Anatomy of a Play: Slowing down Cards' dynamic passing game

Statistically, the Arizona Cardinals have one of the best passing offenses in NFL history and Kurt Warner is one of two quarterbacks this season (New Orleans' Drew Brees is the other) who are on pace to break Dan Marino's NFL single-season passing record of 5,084 yards.

Anatomy of a Play


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Two of Arizona's wide receivers, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, rank first and second in the NFC in receptions, with 73 and 72, respectively. They have a combined 1,889 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Last weekend, the New York Giants became the first team to hold Warner to a passer rating of less than 80.0. Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is a former assistant coach for the Philadelphia Eagles under defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, and possesses a similar style in both scheme and design.

Spagnuolo and Johnson also have a knack for taking away what an opponent loves to do in the passing game.

The Giants effectively took away many of Warner's staple throws, most of all, the intermediate dig route -- an in-breaking pattern typically caught between 15 and 20 yards downfield. No one throws this route better than Warner, and the Cardinals have made a killing on it this season.

With a combination of pressure and coverage, New York limited Warner's opportunities to complete these in-breaking routes, and forced two turnovers in situations where Warner was looking for them.

The Eagles are also good at taking away the staples of an opposing team's passing game. A prime example took place in Week 10 against the Giants.

One of New York's staples is what is called the "Flat-Curl/Seam-Seal" combination, where a running back runs into the flat, a receiver runs a curl, and the tight end runs up the seam. Eli Manning loves this pattern like Warner loves the dig. The Eagles knew Manning would try to throw it early and often, and they effectively took the combination away with coverage and pressure.

It will be interesting to see if Philadelphia can get to Warner in the same manner New York did. With the Eagles struggling badly on offense, their defense must find a way to slow down Warner and Arizona's dynamic passing game if they hope to beat the Cardinals.

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