As Sunday’s matchup between the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals draws nearer, it is time to take a look at five offensive players to watch for on the opposing squad. This includes a pair of interior offensive linemen, a pair of running backs, and a superstar wide receiver.
1. C Lyle Sendlein
The Arizona Cardinals offensive line is arguably the worst pass blocking unit in the league, but veteran leader Lyle Sendlein is the exception. One of the best centers in the NFL, Sendlein is a highly underrated player on a national scale and is among the best pass blocking centers in the league. He is the heart of this offensive line in a literal and figurative sense, as he is one of the Cardinals most important leaders and a player whose work ethic is off the charts. Sendlein’s prowess as a pass blocker is also vital for the Cards and quarterback Kevin Kolb, who will be getting the start Sunday and is notoriously skittish under pressure.
2. LG Daryn Colledge
While Daryn Colledge is clearly a poor pass blocker, he is also definitely one of the best ten run blocking guards in the NFL. That’s going to be a big key for the Cards, because the Patriots have arguably the best pair of defensive tackles against the run in the league in Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love. Both of them feasted on a poor Tennessee Titans interior. While the Pats will have an easier battle against the Cardinals tackles than they did against the Titans, Love and Wilfork will be facing off against two solid offensive linemen in Colledge and Sendlein. Watching Wilfork and Colledge going at it as the Cardinals running game tries to bounce back from a terrible Week 1 performance against the Seattle Seahawks is a big reason to key in on the offensive line play.
3. WR Larry Fitzgerald
This isn’t about Larry Fitzgerald specifically, it’s about how the New England Patriots should try to go about stopping a player who is arguably the best receiver in the league. Bill Belichick and Fitzgerald traded praise, and I must put in that, as a diehard Pitt fan (yes, they are terrible this year…but still), Fitzgerald is my second favorite player in this league to only Steve Smith (aka Papa Smurf).
Fitzgerald is insane, yeah. The interesting thing is, how many times will we see Devin McCourty on Fitz? Shadowing him? The answers to those two questions on Sunday will go a long way into seeing how confident the Pats coaching staff is in McCourty. He needs to keep playing physical against Fitzgerald, and I honestly think that a combination of him and Tavon Wilson bracketing Fitzgerald gives us the best chance at containing one of the league’s best weapons. The difficult thing for the Cardinals is getting him the ball, because Kolb is likely going to get harassed all day by Chandler Jones and is poor under pressure. His lack of arm strength won’t be a problem, however, because Fitz isn’t going to be able to go deep with the Cards line.
In the end, this is a battle the Patriots are going to lose. Kolb’s deep ball is actually better than some think, and all it takes is one burn and one big pass from Kolb to set things up for Arizona. Still, the main thing about Fitzgerald is that he consistently makes plays and will prove to be difficult to defend by getting several solid gains and moving the chains for ‘Zona.
4+5. RB Beanie Wells and RB Ryan Williams
It makes sense to combine both running backs, as both are coming off of a disappointing performance against the Seahawks. Their NFC West rivals lost the game, but they consistently loaded up with eight men in the box and flexed the collective muscles of their vaunted run defense. The Patriots are also one of the best teams against the run with Wilfork, Love, Chandler Jones, Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower, and Jerod Mayo being standouts against the run (you can also count Patrick Chung as a top run stopping safety).
Wells and Williams will have to bounce back for the Cardinals to have a good offensive day, because you never know what you are going to get out of Kolb on any given Sunday. Wells’s hamstring has gotten better and was better than Williams against the ‘Hawks, so I would be shocked if he received less carries than Williams. Both backs have about even workloads, but I view Wells as the better of the two due to his rushing ability in between the tackles.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.