January 17, 2009

NFC Championship Game: What To Watch For

The NFC Championship game is a sad reminder for us Skins fans. Yes, we did beat the Cardinals and sweep the Eagles this season. Like them we did have our ups and downs. However, these guys won at all the right times while the Skins choked away a huge start. Thus, Arizona will be hosting Philly for the the NFC Championship game.

The fans will definitely play a big factor. It's a domed stadium and the fans will be loud. You can say what you want about the bandwagon fans, but bandwagon or not, more bodies in the seats means more noise in the stadium.

Now for the game itself. The Eagles create turnovers by blitzing the hell out of opposing QBs. Kurt Warner has been rarely touched in the postseason thus far, but if you pressure him mistakes could happen. Warner isn't known for protecting the football when he gets hit, but if he gets time he has the talent and the weapons to destroy a secondary.

So the big question is will the Eagles blitz?

My answer it's Jim Johnson; there will be blitzing.

Will the Eagles get to Warner? My guess is yes. The Eagles defense is playing at high level right now and they know that getting pressure on Warner could essentially decided the game. A few turnovers could set the Eagles offense up on a short field, and keep the defense energized.

The Cardinals have been running the ball effectively during the postseason, but it is their passing game that sets it up. If the Eagles bring pressure and are successful in defending the pass, Arizona will have a hard time getting the ground game going.

Larry Fitzgerald will require constant double-teaming which could open up the field for Anquan Boldin. Boldin's hamstring will play a huge factor in his performance and could be the difference in whether or not the Cardinals can make plays on offense.

For the Eagles, they must contain Fitzgerald and put pressure on Warner. I fully expect them to get to Warner to a certain extent. The big thing is staunch play in the secondary when Warner has time to throw.

On offense, Philly has to get a big game from Brian Westbrook. Westbrook has been very quiet aside from his backbreaking TD run in the Vikings game two weeks ago, but now is the time he needs to step up again.

The Cards will most probably stick one of their big athletes on Westbrook which means we could very well see Adrian Wilson, Antrel Rolle, or Karlos Dansby taking Westbrook for much of the game.

Westbrook can really catch fire and become unstoppable so the Cards need to shut him down early and often. The Eagles will undoubtedly move him around the field looking to create matchup problems for the Cards so the defense will have to aware of where he is at all times.

Correll Buckhalter has also been a threat this season. He has a nice burst and can really catch a defense off guard. He play more impressively than defenses think. A reprieve from Westbrook might not be a good thing for Arizona. Both running backs must be shut down wherever they line up and they must be contained whether they take hand-offs or catch passes. Both are dangerous.

Donovan has also been dangerous as of late. He has taken off with the ball more and has been able get all his weapons involved. Jason Avant, Kevin Curtis, Desean Jackson and others have been seeing the ball come their way. Arizona has a great shutdown corner in Dominique Rogers-Cromartie who can run with the best of them. Look for him to matchup with Jackson. Rod Hood has been playing well this postseason, but he can be picked on.

The Cardinal linebackers have impressed me the past few weeks with some smart coverage plays and the like. They need to be aware of the running backs and D-Mac's movements, which I think they should be able to do.

The game is a tough one to pick as both teams had so many weaknesses until two weeks ago. I really didn't buy either team until last week, but they are now in the Championship.

I think the Eagles matchup well with the Cards especially with their blitz scheme. Warner will struggle mightily if they can get to him often. But the energy will be high and the crowd electric. I think this Arizona team is playing solidly enough on defense to keep it close and Warner has too many options to fail. He'll struggle, but in the end the Eagles will be unable to contain all the playmakers.

I'll go with the Cards 24-20.

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