Patriots look for two straight to open 2012
Friday, September 14, 2012
Is that the scent of overconfidence eminating from Gillette Stadium?
Probably not. But it's not just the sweet smell of tailgating that's coming from the stadium parking lots, either.
Based on listening to the conversations of the fans...or listening to the so-called "experts" in the field of prognostication throughout NFL media, you might think the New England Patriots have Sunday's game with the Arizona Cardinals in the bag. After all, the Pats are 14-point favorites (as of Thursday night); they've won 24 of their last 25 regular season games at home, and the Cardinals are most likely without starting QB John Skelton, who has an injured ankle.
It's cliche to say, but it's also why you play the game. Anything can happen. The veterans in the Patriots' locker room know this, and part of the "Patriot Way" over the recent, successful seasons has been passing on a sense of urgency, if not respect, for the opponent each week to the younger players.
It has also been the ability of the coaching staff, led by head coach Bill Belichick, to focus on the task at hand every week...and not look ahead. That might be tougher this week than normal, since a road match-up with fellow AFC contender Baltimore looms on the immediate horizon.
For New England, it's always been easier to play the disrespect card, creating the "us against them" attitude going into a game. They don't get to do that this week, as Arizona won its opener 20-16 against Seattle last Sunday, just after the Patriots had dispatched Tennessee 34-13. It's the NFL...it's Sunday...and as the saying goes, anything can happen.
Or, if you prefer the cliche - it's why you play the game.
Lasso Larry Fitzgerald
The primary key to slowing down Arizona has to be finding a way to contain all-pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald had a relatively quiet opener against the Seahawks, catching four passes for 63 yards, although two of his catches came from former starter-turned-new-starter Kevin Kolb during the key drive that gave the Cardinals a lead last week. He caught a 78-yard pass for Arizona's only touchdown four years ago in Foxboro, in a 45-7 Patriots rout in the snow. He's still one of the best in the game today, and should prove to be a solid test for the Pats secondary.
Keep up the pressure
The offense got off to a great start against Tennessee, even though it largely sputtered in the pre-season. Tom Brady and company simply have to keep doing what they do best - find the open targets, maintain possession without turnovers, and generate an efficient running attack. They did all three of those things against the Titans, and won by 21 on the road. Generally, that's the rule, rather than the exception, at Gillette Stadium. Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski at TE are tough to contend with, but look for Wes Welker to be more involved this week against the Cardinals' defense...who will try to make someone other than the two TE's beat them.
Keep up the pressure, part two
Defensively, the Patriots simply cannot let Kevin Kolb (or anyone else, for that matter) get into a rhythm on offense. Especially this week, as Kolb came on in relief of Skelton, and helped pitch his team to a win. The key here will be to supply enough pressure and force Kolb to go to his 2nd and 3rd targets on plays, and take Fitzgerald out of the game plan. If they limit his touches, fire up the tailgate grills...the post-game parties should get an early start. If they don't, Arizona is capable of making things uncomfortable - for everyone.