Following a 47-7 thrashing at the hands of the New England Patriots, the Arizona Cardinals have lost…
Behind Enemy Lines: Pats/Cards, Part IV
JS: Moss trails Wes Welker this season for catches (102 vs 66) and yardage (1071 vs 908) in terms of statistical output, but that doesn't quite tell the whole story. It's not because Moss lost a step, it's that Brady was more effective in getting the ball to a point where Moss would be able to catch it compared to where Cassel is delivering the football. Still, the value Moss brings to the Patriots offense is never given its due. Moss' presence on the field opens up the entire offense. If you watch the plays that develop with Moss, typically he's used to clear out a zone soWelker (or another receiver) can run underneath in open space. The sheer danger Moss presents on crossing patterns gets opponent's attention quickly. Double Moss and the others are open. Single Moss, like Oakland tried to do, and he finds the end zone.
Though Moss isn't putting up 2007 type numbers, he's still having a solid year. New England is on pace for back-to-back seasons with two receivers each catching passes for 1,000 yards a very rare event in the Northeast climate which favors churn it out on the ground type offenses for the last month of the season.
AR: What do matchup do you think will be a difference maker on Sunday?
JS: The two Arizona receivers going against the Patriot's suspect secondary. Everyone in New England is dinged. The Patriots are without two of their top corners, both starting safeties and three of their four starting linebackers. The play-action will threaten the defense which has to react whether Arizona is having success there or not. That leaves the Patriots secondary in a bind underneath. It will be Larry Fitzgerald andAnquan's ability to find holes between the Patriots' corners and their safeties.
It will be interesting to see how much success the Cardinals can have against rookie Jonathan Wilhite and safety Lewis Sanders who are filling in for the injured Terrence Wheatley and James Sanders. Brandon Meriweather is in for Rodney Harrison while Ellis Hobbs remains the only starter from the season opener still playing.
AR: How much pressure will the Patriots be under this Sunday? Is this year's team a squad that plays well under pressure or loses it?
JS: The Patriots are under the pressure to win every week. Though the players aren't talking about it much, they know if they lose, then next week will not matter. If New England wins, they can keep their playoff aspirations alive. The thing to remember about the Patriots is how many of the starters are not playing this season. The top layer of leadership was wiped out with the losses of Tom Brady, Rodney Harrison and potential loss ofTedy Bruschi , but there are still guys who have won three Super Bowls only to miss the playoffs in other years because they faltered down the stretch. Ty Warren, Richard Seymour, Matt Light, LarryIzzo are just some of the players who have been through both the highs and the lows.
They will keep the focus on just this week's game, not allowing the pressure to get too much. As the saying in New England goes, you can only control what's in front of you. "Just do your job, " is a common phrase used by BillBelichick to keep everyone focused.
AR: What has been most impressive about the Patriots this year? And least impressive?
JS: Most impressive has been the team's ability to keep on going even with players no one else wanted. Deltha O'Neal, Jason Webster, Lewis Sanders, Mark LeVoir, Gary Guyton, Sam Aiken, BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Each has played for the Patriots in crucial games and each has filled in for a starter who wasn't available. Their production is something few other teams have been able to emulate. Look at teams around the NFL. If they lose two or three starters they fold up shop and drop in the standings like a lead balloon. Kansas City, Cleveland, Jacksonville, San Diego...
Least impressive has been the team's ability to protect Cassel when the heavy pressure is placed on him. Some of it is due to poor play and poor execution. Another part is the team's inability to adjust quickly enough to the added pressure that they get caught in bad situations with the wrong personnel. The Miami, San Diego and Pittsburgh games were classic illustrations of those. The Patriots have the talent to stick with those teams, but misfortune or bad execution put the Patriots so far behind early that the team had to abandon the original game plan. And the adjustments they did make at those points didn't matter.
AR: What's it going to take for the Patriots to win on Sunday?
JS: To Win, the Patriots must: Get pressure on Kurt Warner, prevent the big play and play ball control offense. I expect the Patriots to be able to score, but they need to prevent the Cardinals from getting into a passing rhythm to answer New England's scores. The team certainly can't afford to play catchup football, so keeping pressure on Warner will help. Preventing the big play, whether it's on defense or special teams, is another must. The Cardinals are in the top five of the NFL for plays over 20 yards and again a top five team in plays over 40 yards. And finally, playing ball control offense.
New England likes to use the spread formation to stretch the field, even in poor weather, but this weekend, more winter weather is expected. The team that can control the ball will probably be able to do the most damage on offense. Playing keep away helps the Patriots achieve their first two goals, and they have the talent to run the ball with Sammy Morris averaging 4.7 yards per carry andLaMont Jordan with a 5.5 avg.
AR: What could possibly be their downfall?
JS: Good question. There are a lot of variables, but to narrow it down a bit, you can look at three major weaknesses: Third down defense, the Patriots suspect secondary and turnovers.
New England has one of the worst third down defenses in the NFL. They've had problems getting off the field all season, which is why they lost close games to the Jets and Colts and allowed other inferior teams to keep the score close. The Patriots allow opponents to convert third downs 45.1% of the time. If the Patriots can find a way to limit third downs like they did last week (5 of 13), then they can limit the opportunities that the Cardinals potent offense gets to do damage. Arizona leads the league with 211 first downs.
The Secondary -- Although the numbers don't illustrate the depth of the problem, New England's secondary is a mishmash of players who have never played an entire season together. Three of the Patriots other DBs weren't even on the team last year: Jonathan Wilhite, Lewis Sanders, Deltha O'Neal. Three didn't even see much action: Ray Ventrone, Antwain Spann, Mike Richardson. One was a part time player; Brandon Meriweather. Ellis Hobbs is the only full-time starter from last season still on the field. As I mentioned earlier, the match-ups will be how the Cardinals attack this group.
Turnovers are an issue: New England had a meltdown vs the Steelers and it turned into a blowout early New England had 3 lost fumbles and a pair of interceptions. It is hard enough for these Patriots to win without turnovers. They have a -2 differential on the year. New England must find a way to create turnovers against the Cardinals if they can't get pressure on Kurt Warner. At some point it's going to be a factor in the game.
AR: What's your prediction for the game?
JS: I think that playing at home, and knowing what's at stake (their playoff lives) combined with the fact that Arizona is a warm-weather, dome-stadium, west coast team travelling east play into the Patriots favor. The Cardinals will be completely out of their elements on Sunday, especially if the bad weather we expect comes to pass. With those factors, and a solid running game I expect the Patriots to keep be able to ground the Cardinals' potent passing attack.
Patriots by 7
Pats 24, Cardinals 17
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