The New England Patriots begin their 2012 home campaign on Sunday against the Arziona Cardinals. Last weekend was a success for the Patriots in their opener, particularly on the defensive side of the football. The three rookies, Chandler Jones, Don’t’a Hightower and Tavon Wilson all put up excellent performances in the Pats’ 34-13 victory over the Tennessee Titans. The big headline that could be seen as negative from the past week was the lack of targets that were given to Wes Welker, especially when he is in a contract year. However, bloddy nose and all, Tom Brady still put up a great performance to start the season on a great note.
This week’s test is perceived to be easier by the national media. The Cardinals come in with a question at quarterback, even though one of their QB’s (John Skelton) is out for the game with a low ankle sprain. The start has been given to Kevin Kolb. Kolb came in to the game last Sunday vs. the Seahawks in the second half to lead the team to the victory. But, Kolb has underachieved since being traded from the Eagles last offseason. The pluses on Arizona are that they are in a weak NFC West, they have Larry Fitzgerald at wide receiver, and their defense is coming off a solid performance against Russell Wilson last week. Yet again, Wilson is not Tom Brady.
Here are my three keys to this week’s home opener:
1. Corn on the Kolb: As we talked about at the open, Kolb will get the start for Ken Whisenhunt’s offense this week. However, how is he going to play when the defense has a week to prepare for him unlike last week? Kolb was efficient last week in the comeback win, but remember, this is the same player who had eight interceptions and eight fumbles last season. The team seems to be behind Kolb, especially Larry Fitzgerald after last week. However, he might end up on his behind a lot this week!
The reason for that is the Cardinals are banged up on the offensive line, in particular at left tackle. D’Anthony Batiste is at left tackle and that line gave up three sacks to Seattle last week. Also, Daryn Colledge, their left guard, is hurt this week. This should be a big game for Chandler Jones because Arizona does not have the run game to keep the defense honest.
2. Andre The Giant? With a lot of attention paid to Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals have been looking for the second target to pair with him in the receiving corps. Steve Breaston was the guy until he was signed by the Chiefs in the offseason last year. Then, the team brought in Michael Floyd in the 1st round out of Notre Dame in this year’s draft. However, when I talked with Jess Root from Revenge Of The Birds this week, he told me Ken Whisenhunt does not like to move rookies up on the depth chart right away.
Therefore, the player I am keeping my eye on this week for Arizona is Andre Roberts. Roberts has been their main slot receiver and actually led the team in rushing yards last week with 15 yards. But, he did have a touchdown last week. If the Patriots pay too much attention to Fitzgerald, look for Roberts to get the ball over the middle and get a lot of YAC in the process.
3. Yo Adrian!: There is always one main question when teams play the Patriots and that is how do you cover those tight ends? Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez both had a touchdown in the opener, so Arizona will need to make Brady go to the outside to find some completions. They will do that most likely with one of their veteran safeties in Adrian Wilson.
Wilson has the size and speed to cover Gronk or Hernandez over the middle. Plus, he has the ability to make a key interception that could change the game after he had an INT on Wilson in Week One. Keep an eye on also Kerry Rhodes who knows Brady from his days with the Jets and middle linebacker Daryl Washington who had ten tackles last week.
The Patriots are favored by nearly two touchdowns in this game and have never lost a home opener since they opened up Gillette Stadium. This team had great balance with the run game last week behind Stevan Ridley’s 125 rushing yards. I expect that to continue this week. As for Wes Welker, look for him to get more targets his way, even if he goes up against Patrick Peterson at times. Fitzgerald will get his, but I don’t think Kolb makes enough throws to his secondary targets.
The Cardinals will need to force turnovers and have Peterson make a huge impact on special teams to have any chance in this game! Plus, they don’t travel well to the East Coast. Jones and Hightower get their share of big plays on defense as the Patriots roll!
PATRIOTS 38 CARDINALS 17