There’s no question anymore where the Patriots offense is trending.
It’s headed upward.
The only worry now is how fast.
Having eliminated the turnovers that sunk them earlier this season, the Pats are now being limited by an understandable conservatism that arguably cost them in Houston. A large halftime lead was directly tied to questionable play-calling that pulled the game from Cam Newton’s hands and steered away from a hard-charging Damien Harris. Against an aggressive Arizona defense, the Pats can’t afford to let the Cardinals dictate terms.
It will take a balanced approach that attacks Arizona’s quietly vulnerable secondary and applies steady pressure on its front with a Harris-led run game. Newton has proven he can command the offense and strike with accuracy to the intermediate and deep levels of the field. It’s time to see what happens when the Patriots put the game in the hands of their best offensive players.
1. Let Cam take the reins
It’s time to let Cam take over. He’s committed one turnover the last four weeks and produced some of the most efficient passing performances across the NFL. The Patriots coaching staff can see it.
“Last week, to have the yardage throwing that he had and not have dangerous throws or contested throws, is a real testament to his ability to read the defense and get the ball to the receivers that are open,” Pats coach Bill Belichick said this week. “So, not only to protect the ball, but also to have a lot of production in the passing game, he really does a good job seeing the receivers and seeing the field, keeping his eyes downfield and being able to hit those guys. He’s done an excellent job of that, as has our entire offense.”
Look for the Pats to allow him to attack off play-action on first down, when his average yards per attempt on play-action throws jumps by a full yard and QB rating skyrockets.
2. Beat the blitz
The Cardinals blitz at the fifth-highest rate in the NFL at 40.3%, per Pro Football Reference. Their coverage is so-so, but creating turnovers and negative plays can paper over a lot of holes. That aggression is at the heart of their defensive identity.
“Defensively, they do a good job putting pressure on the offense, creating negative plays,” Belichick said this week. “They’re a very good third-down, short-yardage defense. They do a good job of, as I said, just making it difficult on the offense with pressures, safety pressures with (Budda) Baker causing disruptive plays.”
The Pats can expect the Cardinals to blitz heavily off their left side, given starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn will be out. That’s how their chances of winning essentially ended last weekend at Houston. Preserving a shot of victory Sunday must start there, too.
Another area to watch is their running backs in blitz pickup. It’s likely either Damien Harris or Sony Michel will play more passing downs than they’re accustomed, after Rex Burkhead’s season-ending knee injury. Or the Pats will run James White out for every third down.
3. Run right repeatedly
In three of the Cardinals’ last four games, opponents have found increasing success running off the right side, averaging better than 5 yards per carry.
Last week, Seattle gained an average of 7.4 yards off the right end, per Pro Football Focus tracking data, and 8.3 yards on four handoffs up the middle right. Luckily for the Pats, their offensive line’s strengths lie in those exact spots. Right guard Shaq Mason and rookie right tackle Michael Onwenu have been road graders all season.
When the Patriots find themselves in short yardage, expect Newton on a quarterback sneak or a handoff right for Michel or Harris. It could decide the game.
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