How the Patriots defense can rebound against Kyler Murray and top-rated Cardinals offense

The Patriots defense was no match for Deshaun Watson and the Texans. Will it be any different against Kyler Murray and the Cardinals?
That’s one of the major storylines headlining Sunday’s matchup, as the Cardinals come to Foxboro sporting the NFL’s top offense.
If Watson & Co. was tough, it’s not going to get any easier with Murray and his arsenal.
The Cardinals quarterback has a terrific group of receivers led by DeAndre Hopkins, currently the league’s top wideout with 72 catches for 912 yards and four touchdowns.
And while Murray is proficient throwing the football, he is also dangerous running with the rock. He’s currently the 11th-leading rusher in the NFL, and top quarterback with wheels.
Needless to say, the Patriots defense will have its hands full.
Here’s how the unit can tame Murray and keep the dimmest of playoff hopes alive.
1. Harness Hopkins
The assignment screams Stephon Gilmore. If anyone is going to shut down or limit Hopkins, it’ll be Gilmore. While Watson ripped up the secondary last week, he didn’t target Gilmore, per se. It’s hard to believe Murray will avoid trying to hook up with Hopkins.
In the past, Gilmore has had some luck stuffing Hopkins. Last year, while with the Texans, Hopkins had a measure of success with five catches on eight targets for 64 yards, with no touchdowns. In two other matchups against Gilmore in a Patriots uniform, Hopkins only mustered six catches on nine targets for 85 yards with no touchdowns and a pick.
Gilmore can probably handle him alone, but it might also make sense having a little safety help over the top on occasion, maybe having Devin McCourty shade toward Hopkins’ side in deep coverage.
The Seahawks went with that strategy Week 11, and contained him fairly well with Hopkins pulling in five catches for 51 yards, a modest haul for him.
2. Harass Murray
The Patriots didn’t get any pressure on Watson, and when they did, they weren’t able to contain him.
That has to change with Murray, even if he’s not 100% with a shoulder injury. They need to keep him in the pocket. And not allow him to escape. Because he’ll either burn the Patriots with his legs, or with his arm.
“He’s quick, but he’s fast. He can get away from most everybody,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “So, you have to maintain leverage and take an angle on him or have an angle with him with multiple people that just limit the amount of space that he can work in. But, he’s a very dynamic player.”
Last week, they barely laid a hand on Watson. He had clean pockets to throw from. The Patriots need to be more disruptive, and again, make sure Murray doesn’t get past their containment.
Safeties Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger should spy Murray on scrambles while also keeping an eye on running back Chase Edmonds, a favorite outlet of Murray when he’s in trouble.
3. Halt the big plays
The Texans feasted on big plays. Two weeks before, the Jets also had success, with Joe Flacco lighting up the secondary for long gains.
It has to stop.
Five plays of 20 or more yards for the Texans?
That would once again be deadly if the Patriots give that up to the Cards.
Whether it’s allowing the receivers to break free, or the running backs to bust out for big plays, the Patriots need to do a better job, or else Murray will pile on.
The Cardinals quarterback has several weapons for those chunk plays. Edmonds is a terrific pass-catcher, so the Patriots are going to have to keep an eye on him coming out of the backfield, along with the rest of the cast. While 11-time Pro Bowler Larry Fitzgerald didn’t make the trip after reportedly testing positive for COVID-19, Murray still has the speedy Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella to go along with Hopkins.
“We have to do a better job, it’s going to be no different next week when we play Arizona with Murray; he’ll be doing the same things (as Watson), buying extra time — and has the ability to get the ball down the field or run it and make yards with his legs,” said Devin McCourty. “It won’t get any easier.”

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