One of the best games of Week 16 will take place on Christmas night down in the desert. Indianapolis (8-6) looks to continue its late-season surge toward the top of the AFC South on the road at Arizona (10-4). Both teams are in tight races for their respective division titles and need to win to keep pace with the Titans and Rams.
Jonathan Taylor rushed for 170 yards to further cement his MVP case. The defense shut out the Patriots for the first three quarters as they made rookie quarterback Mac Jones look human for the first time in a while. Darius Leonard set the tone, and the rest of the defense followed his lead in this game. These factors resulted in a 27-17 win over New England.
Offensively, you have to credit head coach Frank Reich and his staff for putting the game in the hands of Taylor and the offensive line. The talk leading up to this game was about Bill Belichick and the Patriots defense shutting down the run, but the offensive line had none of it on Saturday night. Carson Wentz managed the game well, as he only needed to throw 12 passes and had the self-awareness to realize that feeding Taylor was the ticket to victory. The crowd noise was a huge factor and never let the Patriots get comfortable all night long.
While Indianapolis is riding high, Arizona is coming off rough trip to the Motor City as they were demolished 30-12 by the Lions. The Cardinals have lost four out of seven after starting the 2021 season at 7-0. It was the first time in NFL history that a team with just one win defeated an opposing team with 10 or more wins by double digits. That is a testament to Lions head coach Dan Campbell and his staff for having his team ready to play smash-mouth football.
Defensively, Arizona allowed 338 yards and had zero answers once again for Jared Goff, who threw for 216 yards and three touchdowns on the day. Craig Reynolds also caused problems on the ground as he rushed for 112 yards on 26 attempts and a touchdown. All of a sudden, the Cardinals are in a virtual tie for first in the NFC West, with a tiebreaker over the Rams for now based on divisional record.
Indianapolis (8-6) at Arizona (10-4)
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 25 at 8:15 p.m. ET
TV: NFL Network
Spread: Cardinals -1
Three Things to Watch
1. Colts' offense
The best weapon to beat Arizona this week will be Taylor, who continues to emerge as an MVP candidate. This week, Taylor is going up against a vulnerable Cardinals run defense that has allowed 4.6 yards per carry, which ranks 27th in the NFL. Indianapolis has rushed for 2,198 yards a team after 14 games, which leads the NFL. Thus, it's not rocket science that the running game needs to be the priority this week against Arizona.
Success in the running game opens the play-action pass for Wentz to spread the football around to T.Y. Hilton, Michael Pittman Jr., and the rest of the wide receivers. Wentz does need to be more accurate this week and complete around 65 percent of his passes to give the Colts the best chance to win on Saturday. Moving forward, Indianapolis will need Wentz to complete more than five passes to make a deep run in the playoffs, as Head Coach Frank Reich discussed earlier this week.
"I think for us to go where we want to go, there are going to be games where Carson will be the quote-unquote star of the game," Reich said Tuesday, via FOX 59. "I think that'll have to happen.''
2. Can Arizona’s offense get back on track?
Kyler Murray has not been great over the past four games, and the loss of DeAndre Hopkins exacerbated his issues last Sunday. Murray completed 23 of 41 passes for 257 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Murray's accuracy was off, and he also never got comfortable as Detroit did a great job of getting heat on him.
Christian Kirk, Zach Ertz, and A.J. Green combined for a solid for 19 receptions, 232 yards, and a touchdown. However, there was just something missing all day long as the offensive line lost the battle of the line of scrimmage against a physical Detroit defense. Looking ahead to Saturday, it will be crucial for head coach Kliff Kingsbury and the offensive staff to recommit to the run game to set up the pass because this team is at its best when it can do both at a high level.
3. Colts' defense
This group is a salty one led by Leonard who is putting up another All-Pro-caliber season. Leonard has collected 107 tackles, six forced fumbles, and three interceptions with three games left in the regular season. DeForest Buckner is another game wrecker along the defensive line with 55 tackles and 6.5 sacks. Buckner will have to set the tone this week by dominating the offensive line of the Cardinals.
Cornerback Kenny Moore II leads the secondary with 83 tackles and 13 passes defended on the year. Look for Moore to be matched up with Kirk or Green as they hope to take advantage of not having to deal with Hopkins. Stopping the run is another strength of this defense; they have given up 109.6 rushing yards per game and held five of their last seven opponents under the century mark. This week, they must create multiple turnovers and keep Murray contained in the pocket to force him to win the game with his arm.
Taking care of the football will be paramount for both teams, each of whom is in the top four of the league in turnover margin. However, Arizona has a minus-2 margin during its two-game skid, and the Cardinals can't afford to let that trend continue since it will become increasingly important to make the most out of every possession down the stretch.
The Colts need additional balance on offense to win this game, and they will get that done successfully. Wentz will end up completing about 15 or so passes, and Taylor should surpass the 100-yard mark this week as well. That combination will end up being enough for the Colts to grind out a narrow win down in the desert. Look for the heat to crank up a little bit for Kingsbury after this game as the second-half slide continues.