Key matchups to watch in Week 16

The Indianapolis Colts (8-6) have a big prime-time matchup awaiting them Saturday night when they visit the Arizona Cardinals (10-4) at State Farm Stadium.

While the Colts are 7-2 in their last nine games, surging toward the top wild-card spot, the Cardinals are 3-4 in their last seven games after a brilliant 7-0 start to the season.

With two explosive offenses, this game should be plenty fun to watch. As most games do, it will come down to a handful of matchups within the matchup on Saturday night.

Here are some key matchups to watch between the Colts and Cardinals in Week 16:

Colts DT DeForest Buckner vs. Cardinals G/C Max Garcia

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It remains to be seen if starting center Rodney Hudson will be activated from the COVID-19 list for this game. Regardless, this is a matchup that will help determine the outcome for the Colts.

If Buckner can have one of his take-over games on the interior against Garcia, who is questionable with a knee injury, the defense should find plenty of success against Kyler Murray. With interior pressure and contain rushes from the edge, the blueprint for stopping Murray is there.

But the Colts need their Pro-Bowl defensive tackle to take over this game in the trenches.

Colts S Khari Willis vs. Cardinals TE Zach Ertz

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It is no secret that the Colts have been brutal against the tight end position this season and even though Ertz may be entering the twilight of his career, he’s still a threat that needs to be accounted for.

Entering this week, the Colts have allowed the most receiving yards (947), second-most receptions (89) and fourth-most touchdowns to tight ends. They just saw Hunter Henry post a monster game against them in Week 16. No doubt, the Cardinals took notice of that.

Willis won’t be in charge of covering Ertz on every snap. It will be a collective effort from the zone-heavy defense. But when Willis is lined up on the veteran tight end, he must keep Ertz from wrecking this game.

Colts QB Carson Wentz vs. Cardinals’ blitz

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This is a big deal every week because opposing defenses are more likely to try their luck against Wentz when it comes to stacking the box and sending extra defenders.

It makes sense right now. Put an extra defender in the box with an assignment of stopping the run and blitzing if it’s a dropback. Wentz has struggled for the majority of the season identifying blitzes, setting the right protection or finding his hot read. Don’t be surprised if the Cardinals try to exploit this.

This is especially true considering the Cardinals have the fourth-highest blitz rate (32.9%) in the NFL.

Wentz has to prove he can put the offense on his back for a complete game before the playoffs get here and this just may be the matchup to do it.

Colts’ interior OL vs. Cardinals’ interior DL

AP Photo/AJ Mast

This is the matchup that will likely determine the game. The Colts will be starting three backups on the interior as two of their starters miss due to COVID-19 and another due to a personal matter.

The Colts are still in a solid position with their run game on the interior. Danny Pinter has proven to be a viable option at center while Matt Pryor and Chris Reed excel at moving defenders in the run game. The Colts can still win between the tackles.

But the Cardinals will be selling out to stop the run so these three will have to step up their game against Arizona’s front seven.

Colts WR Michael Pittman Jr. vs. Cardinals’ Byron Murphy Jr.

AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith

Two young players going at it should make this a fun matchup to watch. While Pittman Jr.’s production has tailed off a little bit, he’s still the leader in the passing game.

According to Pro Football Focus, Murphy Jr. has allowed 41 receptions on 65 targets for 501 yards and three touchdowns. His 76.5 passer rating in coverage is right around where Kenny Moore II finds himself.

It won’t be an easy matchup for Pittman Jr. to win but the second-year breakout will be a vital X-factor in this game if the Colts have to lean on the pass a little bit more than they intend to.

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