Sunday, September 16, 2012

Deciding Factors: Cardinals at Patriots


The New England Patriots (1-0) will host the Arizona Cardinals (1-0), who they haven't struggled with in more than 20 years, Sunday. The last time Arizona beat New England was Sept. 29, 1991, and the Pats won the last five meetings decisively, including a 47-7 blowout in 2008 via a Tom Brady-less New England squad in a snow storm.

Luckily for the Cardinals, it's not nearly cold enough for snow in Foxborough for the teams' third meeting in 12 years, and the Cardinals are in a groove after winning eight of their last 10 games. That includes last week's 20-16 victory that saw quarterback John Skelton go down with an ankle injury and the guy he beat out for the starting job, Kevin Kolb, come in and lead his team to victory with 6-for-8 passing and a TD.

The Patriots are in a groove of their own, though. And let's not forget: the Patriots have never lost a home-opener at Gillette Stadium.

Deciding Factors:

Consistency on defense. After struggling last season, the Patriots' defense came up big in Week 1, especially young players such as Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones, who were acquired via this year’s NFL draft. They also restricted running back Chris Johnson to just four yards on 11 carries last week and the Titans as a whole to 20 yards on 16 carries.

Spreading out the ball. Brady tossed touchdowns to tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez last week, but he needs to spread out the ball a bit more and get key guys like Wes Welker involved. Brandon Lloyd struggled early in the game, but he improve steadily throughout, and there’s no doubt Brady needs to be able to rely on him more for the Pats to be what they want to be.

Patrick Peterson. Dude is lethal. He only needs one more punt return for a TD of 80-plus yards (will be five total) and he’ll tie the record set by Devin Hester and Eric Metcalf (Photo: Broderick Delaney, Flickr).

Red-zone scoring. The Cardinals have one of the stingiest defenses in the red zone; the Patriots will need to make sure that's not the case on Sunday. Considering the high-octane offense the Patriots consistently have, this shouldn’t be a problem for New England. But it’s a vital asset to the game.

Rattle Kolb. Sure, he was a starter last year, but he's a backup this year. And there's a reason why. Pressure him and force him to make plays and we'll find out what kind of player he really is.

Week 1 AFC East Daily Patriots posts

Week 2 AFC East game picks: Cardinals at Patriots

Brady has 'a ton of confidence' in Patriots' O-line

Patriots' punt team made defense's job easier

Belichick very complimentary of Jones, Hightower

Patriots' rookie defenders light it up against Titans