GLENDALE, Ariz. – Scrape away the emotion surrounding Indianapolis vs. Arizona and there's a potentially good football game going on between two winning teams.
The story line is obvious.
A year ago, Indianapolis' Chuck Pagano was stricken with leukemia and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was promoted to interim coach. The Colts went 9-3 under Arians and made the playoffs. He won Coach of the Year.
Then, thanks to the job he did in Pagano's absence, Arians at age 60 finally got to be a head coach, without the interim tag, with the Arizona Cardinals.
"It was a very tight group," Arians said. "You don't accomplish what they accomplished last year without holding each other accountable and having a common cause. It was very special."
But now there is a football game to be played.
Arians brings the Cardinals (6-4) into Sunday's contest on a three-game winning streak that has them just a game behind the wild-card leader in the NFC, Carolina. The Colts, bounced 38-8 by another NFC West team, St. Louis, two weeks ago, will play for the first time in 10 days following a 30-27 Thursday night win at Tennessee. Indianapolis (7-3) has opened a three-game lead in the AFC South.
There's a lot of personal knowledge of the opponent on both sides of the field.
"They're going to know us, we're going to know them," said Arizona left tackle Bradley Sowell, who played for the Colts last season. "It's just going to be whoever prepares better for what we're doing currently."
Here are five things to watch when the Colts play Arizona:
ARIZONA'S LINE AGAINST MATHIS : Linebacker Robert Mathis leads the NFL with 13 1-2 sacks, more than half Indianapolis' team total of 26.
"He's like the Energizer Bunny. He never stops," Cardinals offensive coordinator Archie Goodwin said. "That guy goes constantly going every play. When he gets tired, he goes out and then he comes back even stronger."
The job of slowing him often will fall to the inexperienced Sowell, but he may not have to do it alone, at least not every time.
"Obviously we've got to try to get the tackles some help, be it with someone else on the offensive line or with the backs," Goodwin said. "It's like (Dwight) Freeney back in the day. The spin move's hard to stop, but we've got to do it."
LUCK VS. HIS MENTOR: One of the main reasons Arians took the job of offensive coordinator with the Colts last season was the chance to work with such a talented young quarterback. He had some experience doing that with a young Peyton Manning and later Ben Roethlisberger.
Arians said a lot of people don't realize how athletic Oliver Luck is.
"That's the part that everyone overlooks," Arians said. "When you go back to the combine, his numbers were the same as Cam Newton's. He ran as fast, jumped as high, was maybe about a half-inch shorter, so it's the same athlete as Cam is, but you don't hear about him in that light."
How much did Luck learn from Arians?
"A lot," the Colts quarterback said. "Maturity-wise, I think, how consistent you need to be in the NFL, how long of a season and how just to approach work every day. I learned a lot inside of football and a lot outside of football from him, and really feel very thankful that I got to work with him for that year."
ARIZONA'S OFFENSE: While the Cardinals' ground game was virtually inert (13 yards), Carson Palmer had one of the best days of his career in last Sunday's 27-13 victory over Jacksonville. The 11-year veteran quarterback completed 40 of 52 passes for 419 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. The stats included a 91-yard scoring pass to Michael Floyd.
The goal is to keep the offensive momentum going.
"Finally our offense is starting to come along, playing at the same level our defense is," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "Our defense has played tremendous throughout the course of the season. Now we're scoring more points."
RICHARDSON'S RUNS: Much has been made of the lack of productivity of Trent Richardson after the 2012 first-round draft pick was acquired from Cleveland. Richardson has carried the ball 96 times for 272 yards, an average of 2.8 yards per carry. Teammate Donald Brown, on the other hand, has far fewer carries (55) and more yards (323), an average of 5.9 per attempt.
"Trent's doing everything within his power to make things go," Pagano said. "Trent's as frustrated as anybody, but again, Trent's a pretty even-keeled guy, and he knows, and I know ... and I think it's just a matter of time."
Arizona has the No. 2-ranked run defense in the NFL.
ABSENT COLT: The Colts will be without linebacker Eric Walden, suspended for a game for ripping the helmet off Tennessee's Delanie Walker and head-butting him.
Two other Indianapolis defensive starters, cornerback Greg Toler (groin) and safety LaRon Landry (toe), also missed practice during the week.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
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