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Gene Wang
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Gene Wang

A sports staff writer at The Washington Post

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The Arizona Cardinals' surprising run to the NFC championship game is a nice story. Good for Kurt Warner that he gets another chance to go to the Super Bowl. Great for the state of Arizona that its professional football team is no longer a laughingstock.
Enjoy this feel-good moment for now, because it ends on Sunday.

The Cardinals were puffing their chests after beating Carolina 33-13 in the NFC semifinals over the weekend. Darnell Dockett was particularly dismissive of the criticism of Arizona's defense, sarcastically telling a reporter the Panthers had run all over the Cardinals and both Carolina running backs must have gained 100 yards each.

The reality is Arizona won that game mostly because it caught Jake Delhomme on the worst day of his professional career. A college defense could have stood up to the Panthers offense the way Delhomme was carelessly delievering his throws.

That's not going to happen on Sunday when the Cardinals host playoff-tested Philadelphia. Remember the last time these teams met? It wasn't all that long ago. Thanksgiving actually. In case you need a refresher, the Eagles dropped 48 points on that suspect Arizona defense and won by 28. They racked up 437 total yards, including 185 rushing yards.

To yield that many rushing yards to Philadelphia, a team that throws 60 percent of the time, is almost unthinkable. To put how bad the Cardinals defense played into perspective, consider the Eagles' rushing total from that game was almost 80 yards more than their regular season average of 106, which ranked 22nd in the league.

That's the same Arizona defense that gave up 37 points to the New York Giants one week earlier, 35 to Minnesota in Week 15 and 47 to New England in Week 16. The Cardinals haven't exactly been the 1985 Chicago Bears.

Even in the postseason, the Cardinals have skated by because they faced a rookie quarterback in the first round and mistake-prone veteran quarterback this past weekend.
Arizona deserves a lot of credit for proving the doubters wrong so far in the playoffs. The Cardinals defense, however, can't suddenly go from mediocre (19th in the NFL during the regular season) to outstanding, and it will be Arizona's downfall on Sunday.

By Gene Wang  |  January 13, 2009; 6:35 AM ET  | Category:  Arizona Cardinals , Philadelphia Eagles Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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