As much as I enjoyed live blogging last week’s contest, I am not so sure it is in “cards” (pardon the pun) this week. We are having a house warming/wedding celebration this weekend out at the house on Saturday, and I have a feeling that having three hours dedicated to writing while we are picking up debris from the party and managing five kids is going to prove unrealistic (Rat’s Widow is quietly nodding in agreement somewhere as I write this!).
So on the very likely chance that I won’t be able to live blog this week, here’s a quick look at the upcoming contest between the Patriots and the Cardinals.
Three keys for the Patriots
1. Good Health. The Patriots are coming into Week Two in good health, as all players participated in practice on Thursday. The most significant health note is the return of right guard Dan Connolly, who suffered a head injury against the Titans, and while concussion tests were negative he was held out until today.
2. Neutralizing Larry Fitzgerald. Like they say on ESPN, you can’t really stop Larry Fitzgerald; you can only hope to contain him. The Patriots’ secondary will be tested this week, but looks to be vastly improved over 2011. Of course, a good pass rush is a secondary’s best friend, and the Patriots appear to be greatly improved here as well. The front seven suffocated the Titans last week, and this week faces off against an offensive line that has been besieged by injuries. Look for the Patriots to pressure Kolb and give him little time to find Fitzgerald.
3. Maintaining the run/pass balance on offense. Every game plan is different for the Patriots, but last week was rare in that there were more designed run plays than pass plays called by the offense, and the Titans never seemed to know what to expect from the potent Patriots’ attack. The Patriots will likely rely heavily on their dynamic duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but another effective performance by Stevan Ridley would give the Patriots enough of an edge to once again break 30 points, this time against a much more stout defense than what they faced last week.
Three keys for the Cardinals
1. Pressuring Brady. This is true for all Patriots’ opponents, but the Cardinals have a solid defense and the Patriots’ offensive line is still coming together. Consistent pressure on Brady is a primary key in the Cardinals pulling off an upset. The Cardinals safeties may be able to give Gronk and Hernandez problems if the defensive line is able to apply pressure, but given any time to throw the tight ends will be able to pick apart the Cardinals’ secondary.
2. Protect Kevin Kolb. The opposite of #1 is also true; the Cardinals must keep Kevin Kolb on his feet and keep his passing lanes open if he is to move the Cardinals down the field with any effectiveness. Like the Patriots, the Cardinals offensive line is a work in progress, and will have its hands full with Vince Wilfork, Chandler Jones, Kyle Love, Jermaine Cunningham, Jerod Mayo, and Dont’a Hightower. The Cardinals are unlikely to be able to sustain long scoring drives against the Patriots and will need big strikes down the field.
3. Capitalize on Special Teams. Patrick Peterson is an explosive return man who is capable of providing the big plays that the Cardinals will need to get good starting field position. Mesko is an excellent punter, so this battle will be an interesting one to watch.
* The Cardinals are 8-2 in their last 10 regular season games. This is surpassed only by the Patriots, who are 9-1.
* Tom Brady has won all 10 of his home openers as the starting quarterback of the New England Patriots.
* Interestingly, the last time the Patriots and Cardinals met, the Patriots won 47-7. That was also the year the Cardinals went to the Super Bowl. The Cardinals have not beaten the Patriots since 1991.
PREDICTION: The Patriots might be facing a “trap game” here with a Week Three road matchup on tap in Baltimore, but I’m not buying it. The Patriots are hungry and seem to be intent on proving that they have an improved team over a year ago. I anticipate that the Patriots will blanket Fitzgerald and force Kolb to beat them elsewhere while bringing major pressure to bear through the front seven. On offense, I expect both Gronk and Hernandez to have productive days, and expect to see Ridley rush for at least 80 yards. Look for Welker and Lloyd to be targeted as well in a game that will be close in the first half, but that the Patriots will dominate in the second half. PATRIOTS 31 CARDINALS 14