As required by the NFL blogger code of content here are our five key areas to watch this weekend when the New England Patriots take on the Arizona Cardinals.
1. Challenge the edges of the Cardinals defense - There’s no question the strength of the Cardinals defense is along their defensive line, but their outside linebackers struggled in week one. Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield are inexperienced and haven’t seen a precision offensive attack like the Pats’ blitzkreig. The Patriots were extremely successful against the Titans running Stevan Ridley at the edges and I’d expect that to continue this week. So whether it’s on the ground or through the air, challenging the outside linebackers looks like the way to go, especially if we can get them matched up on Gronk or Hernando. What they’ll want to avoid is trying to run right into the teeth of Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, and Darnell Dockett.
2. Jam Larry - I’m most looking forward to seeing how the Pats take away the Cardinals top weapon, Larry Fitzgerald. Regardless if they have one cornerback on him regardless of where he lines up or just roll coverage to him it will be important to be physical with him at the line of scrimmage. A common strategy against the Pats defense is to attack them with short passes and with Kevin Kolb’s experience in the west coast offense in Philly I’d expect we’ll see a good deal of this from the Cardinals. The Patriots defense cannot allow Fitz to make quick catches and then make plays with his feet. Force Kolb to hold the ball, and allow some time for the pass rush to get there. If Larry is given a cushion he’s going to eat us alive.
3. Spread and Dead - The Cardinals defense cannot be allowed dictate what they want to do. Going to the no-huddle will allow the Pats to counter the defense’s aggressiveness, while also testing the conditioning of the Cardinals d-line and the communication amongst some of the more inexperienced players. I’d expect this means a little more of Woodhead than we saw last week, but Ridley should still get his fair share of touches. This could also be where we truly see how close Brady and Brandon Lloyd are to being on the same page. Don’t be surprised to see Wes Welker with 8+ catches either.
4. Protect our Tommy - Yes, this is somewhat of a generic key but it’s really true for this weekend. Campbell and Dockett combined for 10 QB pressures and 4 sacks against the Seahawks. Using the no-huddle can help keep them at bay, but the Patriots offensive line must play up to the task. There’s no secret that when teams get to Brady the Pats offense becomes very ordinary. The Cardinals will throw a fair share of blitzes as well so the communication must be airtight. The entire key to the Cardinals game plan should be to get to Brady by any means necessary, and it’s up to the o-line to make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s a new group, and Dan Connolly may or may not be out there. This will be an excellent test for them, against an experienced and physical three-man front.
5. Win - As always, this is all that matters. The Pats have always been tough to beat in Foxboro and the last thing they want to do is allow an NFC West team to come in and push them around on their turf. We know they’re probably due for a dud sometime in September but with a challenging three weeks ahead the Pats can’t afford to slip up against a team they should really beat.