The Patriots head out to the desert sun this week to take on a team many so-called experts consider one of the weaker teams in the NFL, the Arizona Cardinals. New England is coming off a troubling, yet typically Patriots style, win over the Colts on the season opener almost 10 days ago.
Arizona, in typical Cardinals fashion, managed to lose to a less than impressive St. Louis Rams football team. Many of those same so-called experts consider the Rams to be a playoff contender. Which leads us to believe that this is one of those games that will not turn out as it looks on paper.
Like most experts out there, prognosticators are penciling this game as a gimme. The line from Vegas has the Superbowl champs listed as 8-point favorites. Many followers tend to agree with that perspective deeming the Cardinals as a team in the lower echelon of the league, but not these Patriots. They are taking their opponent seriously.
With all the pre-game centered on the remembrance of former Cardinal Safety Pat Tillman (Tillman was KIA in Afghanistan) [See related WikiPedia], the teams will have a lot on their minds other than football prior to kick-off. Tillman volunteered for duty as a US Army Ranger, forfeiting a chance to earn a $3.6million contract with the Cardinals. His former teammates will remember that, and are likely to be even more determined in this, their home opener.
The Tillman ceremony, the fact that this game is the Cardinals home opener, the concern that the Patriots have trouble stopping the run, and the potential to overlook an opponent are just a few of the reasons that the Cardinals have a better than 8-point underdog chance to win this game.
You can tell the Cardinals respect their opponent. Emmit Smith, the long time Dallas Cowboy RB and current NFL rushing record holder, in his second season playing for Arizona puts it in perspective. "They've got great players all the way around." Smith responded when asked for his opinion on the Patriots. "Great corners, great linebackers, great defensive linemen, a great head coach, great offense, great wide receivers, great schemes, super fans I guess. What else can I say? They're superb."
Smith will lead the Cardinal rushing attack behind a huge offensive line anchored by Arizona's twin towers at tackle; former first round pick Leonard Davis (6'6", 381) recently moved from his guard position, and seven year vet, Anthony Clement (6'8", 350)
Coach Bill Belichick understands there is potential to have a letdown this week. "What the Patriots are is 1-0 this season. Nothing else is relevant," he said working on downplaying the apparent disparity in talent between the teams. "There's no championship team," he said. "There's been one game played this year, and that's it. And so nobody's won anything, nobody's done anything."
Patriots players understand that there is potential to let one get away from them, and they're listening to their coach. Quarterback Tom Brady reiterated what the coach has been trying to instill in them… that Arizona is not as bad as their 4-12 record from last season indicates.
"There are really only five games of film on them," Brady said. "That is all you see. With the new staff, you really can't go back into evaluating what they have done in real critical situations. They have basically played one game where it has been critical, and that was last week. We are studying that film.
Without a lot of game film on the Dennis Green version of the Cardinals, the Patriots have to rely on the looks the Cardinals gave opponents this preseason.
"We are studying the preseason and trying to put together a game plan that will best play to our strengths and their weaknesses. If we can do that, then I think we will come out of the game feeling good. You just don't know what to expect, so you are trying to prepare for everything." Brady commented.
Points of Interest:
The Patriots are looking for the 17th win in a row (including postseason) this week against the Cardinals. If they can come away with the victory, they will tie the 1976-77 Oakland Raiders with only one more game to go to reach the record of 18 in a row, held by 6 teams ('33-34 Bears, '41-42 Bears, '47-48 Browns, '72-73 Dolphins, '89-90 49ers and the '97-98 Broncos).
Coach Dennis Green is 3-0 lifetime against the Patriots, although that undefeated record is in jeopardy in his first season as head coach of this young Cardinal team.
Patriots Linebacker Tedy Bruschi and punter Josh Miller were teammates at the University of Arizona.
The Patriots have outscored the Cardinals 58-3 in their last two meetings (31-0, 1996 and 27-3, 1999)
The Patriots are ranked 30th and the Cardinals 31st in terms of Total Yards Allowed on Defense (446 and 448 yards respectively).
Tom Brady is on pace to break 5000 yards in a single season if he can repeat his season opener performance of 335 yards against the Colts. He was one of only 3 QBs in the NFL to break the 300yard passing mark in week 1.
This game marks Pat Tillman day. The Cardinals plan to retire Tillman's Jersey
number 40 at halftime. Tillman's family and friends will be present for the
ceremony. Both teams will wear #40 decals on the back of their helmets.
Brady on Tillman: ''I think it's really neat. You pay tribute to people you look up to and you respect and admire, when you think about what he has done, compared to what we are doing playing football and how little in actual important it is what we are doing.''
Game time is 4:15 EST (CBS)