By: Russ Goldman
The Patriots are coming off of an impressive 34-13 road victory against the Tennessee Titans. They are back in action on Sunday with their home opener at Gillette Stadium against the Arizona Cardinals. Here’s a preview with my five keys to the game that I hope will lead to a Patriots victory.
WHERE TO WATCH: The game will be shown live Sunday on WFXT-TV at 1:00 PM EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.
GAME NOTES: The Cardinals are coming off of an opening game victory as well as they beat the Seattle Seahawks 20-16 at home. It was not an attractive victory for the home team, but a win is a win. The Cardinals should prove to be a tougher test for the Patriots as they do have some talent on both sides of the ball.
On defense, this team has several players you should be watching for on Sunday. The defensive line is very good, and led by defensive ends Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell. Patriots offensive tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer will have their work cut out for them.
Patriots fans might be familiar with middle linebacker Paris Lenon, who was briefly with the team, but overall the linebacker unit is strong. This front seven as a whole could be handful as they run the zone blitz defense made famous by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Cardinals secondary is led by strong safety Adrian Wilson, who happens to be one of the best in the game. The cornerbacks are also decent, and not to be overlooked either. This unit is solid and will be a challenge for the Patriots.
On offense, this unit is not nearly at the level of the defense. The first issue is at quarterback where John Skelton won the starting job in the beginning of the season over Kevin Kolb. However, Skelton is dealing with an injury, and reportedly the Patriots could see Kolb this week as the starting quarterback for the Cardinals. We probably won’t know for sure until the final injury report comes out on Sunday.
Regardless of who starts at quarterback, both options for the visitors are average at best. To add insult to injury, the offensive line for the Cardinals is pretty poor, and the Patriots front seven should be able to take advantage of this group.
However, the Cardinals do have some talent at the skilled positions led by one of the best wide receivers in the game, and that is Larry Fitzgerald. You should expect to see Fitzgerald double-teamed the majority of the game. However, Andre Roberts is a nice option at the other wide receiver position.
At running back, Beanie Wells is a talented back, but I have doubts on his effectiveness in this game. He could have serious issues finding holes to run through.
The Cardinals are a step up in competition, but their issues on offense could really hurt them in this game against the Patriots. I expect the visitors to make it a game for awhile, but eventually the Patriots should pull away with the victory.
Here are my “five keys” which I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats.
1. The Patriots offensive tackles will need to upgrade their pass blocking against a dangerous defense. Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer will be needed to limit the damage that Dockett and Campbell can do with getting after the quarterback. If they can do a better job than they performed against the Titans in pass blocking, the Patriots could be on the road to a victory.
2. The Patriots tight ends need to take advantage of the middle of the field in the passing game. The Cardinals do offer a challenge to Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, but they should be able to find mismatches in the secondary.
3. The Patriots defensive line needs to take advantage of a poor offensive line, and put pressure on the quarterback. This is the opponent for the Patriots defense to attack, and I expect to see Chandler Jones to have a big day. Also, don’t be surprised to see Jermaine Cunningham be a factor on Sunday as well.
4. Devin McCourty and company need to stop Larry Fitzgerald from taking over the game. There are a few dominant wide receivers in football, and Fitzgerald is definitely one of them. If you can limit the damage from the ball going often to Fitzgerald, it could really change the game.
5. Zoltan Mesko and the special teams unit need to contain punt returner Patrick Peterson. Special teams are always important, but they have a big job on Sunday against Peterson. Whether it is directional punting or the coverage itself, this unit needs to do a great job on Sunday. Peterson has the ability to change the game with one punt return for a touchdown.
I am feeling confident that the Patriots should be able to win this game, and think it could be won in the trenches on both sides of the ball. I am hoping the Patriots lineman win their battles, and lead the team to another win. I see the Patriots winning this game 31-17 against the Cardinals.
What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section below.
Also, please feel free to listen to a preview of the upcoming game from the radio show Patriots Fourth And Two.