The New England Patriots are 1-0 as of this article, coming off a thoroughly dominant win over a possibly strong Tennessee team. On Sunday, the Patriots take on the Arizona Cardinals in the home opener for the 2012 season at stately Gillette Stadium. While many expect this to be among the easier wins for the Patriots for this season, it is important to consider all the match-ups.
1. The New England receivers vs the Arizona defensive backs
When talking about the Cardinals defensive backs, two names immediately come to mind: Adrian Wilson and Patrick Peterson. The former, a strong safety, is coming off a stellar season and is certainly a presence to be mindful of when passing. He’s no Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu, but he’s still a top tier safety and must be treated as such. Peterson, on the other hand, is a difficult corner to gauge. He’s most often commended for his punt return skills, but as a cornerback he had a rough start last season, although he finished up with a decent stretch of games. Whoever he’s on will likely have to use quickness and fluid moves rather than pure speed to beat him. Kerry Rhodes and William Gay are both solid defensive backs, so an average receiving corps would have a rough day.
Luckily, the Patriots are anything but average in that department. Wes Welker seems like a receiver that can beat anyone on Arizona with moves alone, while Brandon Lloyd will take the top off the defense and certainly challenge Peterson. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are definitely two to focus on this game after their excellent showing against Tennessee. I’m giving this one to New England, as I have yet to think of a defensive backfield that can contend with this much talent.
Edge: New England
2. The New England offensive line vs the Arizona defensive line
It’s not quite fair to judge this as a battle of New England’s front five against the three man front Arizona typically fields, so I’m including O’Brien Schofield and Sam Acho in this matchup, as they can both be found blitzing often. Including them, however, does no real favors for the defensive line, as neither one is a particularly talented blitzer. The true causes of concern here are Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell, the two defensive ends. Each one is an extremely adept pass rusher, and the tackles will definitely have their hands full in this one. Dan Williams in the middle is another force to be reckoned with.
Although the offensive looked solid in the last game, I think this is a much better front seven they must contend with. Additionally, Dan Connolly is questionable for the game. Who will replace him? Donald Thomas? Marcus Cannon? Solder vs Campbell is a matchup that just doesn’t sit well with me. The backs will need to provide some help in the passing game, and Brady will have to get a quick release on the ball. I’m giving this one to Arizona.
3. The New England runningbacks vs the Arizona linebackers
Before Week One of this season, I might have given this to the Arizona linebackers. They’re a pretty good corps, with decent depth and a good inside linebacker to lead them in Daryl Washington.
However, after the Tennessee game, I have to go with New England’s runningbacks. Stevan Ridley looked fantastic; in fact, without getting ahead of myself, he practically looked reminiscent of Corey Dillon. What’s more is that it wasn’t just him – the blocking was there. I don’t expect the other runningbacks to replicate his success, but I feel as though they could certainly imitate it if needed. Ridley will be a key to this game, primarily because of the strength of Arizona’s pass rushers.
Edge: New England
4. The Arizona wide receivers vs the New England defensive backs
It was indescribably tempting to write “The Arizona wide receiver,” but you all would have expected that. I am, of course, referring to Larry Fitzgerald, one of the very best receivers in the league. Fitzgerald possesses size, speed and ups the likes of which most receivers envy, not to mention his incredible hands. He absolutely commands a double team, and I expect that to happen in this game. The other receivers for Arizona are far less impressive. Andre Roberts is alright at best, Michael Floyd is a rookie and still getting the hang of things, and Early Doucet does nothing for me. Todd Heap is far past his prime.
Devin McCourty looked much improved against Tennessee off his less-than-wonderful sophomore season, but he’ll have a much tougher test in Fitzgerald. That does, however, leave Kyle Arrington, Ras-I Dowling, Steve Gregory, Pat Chung and Tavon Wilson to fend with Arizona’s other receivers. One of them will help McCourty, sure, but I have all the confidence in the world that they can handle Kevin Kolb and his weapons.
Edge: New England
5. The Arizona offensive line vs the New England defensive line
I have a bad habit to drop names. In a business like this it doesn’t seem as bad, but nevertheless I’m self-conscious about it; name dropping in general isn’t a good practice. However, in this case, I think it’ll be a bit appropriate:
Arizona: D’Anthony Batiste – Daryn Colledge – Lyle Sendlein – Adam Snyder – Bobby Massie
New England: Chandler Jones – Kyle Love – Vince Wilfork – Rob Ninkovich
Speaks for itself, eh?
Fine, fine, I’ll explain. Batiste is filling in for Levi Brown, a left tackle who never panned out. Last week Batiste was a wreck, allowing a sack and five hurries and committing two penalties. Chandler Jones should be even better against him than he was against Michael Roos. Sendlein and Snyder can’t contend with Wilfork, and Massie’s a rookie taking on a strong veteran in Ninkovich.
Edge: New England
6. The Tennessee runningbacks vs the New England linebackers
It is way too early to consider the New England defense a top five rushing defense. Statistically, yeah, they are, but anything can happen down the line. Yes, they held Chris Johnson, one of the most dynamic backs in the league, to four rushing yards while running behind a good runblocking line, but that might have just been one of Johnson’s bad days. Yeah, Arizona couldn’t run the ball against Seattle, but that speaks more about Seattle’s linebackers than it does about Arizona. Yeah, New England’s linebackers have looked extremely good at sensing the run and filling the whole and gangtackling, but…
Actually, I’ve run out of buts. New England wins this by a mile.
Edge: New England
Although the edge has gone to the Patriots in the overwhelming majority of these matchups, I don’t view this as an easy game. There is a lot of talent on Arizona’s defense. They may not be a playoff team, but this isn’t a team to take easy. God forbid Solder or Vollmer slack off against Campbell and Dockett, or Brady could very well be injured. I’ll give Kevin Kolb one touchdown, but that’s it. This defense is better than Tennesee’s though, so my score will be lower for the Patriots offense.
Final score: New England 27, Arizona 10.
You can follow Christopher Field on Twitter @ChrisDField.