As usual, we've spent way too much time talking about the quarterback, and I'm as guilty as anyone.
MORE FROM FELGER: Cardinals have weaknesses the Patriots can expose
The fact is that the Patriots success this week, and this month for that matter, shouldn't necessarily be tied to Jimmy Garoppolo. In other words, it's possible to win in the NFL with something other than quarterback play. It's not the norm, but it still happens. See Denver, most recently.
If Garoppolo plays well over this next month, great. But if he doesn't? The Pats shouldn't be stuck. Why, for example, is it so unreasonable to expect the following?
Win on defense
Hey, there's a concept! The Pats have been building to this point for years, and now they should be poised to take over on that side of the ball. The Pats ranked 10th in the NFL in points allowed last season (19.7 per game) and the pressure is on them to be better this year. Given their depth up front, their explosiveness at linebacker and their solid cover guys in the secondary, why can't they hold Arizona around the 20-point mark and create some short fields for Garoppolo and the offense? That's not an unreasonable ask. It's time for that side of the ball to compensate, like the Broncos did last year for Peyton Manning and the Jets did for years for Mark Sanchez.
Make no mistake, Carson Palmer wants to turn the ball over. He was the darling of the NFL for much of the season last year, but then reality set in late. He had interceptions in each of his last four games, including postseason, and finished with eight total over that stretch. He continued that trend this preseason with three more picks (against no touchdowns and a 54.5 completion percentage). The Pats should be able to get to him.
And the next three weeks? Please. If the Pats aren't able to get the better of Ryan Tannehill, Brock Osweiler and Tyrod Taylor at home, then the defense isn't as good as we think it is.
Win with your tight ends
You have four of them, for crying out loud. Five if you include fullback James Develin. And taking a quick look at Arizona's results last year, it seems there could be some openings.
A quick sample, working backwards from the end of the season:
Carolina Greg Olsen got them for 113 yards on six catches in the NFC title game. The week before, the Packers, who have some of the worst tight-end play in the league, still got five catches out of Richard Rodgers. Something named Cooper Helfet of the Seahawks got the Cards for four catches for 42 yards in the final game of the regular season, two weeks after Philadelphia's Zach Ertz had eight catches, 78 yards and a touchdown. There's more, including Minnesota's Kyle Rudolph with six catches for 67 yards in Week 14, Cincinnati's Tyler Eifert with two touchdowns in Week 11 and Cleveland's Gary Barnidge with seven catches, 53 yards and a score in Week eight.
As a team, the Cardinals ranked in the upper half of the league defending tight ends (at least that's what I think the charts said on Football Outsiders; if you can figure them out let me know). But they were hardly infallible. Either way, Arizona will obviously devote attention to Rob Gronkowski. But can the Cards do that and still cover Martellus Bennett? And what are AJ Derby and Clay Harbor here for? Are the Pats carrying four tight ends because Bill Belichick believes Arizona has trouble covering them?
Win against an overrated Cardinals defense.
Statistically, the Cardinals were a hair better than the Pats (tied for seventh in points allowed; 19.6 points per game). But over their final seven games, including postseason, they gave up point totals of 32 (Seattle), 31 (Cincinnati), 36 (Seattle again) and 49 (Carolina in the title game). In the divisional round, the Packers, down seven points and with no timeouts, were facing a fourth-and-20 with 55 seconds left in the fourth quarter on their own 4-yard line. The Cards still needed overtime to win.
Not sure if that's about coaching or a defense that sometimes lacks focus, but for an allegedly elite unit, the Cardinals sure gave up some big plays when it mattered last season.
If all else fails, slip some edibles into the Cardinals pregame spread
Between Chandler Jones, Robert Nkemdiche and Tyrann Mathieu, the Cardinals are no stranger to THC ingestion, or whatever it was that got Nkemdiche to jump out a dormitory window at Ole Miss and Jones to show up half-naked at the Foxboro police department last January. There's no question both teams should be sky high come Sunday night, but for the Cards that might be a literal description. I'd watch out for the contact highs.
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