There’s been a lot of talk this week of how much like the Steelers the Cardinals are in their scheme and style, and thus it’s been helpful to take a look back at the Pats games against Pittsburgh recently to get a sense of what the game plan might be.
The tough thing is that the Pats are one of the few teams not afraid to try and run on the Steelers. In 2010 the Pats averaged 4.3 yards per carry and went over 100 yards. But will they be willing to do the same thing against Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell, the unquestionable strongholds of the Cardinals D? Tough to say, especially since they lack a true power back like they had with Benjarvus Green-Ellis who pounded the Steelers in 2010.
Offensively the one element that has almost always been present against the Steelers is the use of misdirection and trick plays, most memorably the Brady-Moss-Brady-Gaffney TD bomb from 2007. This can be a good way to get an over-aggressive defense to hurt themselves, and it’s a safe bet the Pats will have some surprises ready for the Cardinals.
But the biggest element offensively to me seems that we should expect a lot of spread and hurry up. The Cardinals would love nothing more than to line up across from the Pats and have a drag-out fight, and what the Pats usually do against teams like that is never give them a chance to get settled.
Force Campbell and Dockett to be on their heels, spread their defense out and pick the best match-up. So for this reason I think it’s safe to say we’ll see a lot more of Wes Welker this week.
Defensively I think we’ll continue to see what we’ve seen all year from the Pats. Their Double Nose 4-3 was dominant against the Titans in every facet so there’s no reason to try and protect that from the Cardinals running or passing games.
The most interesting match-up of the day will of course be Larry Fitzgerald against the Pats secondary. We can’t forget New England was the worst team in the NFL last year against #1 wide receivers, so this is a real chance to show some improvement over 2011.
The question will be if they try to match up one DB the whole time on him, or maintain sides like they usually do and just try to execute regardless of who is on him.
There’s no question that Pittsburgh is a more talented team than Arizona, especially on offense, but the principals that have made the Patriots so successful against Pittsburgh (6 wins, 3 losses since the 2001 AFCCG) should remain in place. There’s a reason the Patriots have lit up the vaunted Steelers defense more than anyone else, they know how to play against them. It’s just a matter of execution, just like it will be Sunday.