After overcoming the Tennessee Titans in Nashville last week, the New England Patriots welcome the Arizona Cardinals to Foxboro for their home opener in Week 2. Both the Cardinals and Patriots are looking to move to 2-0 after the Cardinals beat the Seattle Seahawks at home last week.
That victory came at a price however as starting quarterback John Skelton will miss the trip to Boston with an ankle injury. Skelton's place will be taken by former starter Kevin Kolb who carried the team to victory last week. Kolb lost out in a quarterback competition with Skelton during the preseason, but finished his first game of the season with a 138.5 quarterback rating.
Kolb completed six of eight passes for 66 yards and a touchdown. Critically, he didn't turn the ball over against a very talented Seahawks' unit. The Patriots will fancy their chances at forcing Kolb into mistakes this week however. The much maligned quarterback has thrown more career interceptions, 22, than touchdowns, 21, and has never succeeded in trying to inspire an efficient offense since the Cardinals acquired him in a blockbuster trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Skelton and Kolb have very different skill-sets. Skelton has a very big arm and developed a good rapport with Larry Fitzgerald that Kolb never has, however Kolb is a more well rounded, if less consistent, quarterback. On his day Kolb can put up big numbers, however none of those days have come in a Cardinals' jersey to this point.
With Larry Fitzgerald on the outside, Kolb will at least have a scheme breaker to use in his favour.
Fitzgerald had four receptions for 63 yards in Week 1 against the Seahawks. The Seahawks cornerbacks are much more physical, and talented, than the Patriots. Fitzgerald went against both Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman, while also seeing large safety Kam Chancellor come his direction on occasion. He had most of his success against Sherman.
Sherman is a very physical cornerback who would eclipse most of the Patriots' secondary defenders. Outside of Ras-I Dowling, who didn't start against the Titans, the Patriots' cornerbacks are relatively diminutive. Dowling should see more playing time trying to press Fitzgerald with safety help over the top. Because the Patriots' run defense can mimic what the Seahawks did in shutting down Ryan Williams and Chris Wells, the Patriots should have no problems with the team's other receivers in that situation.
With that in mind, it may just be a question of when, rather than if, the Patriots will wrap this game up.
As bad as the Cardinals' offense is, their defense is very talented. The Cardinals held rookie quarterback Russell Wilson to 153 yards passing last year while containing Marshawn Lynch's impact running the ball. While the Patriots obviously have enough talent at the skill positions and in the backfield, their big worry about the offensive line remains.
The Cardinals don't have premiere outside rushers, but Sam Acho had a very impressive rookie season while O'Brien Schofield continues to emerge across from him. The real test for the Patriots will come on the interior of the offensive line where Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly will have to deal with Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, Parys Lenon and Daryl Washington.
Linebackers Washington and Lenon combined for three sacks last week, while Campbell is one of the most productive defensive linemen in the NFL. Center Ryan Wendell had a good first game as a full-time starter last week against the Titans, but guards Dan Connolly and Logan Mankins notably struggled.
The Patriots shouldn't be able to run on the Cardinals the way they did on the Titans, while Kerry Rhodes and Adrian Wilson provide a stiff backbone to challenge their tight ends. The Patriots have so many weapons however that they will simply be able to relocate their attack on the Cardinals' defense and point it towards the team's weak spot.
Free agent cornerback addition William Gay is a good defender, but when he faced the Patriots last year, as a Pittsburgh Steeler, he spent the day covering Deion Branch. As the Cardinals' starting cornerback this week however, he will be forced to matchup with Wes Welker. The dynamsim of Brandon Lloyd should see Patrick Peterson come his way, while Welker will look to take advantage of Gay on an island.
Slowing down the Cardinals' interior pass rush will be a priority early on with some quick passes to the flat and outside runs. Welker should be the beneficiary of those passes after spending so much time on the periphery of last week's game. Gay was targeted often last week and finished the game with seven tackles.
When Gay faced the Patriots last year, he played a minor role in Dick LeBeau's amalgamation defense. Ray Horton's version of the Steel Curtain doesn't carry the depth in the secondary and quality of pass rushers to do something similar this year. Instead Gay will be required to have a massive game to keep Welker in check.
Against this defense the true value of Brandon Lloyd will be highlighted, because the Cardinals have plenty of talent to match up with the Patriots' greatest threats, but not enough to stretch down their list of talented game-breakers.
Outside of a miracle game from Kevin Kolb or a horrifying injury to Tom Brady, the Patriots should steam-roll the Cardinals on their way to a 2-0 start.New England Patriots Injury Report
Probable SS Patrick Chung (shoulder)
Questionable RT Sebastian Vollmer (back), RB Shane Vereen (foot), RG Dan Connolly (concussion), TE Daniel Fells (shin), G/C Nick McDonald (shoulder), CB Sterling Moore (knee), CB Alfonzo Dennard (hamstring). Arizona Cardinals Injury Report
Probable G Daryn Colledge (elbow), C Lyle Sendlein (back), FS Kerry Rhodes (foot), RB Chris Wells (knee), RB Ryan Williams (knee), K Jeff Feely (back), TE Jeff King (knee), CB Greg Toler (hip), CB Jamell Fleming (shoulder), LB O’Brien Schofield (knee), G Adam Snyder (elbow).
Questionable FS Adrian Wilson (ankle), CB Patrick Peterson (groin), S Rashad Johnson (thigh).
Doubtful QB John Skelton (ankle).