Sept. 9, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; The Arizona Cardinals will rely heavily on quarterback Kevin Kolb (4) and linebacker Sam Acho (94) to play at a high level against the Patriots. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Hilderbrand-US PRESSWIRE
The last time the Arizona Cardinals traveled to Gillette stadium to face the New England Patriots was during the 2008 season. The Patriots delivered an embarrassing defeat to the Cardinals by scoring 47 points with their back up quarterback and only surrendered seven points to Larry Fitzgerald who caught and ran for a career long touchdown pass from Matt Leinart.
There is good news from that defeat, that game was the low point for the season and a major rebuilding point for the team that Coach Whisenhunt used to gel the team and springboard the Cardinals into a winning machine who were set out to "Shock the world" and landed the Cardinals in Super Bowl 43. Both franchises have changed drastically since that dramatic 2008 game. Let's take a look at some of the keys to the game for this contest after the jump.
Key 1: Keep the Patriots offense off of the field.
In this case, the best defense is to keep the opposing offense off of the field. The Cardinals will need to maximize the use of the clock whenever the Cardinals offense is on the field. The game plan will need to be tailored to quick short passes and a lot of runs to consistently move the chains forward, keep the clock running, and keep the opposing offense standing on the sidelines. Kevin Kolb will need to be decisive and precise, two areas that we have seen a few glimpses of last week, let's hope that was just the beginning of something great.
Key 2: Play outstanding pass coverage, especially against the TEs.
When the Patriots offense is on the field the defense will need to step up in pass coverage to allow the linebackers to get pressure. The Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady, has two incredible weapons in tight-end's Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and they were used heavily in week one of the season. Ray Horton will need to strike a balance of sending pressure after Brady and still cover the Patriots TEs. I'd expect to see a lot of Cardinals SS Adrian Wilson alternating between playing close to the box and playing coverage for either of the TEs and OLB tandem Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield will be relied upon to cause pressure and make Brady make mistakes.
Key 3: Score touchdowns in the red zone.
This will seem like a no-brainer, as this is the point in football, but last week the Cardinals drives stalled and they had to settle for two field goals at the end of drives. One series stalled at the two yard line and was backed up by penalties and mistakes. The Patriots have proven the ability to move the ball well and score in a very short amount of time making every red zone opportunity crucial to the Cardinals to score touchdowns rather than settling for a field goal.
Key 4: Limit penalties
The final key is to limit penalties, especially pass interference penalties. If Patrick Peterson plays the way he did against the Seahawks he's going to be targeted solely to give up the large yardage penalties. Pass interference made a winning game into an unnecessary risk in week one, and limiting them against the Patriots passing attack will be one of the keys to winning this game.
Due to the history of when the Cardinals played the Patriots last I think this game is a win/win scenario whether they win or lose. If they win, they Cardinals will have made a statement to the NFL and to themselves that they can compete with the best in the league. If they lose, then maybe that will spur the some of that magic from 2008 and Whisenhunt will use the loss to build team chemistry and springboard the Cardinals into a winning machine starting with the Eagles in week three.
What are your keys to the game? Sound off in the comments below!