Bruce Arians won't have a hard time getting his Arizona Cardinals ready to face Indianapolis on Sunday.
Seeing close friend Chuck Pagano and the Colts players he helped guide during an emotional run to the playoffs last season might not be so easy to handle.
Arians tries to lead the Cardinals to a fourth straight victory when he faces the visiting Colts for the first time since leaving them for his first head coaching job.
A veteran NFL offensive coordinator in his first year in that role for Indianapolis last season, Arians earned his current job after guiding the Colts to a 9-3 record as interim coach while Pagano underwent treatment for leukemia.
After going 2-14 in 2011, the Colts went 11-5 and returned to the playoffs in 2012. Arians, who became the first interim to be named Coach of the Year, signed a four-year deal with Arizona (6-4) in January and didn't want an off-field reunion so soon.
"The prep will be easy," Arians told the Cardinals' official website. "It's seeing them that will be emotionally involved because it was such an emotional year last year. You'll get through that hopefully in warmups.
"I was hoping this would never be on the schedule. Because there are too many emotional ties to what happened last year."
Pagano, who has the Colts (7-3) leading the AFC South by three games, knows it's almost impossible to describe the level of gratitude he feels toward Arians and what was accomplished in Indianapolis last season.
"You can't put a price tag on it," Pagano said. "If I've said it once, I've said it 1,000 times, again what he did not only for myself but for this organization, our players, coaches ... him leading the charge. Again, very, very grateful, obviously."
Pagano isn't at all shocked that Arians has turned an Arizona team that went 5-11 in 2012 into a playoff contender this season.
"Just look what he did a year ago, so why would anybody be surprised," Pagano said. "We all know that he's a (darn) good football coach.
"I think our guys are excited to play the Cardinals. It's going to be a tough one. He's got a really good football team, solid in all three phases and well-coached. It will be a great challenge for our team."
Though Arians has an offensive background, the Cardinals are second in the NFL at 81.4 rushing yards allowed per game and ninth at 324.9 total yards given up. They've held their last three opponents to 45.0 yards on the ground and 267.0 total.
Offensively, Carson Palmer might be on the verge of turning things around after going 30 of 42 for 419 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions during last Sunday's 27-14 win at Jacksonville.
Coming off the second-best yardage day of his career, Palmer has completed 68.5 percent of his passes with six TDs and two INTs in the last three games. He completed 60.5 percent with eight touchdowns and 13 picks in the first seven.
"The things that have been biting him have been just one or two poor decisions during the ball game, or getting hit as he's throwing," Arians said. "We were able to eliminate those."
Palmer, however, has posted an 84.0 passer rating with four TDs and four INTs while going 0-3 against the Colts.
Though Indianapolis has won three of four, it's looking for a better start Sunday after falling behind early in the previous three. The Colts trailed 21-3 at halftime of a 27-24 win at Houston on Nov. 3, were hit hard during a 38-8 home loss to St. Louis the next week and needed a 24-point second half to help erase a 14-0 first-quarter hole in a 30-27 victory at Tennessee last Sunday.
'We're not executing in the first half and it's causing us the slow starts," said receiver T.Y. Hilton, who totaled 251 receiving yards against the Texans and Rams before being held to 44 at Tennessee.
"But it is what it is and we're winning, so it's nothing more to talk about."
After throwing three interceptions against St. Louis, Andrew Luck didn't throw a touchdown or a pick against the Titans. Instead, running back Donald Brown paced the offense with a season-high 80 yards and two second-half touchdowns on 14 carries.
Indianapolis gained 137 yards on the ground after rushing for 87 in the previous two games.
Pagano publicly remains confident in Trent Richardson, who gained 22 yards on eight carries at Tennessee. Since being acquired from Cleveland on Sept. 18, Richardson has rushed for 272 yards and two touchdowns in six games, averaging 2.8 yards per carry. However, he's had at least 31 receiving yards in three straight games.
"You look at Trent's runs, for whatever reason, there's penetration," Pagano said. "He had some really good runs, plays that he made in space, screens, things like that he does a great job with.
"Just, for whatever reason, we miss a block here or there and a guy is sitting there free in the hole. We'll get it fixed. We'll get the holes there."
Indianapolis added some depth to the backfield by signing former Steeler Chris Rainey this week.
The Colts will be without linebacker Erik Walden, suspended one game after he ripped off the helmet off Tennessee's Delanie Walker and then head-butted him last weekend.
Indianapolis extended its winning streak over Arizona to four games with a 31-10 road victory in 2009.
The Associated Press News Service
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