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Patriots West Coast Road Trip begins Under the Lights in Arizona

Two years ago, the Patriots ended up getting back-to-back games out on the west coast, coincidentally in Los Angeles, in the span of four days. A similar arrangement in 2022, the only difference being both games are in the desert this go around. First up, the Arizona Cardinals, who have lost four of their last five games, as well as their last three home games. At 4-8, their playoff hopes are virtually nonexistent, needing everything to go perfect these last several weeks and then some just to get in.


The Patriots are roughly in the same boat at 6-6, while also having the fourth hardest remaining strength of schedule in the NFL. However, the Patriots did get some outside help over the weekend from the 49ers, Vikings, and Raiders last weekend. With their wins over the Dolphins, Jets, and Chargers respectively, the Patriots have a path into the postseason still. The problem is they won’t get there if they continue to play the way they have been, ever since the Bears game really. Will the Patriots let another game slip through the cracks against yet another beatable opponent?


Game Info

Date: Monday, December 12th

Start Time: 8:20 EST

Location: Glendale, Arizona

Stadium: State Farm Stadium

TV Info: ESPN (Joe Buck and Troy Aikman on the Call) and ESPN2 (ManningCast)

Uniform Info: White Jerseys, Blue Pants


Arizona Cardinals

Defense

Bill Belichick alluded to this in the week, but Vance Joseph’s unit is big in the pressure department. Going into Monday night, the Cardinals rank fifth in the NFL with 118 pressures and a pressure percentage of 24.6. Arizona also ranks top five in both quarterback knockdowns and knockdown percentage as well. Oddly enough, that has not translated to an abundance of sacks for this defense. With just 23 on the season, they sit at the eighth lowest in the league, tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

J.J. Watt to no surprise has been one of the bigger contributors, but a surprise is fourth-year IDL Zach Allen out of Boston College. He sits second on the Cardinals in sacks (4.5), and first in pressures (24). Markus Golden and Isaiah Simmons have also been active in the pressure department from the second level as well. Moving onto the run defense, the Cardinals sit just a tick better than the Patriots in terms of yards allowed per game at 110.8. The four aforementioned Cardinals have been productive in stuffing the run, along with linebacker Zaven Collins.

Pass defense is where things get muddy for the Cardinals. Because they rank 24th out of 32. Long gone are the days of Patrick Peterson and the Honey Badger roaming the secondary. Even now, their top corner Byron Murphy has missed multiple games this season and is once again trending to miss another. After missing multiple practices this week, Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury said that “it doesn’t look like” the soon-to-be free-agent corner will be inactive with a back issue. That leaves some suspect corners on the outside in the form of Antonio Hamilton and Marco Wilson. Both have allowed passer ratings in the 80s which is good, but also 10 yards per completion, not to mention 739 yards combined.


Offense

Kyler Murray is one of the most dynamic talents at quarterback in all of football, but for a variety of reasons, is on pace for the worst year of his career. For starters, Cardinals GM Steve Keim continues to commit severe malpractice by not giving him an offensive line now four years into his career. Secondly, injuries and suspensions have put his cast on offense in flux week to week. Tight End Zach Ertz, who is now out for the year with a knee injury, was the only pass catcher for the Cardinals who played at least 10 games while also having over 40 catches. Not to mention DeAndre Hopkins missed the opening half dozen games of the season with a suspension for Performance Enhancing Drugs.

Even so, Murray can be a calamitous threat with his legs. Just look at his two-point conversion against the Raiders earlier in the season on a play that lasted roughly 20 seconds of real-time. It is worth noting however that in the most recent Patriots-Cardinals matchup (2020), he didn’t get a ton going through the air or on the ground. That was also with Hopkins and Christian Kirk, and ZooMass legend Andy Isabella mind you, not a bad group by any stretch.

Circling back to Hopkins, he hasn’t skipped a beat on the perimeter, averaging nearly 100 yards a game through six contests. Historically the Patriots have held him in check, never allowing a game over 80 yards along with never allowing a score. Elsewhere, the Cardinals made an interesting draft weekend move, getting Hollywood Brown from the Ravens for a first-round pick. A foot fracture earlier in the season hampered things, but the Oklahoma product has been solid this season. He’s averaged at least 10 yards per reception in five of his seven games, including a 14-catch 140-yard outing against the Rams.

Second-year wideout Rondale Moore meanwhile will miss this game against the Patriots, leaving the WR3 spot to A.J. Green and Greg Dortch. Also, with Zach Ertz now done for the year, that opens things up for the pride of Colorado State Tre McBride. Considered by some to be the best tight end in the last draft class, he hasn’t been used much at all in his rookie year behind the former Pro Bowler. For obvious reasons, that should change imminently. Will be interesting to see how quickly Kingsbury tries to ramp up his involvement in the passing game.

Then on the ground for the Cardinals is the former Steeler James Conner, who should be taking a lion's share of the workload. Just a few weeks ago, the Cardinals let go of No. 2 back Eno Benjamin, who is now with the Houston Texans. Back to Conner, it hasn’t been a year to write about, but he is coming off a 120-yard game against the Chargers.


New England Patriots

Defense

Once again, the Patriots will be without at least one player in the secondary, and again it is Jalen Mills with his groin injury. The good news is that he will be good to go for the Raiders game according to Jordan Schultz of the Score. This isn’t exactly the stretch where the Patriots can afford injuries in the secondary. Mainly considering every team left for them after this has at the minimum two pro bowl caliber pass catchers. As for how they defend Hopkins, in the past, Stephon Gilmore has gotten him one on one, but that won’t be the case on Monday. Jonathan Jones has taken some lumps these last two weeks, but he’s probably the best option due to his size and experience. I’m more interested to see how Steve Belichick/Jerod Mayo attack Hollywood Brown given the presence of Hopkins. You’re not going to be able to double both, and they both clearly present different challenges.

The Vikings and Bills were able to largely neutralize Matt Judon, but a pleasant surprise as of late is his running mate, Josh Uche. To say the third-year man out of Michigan has been red hot as of late would be putting it lightly. All seven of his sacks this season have come since the initial Jets matchup and has put himself into elite company in the last month. His 26.3% pass rush win rate ranks third and his 25.6% pressure percentage ranks first. That’s not for the Patriots, but the entire NFL. This also comes with an uptick in snaps coincidently, averaging a tick over 36% of all snaps over the last five games. He’s ultimately going to be limited simply due to situational reasons, but the more Uche is out there, good things clearly happen.

The biggest obstacle in front of the Patriots this week will ultimately be defending the run. They surprisingly got beat up on the ground pretty well by Devin Singletary and James Cook last week. Not having Carl Davis out there hurt a good deal, but it felt like New England couldn’t get any timely stops on the ground. James Conner is going to test them, but Murray is the real concern. Lamar Jackson and Justin Fields torched New England on the ground, and Murray has the potential to do more than either of the prior two. Keeping Murray in the pocket is priority one.


Offense

"I see an offense that's running the football well. It's a very conservative pass game, lot of screens, all kind of screens. It's how a defensive guy would call offensive plays, right?” That was said just days ago by Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, and he is right on the money. Outside of the Marcus Jones screen, this unit did virtually nothing last week in what was a must-win spot. Some of that can certainly be attributed to some downright scary play at tackle, but once again, the play-calling was horrendous once again...I’m beginning to sense a trend here.

Mac Jones is going to likely be in for a rough night on Monday and here’s why. With Isaiah Wynn already ruled out and Trent Brown potentially in the same boat with an illness, his protection is once again not going to be up to snuff. Furthermore, the Cardinals bring the heat in the pass rush department, and Mac Jones hasn’t done particularly great at all under pressure. But wait, there’s more because Jones’ top target Jakobi Meyers has already been ruled out with the concussion he suffered at the end of the Bills game.

With Meyers out, someone is going to have to step up and be a reliable target. Taking him and Rhamondre Stevenson out of the equation, not one Patriot has amassed more than 25 receptions. That’s a massive problem. Receivers haven’t been able to get a good amount of separation, but a fair criticism of Jones is that he can get tunnel vision, or simply not look beyond his first read sometimes. He’s not going to have much time to make more than two reads most likely, but he’s got to trust his guys to make a play. Tyquan Thornton perhaps?

Speaking of ‘Mondre, he probably getting the entire workload again this week. While Damien Harris is reportedly making the trip to Glendale, it doesn’t sound likely he will suit up on Monday night. The only other Patriots back to get a carry was Kevin Harris, and he was done after just one carry for -1 yards. I wouldn’t mind seeing him getting an expanded workload, or if Patricia gives Pierre Strong a look so that Stevenson isn’t in for over 95 percent of the snaps again.


Betting Odds:

Points Spread: NE -1.5 (-108) | ARI +1.5 (-112)

Moneyline: NE (-180) | ARI (-152)

Over/Under: O 43.5 (-110) | U 43.5 (-110)


The Cardinals will be hosting their seventh game of the season at State Farm Stadium, and this is the fifth time they are a dog in their own building. Either way, you want to split it, they’re batting .500, 2-2 ATS as a home dog, 3-3 ATS at home period, but also 1-5 outright. Despite that, the Cardinals are one of the NFL’s best teams as it relates to the over. At 6-4-2, that puts Arizona at a 60 percent clip for the over, trailing just the Brown, Lions, Eagles, and funny enough at the top, the Bears believe it or not.


New England is entering its third game of 2022 as a favorite on the road, with a win and a push to their credit. Outright, they are 3-3 away from Foxborough, 0-2 against NFC teams, and 0-1 in primetime. The Under meanwhile remains close to a stone-cold lock over the last month at 4-1, and with the Patriots' offensive struggles, that makes that a safe bet. As for everything else, I’d lean toward Arizona both money line and ATS, but I don’t feel as strongly about those as the under.


Prediction:

The Cardinals ultimately feel like a team that can give the Patriots some real trouble, akin to the Bears whom they also played on Monday Night Football. I felt like the Cardinals let one slip through the cracks in Foxborough in 2020 against Cam Newton after going up 10-0 right away. This go around, I think Belichick takes another loss to one of his former quarterbacks under the bright lights.


Final Score: Arizona Cardinals 24, New England Patriots 10

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