Week Two: Arizona Cardinals (1-0) at New England Patriots (1-0)
Sunday September 16 at 1:00 p.m. ET in Foxboro
TV: FOX ch 25 (limited national distribution), DTV channel 706
Announcers: Dick Stockton (play by play), John Lynch (analysis), Jennifer Hale (sideline)
Radio: 98.5 and the Patriots Radio Network; Sirius 91, XM 228 (internet 818)
Odds: Pats favored by 13½ (opened at 12½); over/under 48½ (opened at 48)
Franchise history: series tied at 6-6; Pats won last meeting in 2008, 47-7
Patriots offense versus Cardinals defense
Arizona does have a very good defensive line, with DE Calais Campbell, DT Dan Williams and DE Darnell Dockett up front. The Cardinals have won eight of their last ten games and it’s been all because of their defense; those three are the engine that makes this unit click. They give Arizona a puncher’s chance of winning this game if they can cause a couple of turnovers. The woes of the 2012 Pats offensive line are well documented but they performed much better at Tennessee than they had all preseason. This will be a good test for the Pats OL in preparation for next week’s game at Baltimore, as Dockett and Campbell will be selling out to knock Brady down.
When the Pats run the ball, look for it to be Stevan Ridley following the lead of his tight end to the left side. The Pats could not get anything going running the ball up the middle last week, but averaged 6.7 yards per carry on 17 rushes to the left.
It will be important that the Pats avoid those one and two yard running gains. Arizona had the number one third down defense in the NFL last year with opponents converting on just 31.4 percent of those plays. The Cardinals also had the best third and long (ten yards or more) defense in 2011; opponents converted on just 7 of 71 chances last year (9.9%). Offensively the Pats converted 50% of their third down attempts last week, and ranked third in 2011 with a 45.3% successful third down conversion rate.
Wes Welker could be in for a big game Sunday against Arizona
In 2011 Arizona’s defense led the league with 14 pass interference penalties and also led the league in yardage on PI penalties (210 yards). Against Seattle last week they once again led the league in both of these categories, flagged three times for pass interference for 49 yards. That yardage does affect the game but it doesn’t show up in pass defense yardage rankings or the ‘official’ team defense rankings. Last week the Cardinals had 102 yards in penalties, which was the 4th worst; last year they averaged 62.3 yards per game overall (27th) and 66.4 yards per game on the road (28th). Not to take away from their defensive capabilities, but that’s something to consider when looking at the defense and the team as a whole.
The best way to beat an aggressive defense is to effectively run the ball, and quick, short passes. For all the declarations that Wes Welker has been phased out of the Patriots offense, let’s wait and see what happens Sunday. I’m expecting him to once again be Tom Brady’s favorite target, with about nine or ten receptions.
Another beneficiary of an aggressive defense could be the tight ends. Adrian Wilson is one of the best safeties in the NFL and Kerry Rhodes is adequate. They certainly won’t shut down Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez but they should do better than most defenses in limiting them. Patrick Peterson is very good at one corner and William Gay is not bad as a number two CB.
Cardinals offense versus Pats defense
Arizona’s offensive line will struggle to contain Chandler Jones
When you have a mediocre quarterback with very little experience starting in the NFL, the first thing you want to consider is taking pressure off of him by running the ball. The only problem with that idea is that Arizona’s offensive line doesn’t run block very well, and their running backs just aren’t very good – or healthy. Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams are both a year removed from knee surgeries; last week against Seattle they averaged just 1.5 yards per carry. If the Patriots were able to bottle up Chris Johnson last week then they should be able to stop these two, even though they won’t be their focus on defense like CJ was. Tackles D’Anthony Batiste and Bobby Massie are making just their second starts at tackle and are prone to occasional lapses. The interior line consists of center Lyle Sendlein and guards Daryn Colledge and Adam Snyder; none of them are anything special. Expect the Pats defensive front to win the majority of the battles in the trenches when Arizona has the ball.
Larry Fitzgerald will be the main point of emphasis for the Patriots defense, and deservedly so. Despite being the only legitimate offensive threat on the team and with subpar quarterbacks throwing him the ball, Fitzgerald still had 1,411 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns last year. Keep an eye on WR Andre Roberts; the third-year pro from Citadel benefited greatly from all the attention defenses gave to Fitzgerald last year, totalling 51 receptions for 586 yards. Along with Early Doucet (54 receptions, 689 yards) the Cardinals have some quality receivers that will be a challenge for the Patriots pass defense. While Kevin Kolb does not get much respect from most NFL fans, let’s not forget that he came off the bench last week and led the Cardinals to a game-winning drive.
I read or heard somewhere that somebody said that Zoltan Mesko had a bad game Sunday; I have to disagree. In fact, I have to vehemently disagree.
I am going to assume that the person who said this saw Mesko had a 38.5 yard average on his punts in the box score. They probably also noticed the long of 51 and concluded that the rest of his punts stunk, all shanks. This a great example of coming to a lousy conclusion based on surface scratching stats rather then based on what you actually saw transpire.
Zoltan Mesko will look to keep Patrick Peterson from having a chance to return any punts
Mesko had one punt roll into the end zone for a touchback before the coverage could down it; the three others were all downed inside the twenty. The first punt for example was downed for no return at the 18; good job right? Well if you look strictly at the gross yardage you would think he did a terrible job since it only went 28 yards. Bottled up in their own end of the field the Titans went three and out, and the Pats scored on the following possession. The next punt went 45 yards with no return, pinning Tennessee at their own 10; three plays later the Pats scored on the Chandler Jones strip sack and Dont’a Hightower fumble recovery for a touchdown. In the third quarter there was the 51-yarder that went for a touchback, and the fourth punt was downed at the ten with no return.
I cannot fathom how anyone who actually watched the game can characterize that as Mesko having a bad day. Look, I find stats to be fun and interesting – but let’s be careful about jumping to conclusions based solely on raw data.
The fact that Mesko was able to punt the ball four times with zero returns is very important to note in this game, because the Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson is dangerous in this facet of the game; he returned four punts for touchdowns last year. I will be more than happy if Mesko replicates his ‘bad game’ on Sunday.
The Cardinals not only want, but need a big play on special teams. I don’t believe Zoltan Mesko is going to give Patrick Peterson that opportunity. As for kickoffs, look for Stephen Gostkowski to limit LaRod Stephens-Howling’s chances as well, booting the ball out of the end zone.
Intangibles, Trends, Trivia and other Factoids
One more thing to add on to that punting rant: last week the Cardinals allowed Seattle an average drive start of the 37.6 yard line, which was third worst for the week. Last year their opponents average starting field position was the 31.0 yard line, which was next to last. The Pats on the other hand forced opponents to start on average on the 24.5 yard line last year (2nd best), and 17.5 yard line last week (best of the week). Don’t be surprised if field position is a big factor in the Pats favor on Sunday.
The Arizona coaching staff is essentially Pittsburgh West: head coach Ken Whisenhunt, offensive coordinator Mike Miller, defensive coordinator Ray Horton, assistant head coach and offensive line coach Russ Grimm, special teams coach Kevin Spencer, defensive ends coach Deshea Townsend,and linebackers coach Matt Raich all either previously coached or played in Pittsburgh, most of them under Bill Cowher. It’s a 3-4 zone blitzing defensive scheme that Bill Belichick and the Patriot’s staff is very familiar with; though it is effective it is something that they have prepared to go up against many times in the past.
Arizona is just 3-13 on the road since Kurt Warner retired; two of those three wins were against the lowly Rams.
The Patriots are 67-13 in regular season games since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002; that .838 winning percentage is best in the NFL in that time period.
The Patriots have won each of the last five meetings between these two clubs. Since they changed their name from the Phoenix Cardinals to the Arizona Cardinals the Pats are 4-0, winning by an aggregate score of 128 to 22.
Larry Fitzgerald needs three catches to total 700 receptions in his career; he will become the youngest player in NFL history to achieve that mark.
With a win by the Patriots Bill Belichick will pass Chuck Knox for ninth place on the list of all time winningest NFL coaches. Belichick currently has 193 (176 regular season and 17 playoff) wins. Next up is Dan Reeves with 201.
Troy Brown is being inducted in to the Patriots Hall of Fame Saturday and will be honored at the game on Sunday. Brown had 557 receptions and 31 touchdowns with the Patriots. Ironically those are the identical stats that Wes Welker currently has with the Pats. With his next catch Welker sets a team record for receptions; his next touchdown catch will put him in seventh place in franchise history for touchdown receptions.
Close in the rearview mirror is Rob Gronkowski, who already has 28 touchdown receptions in his career. His next TD catch will put him in sole possession of ninth place on that list, breaking the current tie he has with another tight end, Russ Francis.
Prediction: The Cardinals have a mediocre quarterback behind an inconsistent offensive line and no running game to help him out. Their defensive line (Darnell Dockett, Dan Williams, and Calais Campbell) is very good though, as is safety Adrian Wilson; the Pats offensive line will have its hands full. The New England offense will still be able to win enough battles to score enough points to win; even with Larry Fitzgerald the Arizona offense won’t be able to keep up.
Offensive player of the game: Wes Welker
Defensive player of the game: Chandler Jones
Patriots 31, Arizona 13
September 15, 1975: Pink Floyd released their ninth studio album, Wish You Were Here.
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