The Patriots come into Monday night’s matchup reeling off two straight losses and in need of a win to stay alive in the playoff picture. While this seems like a reprieve against a 4-8 Cardinals team, Kliff Kingsbury’s squad may not be so straightforward to deal with. Here’s who the Patriots will need to worry about, not just from a talent perspective, but also a matchup perspective.
QB Kyler Murray
From a perspective of how he has performed this season, Kyler shouldn’t be a threat. With 2359 yards, 14 TDs, seven interceptions, and two lost fumbles, Murray is having a mediocre-at-best season so far. In terms of yards per attempt and QBR, he’s having the worst season of his career, and on the field he has just looked out of sorts at times. There is no doubt, though, that Kyler’s dual-threat ability, as well as his powerful arm and raw talent, pose a threat every time he takes the field.
The issue for the Patriots is his legs. The cautionary tale that comes to mind is that of Justin Fields, who also came into the game against New England struggling through the air, but used his running ability to gash the Patriots’ defense. Murray is having an excellent season on the ground, with over 400 yards rushing, three touchdowns and a career-high 6.3 yards per rush.
The Patriots have played three dynamic quarterbacks in Fields, Allen and Jackson, and have struggled against all three, and the extra offensive possibilities given by a running quarterback have been a clear weak point for them this season. Of course, then, the passing opportunities the threat of run inevitably games allows freedom for players like Murray, who has actually been a fairly accurate passer with over 66% completions. Murray will also have his best weapons back in Marquise Brown and DeAndre Hopkins, so the full extent of their offense will be opened up.
Kyler’s one weakness on the ground is his sensibility when scrambling. He has the legs to get away from pass rush, but is not the smartest scrambler and will get himself lost sometimes. This is a major reason that he has taken 25 sacks this season, many of which have been for significant yardage loss. The Patriots’ talented edge rushers in Judon and Wise should be able to take advantage of this.
WR DeAndre Hopkins
This one almost goes without saying. Hopkins is one of the best receivers in football, and is very much in form. He is a sure-handed, quick, excellent route runner who can make plays all over the field. In just six games of action this season, Hopkins has 49 receptions for 574 yards and three touchdowns, figures that would make a successful full season for most receivers.
The Patriots tend to struggle against teams with star number-one receivers, especially when they try to single-cover them, and especially with an explosive number-two option in Hollywood Brown, it will be hard for the Patriots to properly cover Hopkins. With the struggles the Patriots are having offensively, keeping the Cardinals’ offense at bay will be essential for New England, and not many teams have faced a Cardinals offense that has both Hopkins and Brown. The defense will be tested for sure on Monday.
DE JJ Watt
Again, sometimes star power speaks for itself. JJ Watt has one of the best motors in the league and has such a rare blend of power, agility, and football IQ. His career tallies of 568 tackles and 108.5 sacks are nothing short of immaculate, and while he isn’t in his prime form right now, he’s still playing quite well.
Watt has 6.5 sacks this year, along with 21 total tackles, a fumble recovery, and five pass deflections. He’s been generating constant pressure and making life difficult for opposing quarterbacks all year. He has a competent opposite in Zach Allen, completing a very imposing edge.
Impose this on a struggling Patriots offensive line whose weakest point is the edges, with very poor performance by their tackles, as well as injuries on the right side, this is a nightmarish matchup. If Watt and Allen cannot be kept at bay, it will be a tough night under duress for Mac Jones and company.
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