New England is fighting for their playoff lives and even if they win this game they may still be sitting at home watching the post season. Sad but true (thanks J.P. Losman).
The Patriots face one of the toughest passing offenses in the league this year with the resurgent Kurt Warner, and the best wide receiver tandem in the league in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Bolden (who may not play due to a shoulder injury). But the Cardinals do not play well on the East Coast, so Patriots fans are hoping for another six turnover performance by Warner as he had against the Jets, gift wrapping a six touchdown performance by Brett Favre. Or that the Cardinals lay an egg like they did against the Philadelphia Eagles recently.
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots defense has been very suspect this year. They have not generated an effective pass rush in any game and their defensive backs are subpar. To add to our defensive woes, we have suffered numerous injuries and are starting several backups. Not a good matchup against a prolific passing offense. So how will the Patriots beat the Cardinals this week?
First, I have a lot of confidence in Bill Belichick to come up with some kind of game plan to slow down the Cardinals offense. Given that we have not been able to generate a decent pass rush this year I anticipate the Patriots playing a lot of zone coverage and dropping five or six defensive backs into coverage on most plays, trying to force Warner to throw into tight spaces. I suspect we will see a few blitzes in key situations to try to get Warner, who is known to be fumble prone, to cough up the ball. But too many blitzes and the Patriots are likely to get burned. Warner is a veteran who can adjust to a fierce pass rush, even though he isn’t that mobile. The trouble is the players have to execute the game plan against a great offense. We aren’t playing the Raiders this week.
The real key to this game though is the New England offense. Let’s face it, the prolific offense last year hid a defense that was not that great. The Patriots offense has been running the ball well of late and the short passing game eats up a lot of clock. The offense doing well and keeping the ball out of Kurt Warner’s hands is our best chance to win.
And this entire analysis may be a moot point anyway. The biggest factor, and one that greatly benefits the Patriots, is the weather. They are calling for an ice and snow storm during the game. The Patriots are better at running the ball and on short passes than the Cardinals, and this very well may be the key to the game. So I think the key players who have to step up in this game are not on the defensive side of the ball, but Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk . So far both have been steady contributors and I expect them to be again on Sunday.
Given the weather, the importance of the game to the Patriots, and Arizona playing in conditions they are not used to, I expect a relatively low scoring game and a New England victory.