Indianapolis Colts at Arizona Cardinals
The Indianapolis Colts are surging. The Arizona Cardinals are not. However, it’s the Cardinals who can — for a third consecutive week — clinch a playoff spot, while the Colts must continue their hot streak to stay within the AFC playoff bubble. It will be a star-studded affair that features a league-high seven Pro Bowl selections on Indy and four more from Arizona. With playoff implications aplenty and no shortage of star power, the most enticing aspect still might well be Jonathan Taylor taking center stage on a Saturday night for a second consecutive week. What does the 2021 season’s most dynamic talent have in store? Well, it’s definitely one of many reasons to watch the Colts-Cards showdown.
Here are three things to watch for when the Cardinals host the Colts:
Another Taylor-made Saturday night. This season has largely been a Taylor tour de force, but it reached a new decibel level in a Week 15 Saturday evening showcase in which Taylor exploded for a 67-yard touchdown run to trample the Patriots. With fantasy footballers in their postseasons and the Colts looking to inch closer to their postseason, Taylor’s Saturday encore is a salivating proposition. The leading Pro Bowl vote-getter and MVP candidate leads the NFL in rushing yards (1,518), rushing touchdowns (17), scrimmage yards (1,854) and scrimmage TDs (19). Taylor’s found the end zone in 11 consecutive games. Perhaps not coincidentally, Taylor did not score in the Colts’ first three games as they got off to an 0-3 start. Of all of Taylor’s amazing numbers, perhaps most astonishing is he’s only 22 years old. A season ago, Saints star running back Alvin Kamara lit up Christmas night with six touchdowns, tying the all-time mark for rushing scores in a game. Surely another performance such as that isn’t in store for the holiday. Then again, Taylor’s ability to break a big run at any time has been thrilling to watch and anticipate all season long. If nothing else, Taylor will make for must-see viewing as the Cardinals do their darndest to stop him from being the running back who keeps on giving all night long.
Will ball bounce Kyler, Cardinals’ way? Once upon a time, the Cardinals were the last undefeated team in the league. Now, Kyler Murray and the Cards have lost their last two, both of which prevented them from clinching a playoff berth. A week after getting upset by a then-one-win Detroit Lions team, Murray and Co. will face a red-hot Colts squad that features the league’s most consistently opportunistic defense. Indianapolis is the only team to have forced a turnover in each game this season and shares the NFL lead with 31 takeaways. In a mind-spinning stat, the Cardinals lead the league with 26 fumbles, but have lost a league-low three as part of 14 total giveaways. In the three games since Murray returned from his ankle injury, Arizona has gone 1-2 and the QB has thrown three touchdowns and three interceptions. After losing five of their last seven a season ago, the Cardinals and Murray will have that shadow of collapse surrounding them until they’re able to get that elusive victory that sends them to the postseason for the first time since 2015. It could happen Saturday night — or the Colts could take it away.
Can Wentz win it if Cardinals focus on Taylor? Though Murray is the face of the Cardinals’ franchise, the Arizona defense has quietly been an impressive entity this season. Featuring Pro Bowlers Chandler Jones and Budda Baker, the Cardinals defense is seventh in total D, fifth in scoring and fifth against the pass. It has, however, been susceptible to the run (tied for 17th), which bodes poorly when attempting to corral Taylor. The unheralded Craig Reynolds had 112 yards rushing for the Lions in their Week 15 upset of the Cardinals. Colts head coach Frank Reich has made it known he realizes QB Carson Wentz will have to be the “star of the game” for Indy a time or two. It would be unsurprising to see Arizona defensive coordinator Vance Joseph put an onus on slowing Taylor. And, in turn, the Cardinals might very well force Wentz, who went just 5 of 12 for 57 yards a week ago, to beat them.