the Panthers, and even with a three-game winning streak the Cardinals are still fighting uphill to qualify for a playoff spot. Larry Fitzgerald called this a must-win, and in many ways, it is -- at least, if the Cards don't want to make that climb much steeper.