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News » PATRIOTS BEAT


PATRIOTS BEAT


PATRIOTS BEAT
FOXBORO -- If the Cardinals were golfers, they'd dominate the Nationwide Tour and get pummeled on the PGA.


Such is their reputation in the midst of a schizophrenic season that has seen them clean up on the Sisters of the Poor known as the NFC West, but get their heads handed to them by virtually everyone else.

Against teams with playoff pedigrees, the Cardinals have been simply ghastly. Since beating the Cowboys in Week 5, they have played four teams with winning records -- the Panthers, Giants, Eagles and Vikings -- and lost by a combined score of 147-86. Add a 56-35 shellacking at the hands of the Jets in September, and what you have is an AFC West champion with something to prove against the Patriots this afternoon.

``You want to be entering the playoffs on a high, on some kind of streak with as much confidence as you've had all year,'' Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner said. ``Yes, there's always worry about that. When you get these teams that we've got down the stretch, we've played some tough and we haven't played some tough, so you definitely worry.''

The Cards actually led the Panthers, the NFC's potential No. 1 seed, 17-3, in the third quarter before imploding in a 27-23 loss on Oct. 26. They were done in by a botched fake field goal and a missed extra point.

A month later, they trailed the Giants by scores of 24-12 and 34-19 before rallying in a 39-27 defeat that saw Warner sacked three times, turn the ball over twice and post his first sub-80.0 passer rating of the season.

As for the recent games against the Eagles and Vikings, they were over before they started. The Cards lost to Philadelphia, 48-20, and fell to Minnesota, 35-14.

``Especially with a young team that's never been there before, you worry about what they're thinking and what needs to take place for us to be in a position to compete, win and advance in the playoffs,'' Warner said. ``There's definitely a worry about what these last two games are going to mean to us and how it's going to determine how we play in the playoffs.''

The Patriots, needless to say, fancy themselves a playoff team. And at 9-5, they actually boast a better record than the 8-6 Cardinals, who run the risk of limping into the playoff as a division champ with a .500 record.

Today's wintry elements should favor the Pats. On paper, so should the matchups in the running game, on defense, special teams and coaching. Arizona might own an incremental advantage in the passing game, but if the Patriots can't beat the Cardinals like the previous four playoff squads have, then they probably don't deserve to be there themselves.

The Cardinals freely admit how disappointed they've been with their play against the league's elite.

``It's not something we're pleased about, especially two of the games,'' coach Ken Whisenhunt said. ``We didn't play well at all against Philadelphia and then this past week against Minnesota. But I think that's all part of growing up as a team. We're still a work in progress. We're learning about ourselves and we know that this week is going to be especially tough going into New England and how NFC teams have not fared well against this team. It's a challenge. We're just hoping that we can improve our play and get in position to play well in the playoffs.''

The Cardinals can do little to improve the playoff seeding and will host a wild card game, possibly against the Cowboys, Buccaneers or Falcons. They'd like to beat the Patriots to give themselves a little confidence heading into the postseason.

``There's no question that going out there to their place in the situation they're in, still fighting for a playoff spot, yeah this is a tremendous measuring stick for us to see where we're at,'' Warner said. ``Just like many of the last few games have been and here's another one to help us get ready for when playoff time comes.''

--jtomase@bostonherald.com

THE CHECKLIST

John Tomase breaks down today's matchup:

Defense Patriots

Special Teams Patriots

Passing Cardinals

Rushing Patriots

Coaching Patriots

THE SKINNY: The bottom line is the Cardinals would like to win this one, but the Patriots absolutely need to win it.

SCOUTING REPORT: Cardinals at Patriots

TODAY -- 1 p.m., Gillette Stadium, Foxboro

TV/RADIO -- Ch. 25 (Kenny Albery and Daryl Johnston); WBCN-FM 104.1 (Gil Santos and Gino Cappelletti)

THE RECORDS -- The Patriots are 9-5, tied with the Jets and Dolphins atop the AFC East. The NFC West champion Cardinals are 8-6.

LINE -- Patriots by 7 (over-under: 39 1/2 points)

RECORDS VS. SPREAD -- Cardinals 7-6-1; Patriots 7-7.

SERIES HISTORY -- After a 1-6 series start against the Cardinals, the Pats have won the last four meetings to bring their series record vs. the Cardinals to 5-6. The last time the Cards came to Foxboro was 12 years ago, the second-longest gap between visits among NFL teams.

INJURY REPORT - Cardinals: OUT: LB Clark Haggans (foot), DE Travis LaBoy (ankle); QUESTIONABLE: RB J.J. Arrington (knee), WR Anquan Boldin (shoulder), WR Early Doucet (hamstring), WR Sean Morey (shoulder), LB Pago Togafau (knee), S Adrian Wilson (toe). Patriots: OUT: LB Tedy Bruschi (knee); QUESTIONABLE: LB Gary Guyton (ankle), CB Ellis Hobbs (shoulder), T Mark LeVoir (ankle), T Matt Light (shoulder), LB Vince Redd (ankle), S James Sanders (abdomen), S Raymond Ventrone (ankle); PROBABLE: CB Lewis Sanders (shoulder), DE Ty Warren (groin), WR Kelley Washington (thigh), NT Vince Wilfork (shoulder).

HOW THEY RANK

Patriots OFFENSE -- Ranks No. 6 in the NFL (averaging 363.7 yards per game) while ranking No. 7 in rushing (137.6 ypg) and No. 11 in passing (226.1 ypg). Cardinals OFFENSE -- Ranks No. 4 overall (averaging 372.1 yards per game), ranking No. 32 in rushing (73.1 ypg) and No. 2 in passing (299.0).

Patriots DEFENSE -- Ranks No. 14 overall (allowing an average of 320.1 yards per game) while ranking No. 16 vs. the rush (108.4 ypg) and No. 14 vs. the pass (211.8 ypg).

Cardinals DEFENSE -- Ranks No. 13 overall (318.6 yards per game), ranking No. 15 vs. the rush (106.7) and No. 15 vs. the pass (211.9).

It's fair to say the Patriots need today's game a lot more than the Cardinals. The visitors would like to prove they can compete with a playoff-caliber team, but their spot in the postseason is already secure. The Patriots, conversely, realistically must win out to keep their tournament hopes alive. They'll be tested by Arizona's passing game, but the combination of greater motivation and the potential for a stormy New England afternoon makes the Pats a good bet this afternoon.

Here is what to look for today:

1. Nix the blitz

A big factor in Kurt Warner's renaissance has been a complete and total ownership of blitzing teams. If the Patriots want to gamble and send extra rushers, they'd better get there, because Warner is a master at hanging in the pocket and exploiting single-coverage outside to Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. The teams that have played best against him (the Giants, Eagles and Vikings) -- have gotten pressure with their front seven, kept their safeties back, and counted on Warner making a mistake, which he has done more frequently over the last month.

2. Feel good about Hood

The Cardinals have surrendered a league-high 31 touchdown passes and if there's one Arizona player worth picking on, it's corner Rod Hood. He surrendered three touchdowns to the Vikings last week and is Arizona's version of Deltha O'Neal -- a formerly productive player who has just been lit up this season. Hood used to be the team's most dependable cover corner, but he has experienced a number of breakdowns trying to make plays on the ball. The Patriots will target him.

3. Wilson!

One Cardinal defender to fear is Pro Bowl strong safety Adrian Wilson, a heavy hitter who is playing the best Football of his career and resembles a poor man's Rodney Harrison. Wilson can do it all -- cover, blitz, and step up in run force. The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder is like a linebacker in the secondary and keys an otherwise average run defense. He's also a weapon blitzing off the edge, and the Patriots have undoubtedly noticed how he manhandles running backs who try to block him. He must be accounted for on every snap.

4. Beware the 'other' big plays

The Cardinals have done quite a bit of scoring on defense and special teams, with six touchdown returns coming on two interceptions, a fumble, a blocked field goal, a blocked punt and a kickoff. The blocked punt came in overtime and beat the Cowboys. The Cardinals also lead the NFL in fumble recoveries (16) and are a big-play defense, as evidenced by their 27 takeaways, which rank fifth in the league. The Patriots will move the ball. They must be sure to protect it, too.

5. The size has it

The Cardinals' passing attack is deservedly praised. Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald should each finish the season with 100 catches, and Steve Breaston will likely join them in the 1,000-yard club. The Patriots have their hands full, with the Cardinals' size. Fitzgerald, at 6-3, is a big, physical target, while Boldin is 6-1 and Breaston 6-0. They'll be matched up on a pair of smaller corners in the 5-9 Ellis Hobbs and 5-11 Jonathan Wilhite, who each must rely on technique to rip the ball away even if it appears to be completed.

-- JOHN TOMASE



Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 23, 2008

L.J. Smith Name: L.J. Smith
#82
Position: TE
Age: 28
Experience: 6 years
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