The last thing on a Cardinals fan's mind is the Draft, but Arizona has to stay sharp. With the…
What Will it Take for the Arizona Cardinals?
PREDICTION: Cardinals 27-23
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Eagles don't always run the ball well, but their resurgence has coincided with coach Andy Reid's willingness to filter in some running plays even when the ground game isn't producing much. It will all start up front with the Eagles' veteran offensive line trying to cope with a Cardinals front four that has been dominating the trenches in the postseason. QB Donovan McNabb will play a key role and has the experience to alter his counts and prevent Arizona from keying in on the snap. Reid has also become less predictable on the short-yardage situations that haunted the Eagles through most of the regular season. ... This is a different Cardinals offense than the one the Eagles held to 260 yards and 12 first downs on Thanksgiving.
With RB Edgerrin James forcing defenses to respect the ground game, it has improved pass protection and opened up play-action for QB Kurt Warner. James will be a big factor Sunday because the Eagles have the pass rush to hammer Warner if he is backed into long passing situations. Philadelphia also has a deep group of corners to sick on the Cardinals' receivers. It will be interesting to see how Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson chooses to game plan against WR Larry Fitzgerald, who chewed up Carolina's zone coverage for 150 receiving yards in the first half last Sunday.
KEY INJURIES: Eagles: RB Brian Westbrook (knee) aggravated the injury last Sunday but will play. Cardinals: WR Anquan Boldin (hamstring) won't practice much but has vowed to play; With TE Stephen Spach (knee) out, Leonard Pope will start.
FAST FACTS: Eagles CB Asante Samuel is tied with former Patriots teammate S Rodney Harrison in leading active players with seven career postseason interceptions. The all-time record is nine, held by Charlie Watters, Bill Simpson and Ronnie Lott. ... The Cardinals are the first 9-7 team to play host to a conference championship game.
--RB Brian Westbrook didn't practice again Thursday. Westbrook is trying to get the swelling down on his sore knee. He will play Sunday, though it remains to be seen how effective he will be.
--RT Jon Runyan didn't practice Thursday. He's been playing with a sprained knee for the last two months. He will play Sunday.
--G Shawn Andrews participated in practice on a limited basis Thursday, though he isn't expected to play Sunday against Arizona. There's a chance he might be able to play in the Super Bowl if the Eagles make it. Andrews hasn't played since Week 2 when he injured his back. He had surgery on the back three months ago.
--DE Victor Abiamiri, who missed two games with a sprained foot but returned last week and played a limited number of snaps, practiced Thursday and will play Sunday.
--WR Jason Avant, the team's slot receiver, practiced fully Thursday. He suffered a hyperextended knee in Sunday's win over the Giants. He is expected to play this week.
--WR Larry Fitzgerald has 14 catches for 267 yards and two touchdowns in the two playoff games.
--CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has six interceptions in his last nine games. He is hard to beat deep because of his speed and he's showing greater understanding of defenses.
--WR Anquan Boldin practiced Wednesday and Thursday and should be able to play on Sunday. How much he'll play and how effective he'll be remains in question. Boldin missed last week's game with a strained hamstring.
--LT Mike Gandy has faced two elite pass rushers in the past two weeks but hasn't given up a sack. Atlanta's John Abraham and Carolina's Julius Peppers had just four tackles while playing most of the game against Gandy.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
The Eagles' run game hasn't been very effective in the playoffs, as they've averaged just 2.5 yards per carry in their playoff wins over the Vikings and the Giants.
A big part of the problem has been the health of running back Brian Westbrook. He's been playing with a sore knee that has prevented him from practicing during the week for much of the season. In the five games since registering back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances against the Arizona Cardinals and the Giants, Westbrook has averaged just 2.8 yards per carry.
"Our running game?" offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "It's not very good right now. We have to get better. There are several different factors that come into play there, and I think we'll get better there."
Mornhinweg acknowledged that Westbrook's health is an issue.
"He's been banged up all year," he said. "He's had very little practice all year. You can go on and on and make a lot of excuses for our running game, but we don't do that. We try to make our corrections and get better and move on quick and get to the next game."
Turnovers have played a huge role in the Cardinals' postseason performance, and some adjustments on both sides of the ball are part of the reason.
The Cardinals committed two turnovers in their two playoff games, but their opponents have nine, including seven interceptions. There are a couple reasons for the favorable ratio.
On offense, the Cardinals have become more committed to the running game. They managed to gain enough yards on the ground to keep teams honest, and it has opened up the play-action plays.
Because linebackers and the secondary have to respect the run, quarterback Kurt Warner is freezing them with play-action and he has had plenty of time to throw. Less pressure has equated to fewer turnovers.
Defensively, the nine forced turnovers are a result of better play along the front line and a secondary that has learned how to play together.
Defensive ends Antonio Smith and Darnell Dockett have made plays that changed the course of the two playoff games. End Bertrand Berry has sacks in each game, and nose tackle Bryan Robinson has been a force inside.
The emergence of rookie cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has given the team a high-end cover corner, something it has lacked for years. He has interceptions in each of the playoff games, as does nickel corner Ralph Brown.
Brown's plays give coaches the option of keeping Antrel Rolle at free safety instead of dropping him down to cover the slot receiver.
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