The Arizona Cardinals wish to start the season 2-0 after defeating the Seattle Seahawks 20-16 in Week 1. It took a fourth quarter game winning drive led by Kevin Kolb, who came in after John Skelton injured his ankle. It also took an exceptional performance by the defense to hold Seattle to 16 points. Five times the Seattle offense started drives in Arizona territory. They only found the end zone once.
Now Arizona takes on Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Foxborough, The last time Arizona played there was in 2008 in the snow, where they were embarrassed 47-7, which prompted the national media to write off the Cardinals as a terrible team that should not make the playoffs, despite winning the NFC West.
However, Kurt Warner is no longer leading the team and the defense is much improved. But what matchups will be key if Arizona hopes to shock the nation with a road win over the Super Bowl runners-up?
1) D'Anthony Batiste vs. Chandler Jones
Batiste is Arizona's starting left tackle, but it is only because Levi Brown went down for the season with a torn triceps. Batiste and the rest of the offensive line allowed only one sack against Seattle, but Batiste was beaten on several occasions, earning the lowest game rating at his position by Pro Football Focus.
Jones had a sack and a forced fumble in New England's Week 1 win over Tennessee. He is tall and quick at 6-5, 260 pounds. Batiste doesn't have to dominate him, he just has to keep him outside long enough for Kevin Kolb to get the ball away.
2) Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams vs. the New England front seven
The running game for Arizona was expected to be much improved this season with the return to health of Ryan Williams to join Beanie Wells. However, against Seattle's good rush defense, the Cardinals picked up only 43 yards on the ground. 15 of those game on a running play by receiver Andre Roberts. Wells and Robert combined for 25 yards.
New England held the Tennessee Titans to 20 yards on the ground, including Chris Johnson to four yards. With the addition of rookies Jones and Dont'a Hightower, New England believes it has the defense to actually stop people.
Arizona gets the chance to show the nation whether it was Seattle's tough defensive line that stopped their runner, or if it is yet another case of an inability to run the ball effectively.
3) New England's TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez vs. Daryl Washington and ????
On offense, New England has weapons galore for Tom Brady. At receiver, they have Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker. Those two will be tough enough to deal with, but the real issue is dealing with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in coverage. Linebacker Daryl Washington has the speed to keep up with one one them, but it will take a team effort schematically to cover the other. Safety Adrian Wilson will be busy this afternoon.
4) Ray Horton vs. Tom Brady
Brady has shown throughout his career that he is pretty much able to pick apart any defense, except when it comes to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. The key in those game is the ability New York has at getting to the quarterback.
Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton loves to bring pressure from all over the field. The only way the Cardinals will have a chance at slowing the Patriots offense will be to get to Brady. He hates being hit. Whether it be from the edge in Sam Acho or O'Brien Schofield, from the interior from Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell, or simply on blitzes from the secondary, if Arizona doesn't get in Brady's face, it could be a long afternoon.
5) Kevin Kolb vs. Kevin Kolb
So far since being acquired by the team prior to the 2011 season, Kevin Kolb has been Kevin Kolb's worst nightmare. He gets hurt and battles with the decisions he makes on the field, whether it be a throw he makes or when he decides to leave the pocket to try and extend and make a play.
When he came on in relief of an injured John Skelton last week against the Seahawks, he showed what the Cardinals saw in him. Running a fast-paced, no-huddle offense, he was able to make reads and throw the ball to playmakers quickly.
One struggle he has had is dealing with pressure. He has battled the urge to flee from the pocket and try to make something out of nothing, even when the best decision would have been to step up in the pocket to make a throw. Although he is likely starting only because Skelton is hurt, a very good performance on the road against a championship contender would go a long way to make it really hard to sit him down once Skelton is healthy.
Can Arizona pull off the upset? No one thinks it can. The truth is if Arizona competes with them and keeps the game close, it will almost be like a win, even if it counts as mark in the loss column. If the defense can limit the Patriots offense, it will show the nation that the unit is something to reckon with and perhaps the team can begin to get some national respect and attention.