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More than ever, Cardinals must lean on defense

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More than ever, Cardinals must lean on defense

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Cardinals have switched quarterbacks. Their sieve of an offensive line shows no sign of improving. They have scored a combined 19 points in the last two games. They rank 31st out of 32 NFL teams in offense.

Clearly, the Cardinals must lean on their defense now more than ever.

As they head to Minnesota to face the surprising Vikings, the Cardinals are the only team in the NFL not to give up more than 21 points in a game this season. That is, Arizona defensive coordinator Ray Horton says, the most significant of all defensive stats.

``Really that's probably the only stat that should be measured,'' he said after Friday's practice, ``because you can skew them by yards because when you're ahead by 42 points or whatever the case may be, it's not really a justification of what is the best defense. Obviously, the deal is whether you score more points or less points than they do.''

The defense has been consistently effective despite a string of injuries to important players.

Tackle Darnell Dockett sat out the Miami game because of a hamstring injury, only the second game he has missed in his pro career. One of the team's defensive leader, Dockett wasn't particularly effective in the two games since then but says he's at full strength for this one.

Strong safety Adrian Wilson sat out the Philadelphia game with ankle and groin injuries, ending a streak of 62 consecutive games played.

Free safety Kerry Rhodes is out against Minnesota because of a back injury.

Cornerback Greg Toler missed the opener while recovering from knee surgery, then went out with a hamstring injury last Sunday against Buffalo and is doubtful for Sunday.

Horton had talked in training camp about the improved depth on defense. It's a belief that's being tested.

``Three months ago we talked about the depth all across the board,'' Horton said. ``Hopefully, we're built where we're not a house of cards, where if one guy gets hurt it's doom and gloom, and I don't think we are built that way.''

The Cardinals' defense ranks 10th in yards allowed, the offense is 31st in yards gained.

Yet questions that even vaguely compare the two units are not appreciated by at least some of the defensive players.

``I'm tired of people talking about defense this and defense that,'' Dockett said. ``At the end of the day we're a team. They (the offense) have a job to do and we have a job to do. We've got to just continue to play together and not listen to people talk about defense, defense has got to be the backbone - defense, defense, defense. Man, we're a team.''

The Vikings matchup features 4-2 teams, although the Cardinals have lost consecutive games at St. Louis and at home against Buffalo, a team they were favored to beat by nearly a touchdown. They go to Minnesota a decided underdog.

Inside linebacker Paris Lenon knows from 10 years of NFL experience that once one unit starts pointing fingers at the other, things go downhill in a hurry. Yet this defense, he acknowledges, has developed a sense of pride.

``You can't have us versus them,'' Lenon said. ``We are the Arizona Cardinals, collectively. It's not the Arizona Cardinals defense and Arizona Cardinals offense. We're a team. We win as a team, we lose as a team. But we realize we've started something defensively and we want to live up to that standard every week.''

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1.16.18: Rick Horrow sits down with Paul Tagliabue, former NFL commissioner

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USA TODAY Sports

1.16.18: Rick Horrow sits down with Paul Tagliabue, former NFL commissioner

By Rick Horrow

Podcast editor: Tanner Simkins

Rick Horrow sits down with Paul Tagliabue, former NFL commissioner, and takes you through the biggest stories in sports business.

  • LISTEN TO THE FULL PODCAST HERE.
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    • Ahead of this weekend’s big matchups, the NFL and Intuit Inc announced that as part of their multi-year official sponsor partnership, Intuit TurboTax Live will serve as the first-ever presenting sponsor of both the AFC and NFC Championship Games. As a part of the sponsorship, TurboTax Live branding will be featured during the 2019 AFC and NFC Championship Games as well as within ancillary programming and content across league broadcast and digital media platforms. “We’re proud to have Intuit as the NFL’s first-ever presenting sponsor for both AFC and NFC Championship games,” said Renie Anderson, NFL Senior Vice President, NFL Partnerships, Sponsorship and Consumer Products. “Intuit has a longstanding reputation as a leader in the financial and accounting software industry that NFL fans recognize and trust this time of year.” Beyond the presenting sponsorship of both 2019 AFC and NFC Championship games, Intuit also becomes the NFL’s official sponsor for financial and accounting software, as well as tax preparation services.
    • This year’s Indianapolis 500 “will pay special tribute” to Mario Andretti and the 50th anniversary of his only Indy 500 win in 1969. According to the Allentown Morning Call, Andretti’s 50th anniversary celebration will include a “commemorative logo that will be used on the cover of the race program, on special merchandise and other places to celebrate the anniversary,” and the “coveted bronze badges that have long served as credentials that allow garage and pit lane access will feature Andretti.” Beginning May 1, the IMS Museum “will feature a special Andretti section devoted to his entire career.” Because Andretti is “still so involved in IndyCar Series racing,” he will “be around IMS almost all of May.” IndyCar CEO Mark Miles said that he "hopes to make a formal announcement” about a new series title sponsor next month; NTT Data reportedly is in talks as a potential replacement for Verizon. Andretti Autosport, home of rising IndyCar star Zach Veach, will obviously be front and center throughout the May celebration.
    • Thuuz Sports, using their custom designed algorithms to measure real time global event excitement, determined that the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints were the most exciting teams throughout the NFL regular season. The Kansas City Chiefs’ record-setting game with the Los Angeles Rams was the most exciting regular season game of 2018. In terms of most exciting teams, the Eagles and Saints were the only teams to have eight games register as “GREAT” on the excitement scale. KC had seven Great Games make the list, while three non-playoff teams – Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay – joined the Rams with six Great Games each. The measurement scores were done on a 0 to 100 scale and take into consideration game pace, team parity, play novelty, momentum shifts, social buzz, and historical context. Coming soon: Thuuz’ evaluation of this year’s thrilling NFL post season matchups, as well as Super Bowl LIII.

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Capitals vs. Islanders: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

Capitals vs. Islanders: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

Making his return to Capital One Arena, Barry Trotz will lead his New York Islanders against the Washington Capitals. 

It will be the first time Trotz sees the Stanley Cup banner in person and the second time that he will go at odds with his former team. 

But as things stand for both teams, they are going in opposite directions. The Isles are one of the hottest teams in the league, winners of 12 of their last 16 contests.  Washington quite possibly has hit their post-Stanley Cup hangover, and is 4-4-2 in their last 10. 

These two teams met up earlier this season and they already gave Trotz his ring, but the Caps got the victory. With the way the two teams are trending right now in the Metro division, Trotz may get his revenge. 

Here is everything you need to know about the Friday night game, which takes place at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington.

CAPITALS vs. ISLANDERS HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals vs. New York Islanders Game 47 of the 2018-19 NHL Regular Season

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington D.C.

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: The Capitals vs. Islanders game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington

Live Stream: You can live stream Capitals vs. Islanders on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.

Radio: Caps 24/7 Radio, 106.7 The Fan FM

CAPITALS at ISLANDERS TV SCHEDULE

6:30 PM: Caps Faceoff Live
7:00 PM: Caps Pregame Live
7:30 PM: Capitals vs. Islanders
10:00 PM: Caps Postgame Live
10:30 PM: Caps Overtime Live
11:00 PM: D.C. Sports Live

CAPITALS vs. ISLANDERS INJURY REPORT:

Capitals: Christian Djoos (leg, Injured Reserve)

Islanders: Thomas Hickey (upper body, day-to-day), Andrew Ladd (lower body, Injured Reserve)

CAPITALS vs. ISLANDERS PLAYERS TO WATCH

Braden Holtby, G, Capitals (17-10-2, 2.80 GAA): Holtby missed the past two games for Caps due to an eye injury he suffered on Jan. 12 against Columbus. His status is still up in the air for this matchup, but in the past 150+ minutes (2.5 games) without Holtby the team has allowed 12 goals.

Alex Ovechkin, F, Capitals (33 G, 19 A, 52 Pts): As much as the defense has struggled, so has the offense. Four goals in the past three games is all the Caps can muster, with one of the four coming off of the stick of Ovechkin. He has not been the reason for the lack of the offense, but Ovi needs to get them out of the funk. 

Robin Lehner, G, Islanders (13-7-3, 2.16 GAA): Dominating is all that Lehner has been doing for the Isles as of late and is a huge part of their comeback. When he's made it on the ice, the team has won nine of their last 10. His GAA is tops in the NHL and his save percentage (.928) is second. Not a good recipe for a Caps team that has trouble finding the net. 

CAPITALS vs. ISLANDERS SERIES HISTORY

Number of all-time Meetings: 252 (37 postseason)

All-Time Series Record: Capitals lead 124-115-13

Regular Season Record: Capitals lead 108-94-13

Playoff Record: Islanders lead 21-16

Last Meeting: Caps win 4-1 OT (11/26/18)

Last 10: Capitals lead 6-4

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