After a Week 1 pounding of the Tennessee Titans that saw the New England Patriots thrive in nearly every facet of the game, New England will take to the field at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA for the team’s home opener against the Arizona Cardinals. With the game hours away, here are five things to look for when the Pats and Cards kick off on Sunday.
Can The New England Secondary Contain Larry Fitzgerald?
If there was one area of the game in which the Patriots weren't exactly impressive against the Titans last week, it was the secondary. This wasn’t exactly a surprise, after that same group of defensive backs set an NFL record as the second-worst pass defense in league history in 2011. It will be a test of epic proportions this Sunday when one of the NFL’s top-three wide receivers comes to Foxboro, Larry Fitzgerald. It was a down week, by No. 11’s standards, for Fitzgerald in the Cardinals’ season opener against the Seahawks, catching just four balls for 63 yards. It should be interesting to see how Bill Belichick’s defense will combat Fitzgerald’s impressive skill set. I’d expect him to be followed by Kyle Arrington with one safety always shadowing his side of the field.
Expect More 4-Down Territory
Arizona doesn't thrive in many areas, but one thing it excels in is special teams. Throughout the preseason and in the team’s season opener against Seattle, the Cards showed an uncanny ability to block kicks, be it field goals or punts. With this in mind, I’d expect Belichick to take more risks than normal when his offense has the ball in Arizona territory. When faced with a decision of fourth-and-short or a lengthy field goal attempt, where the kick’s trajectory would have to be low, Belichick will likely choose to keep his offense on the field and go for it.
Punter Zoltan Mesko Must Be On Top Of His Game
Another facet of the Cardinals’ impressive special teams group is one of the NFL’s best kick and punt returner, Patrick Peterson. While the fifth overall draft choice in 2011 is still evolving into what head coach Ken Whisenhunt hopes to be a shut-down corner, he’s earning his paycheck through explosive kick returns. In his rookie campaign, Peterson became the first man in the history of the sport with four punt-return touchdowns of 80 of more yards in a single season. Third-year Patriots’ punter Zoltan Mesko will need to be on top of his craft this Sunday with precision punts to keep the ball out of Peterson’s hands if New England hopes to avoid a special teams disaster.
Can Steven Ridley Have A Repeat Performance?
After a superb 21-carry, 125-yard performance against the Titans, the Patriots hope that running back Stevan Ridley will be able to duplicate his success on Sunday. In the past, the Pats have seen sporadic glimpses of greatness in the backfield, but haven’t gone back to it enough for it to become a consistent part of their offensive attack. The Patriots have all the tools for a successful running game, but it will be their commitment to it that will eventually determine its impact.
Blowout City? Or Trap Game?
With an AFC championship rematch against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium slated for next Sunday night, it might be easy for the Pats to overlook Kevin Kolb and the Cards. However, with Bill Belichick at the helm, I don’t believe this will have much of an impact on the Patriots. I expect this one to be over early. Prediction: Patriots defeat the Cardinals, 38-14.