For the third week in a row the New England Patriots will not be playing on Sunday. After two straight Thursday night prime time games the Patriots will face off against the Cardinals on Monday night. With the Patriots playoff chances being held in the balance, Monday night’s game is crucial as this is the most winnable game being still on the schedule for New England.
Patriots Offensive Keys: Find Some Sort of Identity
It is to no Patriots fans surprise that this season has been a dumpster fire offensively. Not only has Mac Jones regressed severely but outside of Rhamondre Stevenson and Jakobi Meyers, each player is having their worst career year statistically. The struggles on the offensive line have been a big concern and the inability to make big plays when needed has not been there, outside of a few odd circumstances.
The Patriots come in as the number 21 ranked offense overall on Pro Football Focus. The Patriots’ rushing attack has fallen back to earth the past few weeks. Now sitting 25th overall in the NFL in rushing offense, the once strength of the team is now their Achilles heel.
Shockingly, the passing attack has been a much better choice over the past few weeks, even with no ability to get the ball downfield and the inability to block anyone. But either way the Patriots, on paper, should be able to score some points on this Arizona Cardinals team.
The Cardinals defense ranks 25th overall as they have just been getting torched this year at points. They rank 28th in rush defense and 20th in pass defense but the strength of this team, if there is one defensively, is their ability to rush the passer. This is not a great sign for the Patriots as Mac Jones, percentage wise (25% of his drop backs), has been sacked the second most in his nine games played. On the other hand, though when Jones has a clean pocket, he ranks eighth in adjusted quarterback rating. Arizona blitzes the second most in the NFL, 35% of plays.
Even though the Patriots need to focus on keeping Jones clean, the name of the game will yet again be to hopefully rely on Rhamondre Stevenson only as Damien Harris has yet to practice this week. Harris has a thigh injury which is keeping him out but the Rhamondre Stevenson show will go on regardless.
The Patriots have leaned heavily on Stevenson this year in the run game but has seen his carries average around twelve per game since he scored on the ground twice in week six against the Browns. If the Patriots are going to have any shot this week, Stevenson needs to be in the 20-25 carries ballpark. He is fresh enough that he can do so and relying on Mac Jones to throw the ball 30-35 times a game is not what is going to make this offense, at this point, successful.
This week Cardinals DC Vance Joseph had a few interesting comments made about this Matt Patricia led Patriots offense.
"It's a very conservative pass game. … It's like a defensive guy's calling offense."
Cardinals DC Vance Joseph doesn't sound especially fearful of the Patriots' Matt Patricia-led offense. https://t.co/AZhTYxTSab pic.twitter.com/51Fda7NEm8
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) December 8, 2022
In general, the offensive line play needs to just clean up as well. Trent Brown has not practiced this week with an illness he has so it is looking like there could be a new left tackle this week for the Patriots. Isaiah Wynn is not back to full health yet with a nagging foot injury he has been dealing with so he is also unlikely to play so it will either.
Yodny Cajuste did practice this week and would be the ideal fit to play on that left side, although he has had his share of struggles too this year. Overall, I think this line cannot be fixed this year and will have to be addressed in the off season but for now they must focus on not getting Mac Jones killed.
Defensive Key’s: Defend the QB Scramble
This season I have been impressed by this Patriots defense. The Patriots rank 12th in total team defense. They have been the best tackling team by far this season and have defended the pass tremendously, although they have had a few lapses at times. Their pass rush has been excellent this year as a team with twelve different players recording a sack. Being led by Matthew Judon (13 sacks), Josh Uche (7 sacks), and Deatrich Wise Jr (6.5 sacks) the Patriots have recorded the third most sacks in the NFL this season.
This week will be a challenging one for the Patriots defense as they are going to have to defend Kyler Murray. Murray, who excels at getting out of the pocket and extending play, will for sure be the focus at defending for New England.
The Patriots have severely struggled against mobile quarterbacks this year. They gave up 107 to Lamar Jackson as well as 82 to Justin Fields. Last week Josh Allen was held to only twenty yards but his ability to scramble and make throws killed the Patriots. Once was for the Gabe Davis touchdown and the other one to Stefon Diggs was called back due to a penalty.
Murray has had his share of struggles this season though. Like Mac Jones, he was injured, had turnover problems, and had issues throwing the ball. The Patriots need to have Murray as he is far less effective as a passer in the pocket as opposed to when he is scrambling. Murray, on average, spends 2.6 seconds in the pocket while he spends 5.25 seconds outside of the pocket when throwing (Pro Football Focus).
Murray has a completion percentage is 66.3% overall. When he spends less time in the pocket, he has 11 touchdowns to one interception. When he is forced to stay in the pocket for over 2.5 seconds, he has three touchdowns to six interceptions (Pro Football Focus). So, containment is the name of the game this week defensively.
Wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Rondale Moore have not practiced at all this week so we’ll see on Monday night if they can be fit enough to play or not. Hopkins if he does play is going to be the main weapon in the passing game who needs to be stopped.
Bill Belichick has a lot of respect for DeAndre Hopkins' game. 👏 https://t.co/SSV1JXY5LM pic.twitter.com/D7wmbQbFnY
— theScore (@theScore) December 6, 2022
Hopkins, who was suspended for the first eight games of the season, has been the main target for Murray since his return. In six games Hopkins leads the NFL in reception, targets, and yards. He is still one of the most dominant players in the league and if he is unable to suit up against the Patriots that will be a massive bonus for the Patriots defense. In all honest though I do not think an illness is going to keep Hopkins out of this game.
The Patriots are a one point favorite on the road this week with an over under of 43.5. The Patriots are 2-0 on the year as favorites and are 4-1 on the road ATS this season. The over has only hit in four Patriots games this year and with the way the Patriots offense has look and how strong their defense is I cannot see this game going over that number.
I like the Patriots spread though, and as the game moves close to kick off, the spread could move a point or two towards the Cardinals.
My Prediction is Patriots 17 Cardinals 10. I cannot see the Patriots losing this game as they are fighting for their playoff lives right now, and with the final four games being against teams in the playoff or in the hunt the road will not be getting any easier.
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