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Patriots vs Cardinals keys to the game: Control the tempo of the game

Related: Film Room: Arizona’s 0-6-5 Defense

NFL: New England Patriots at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

For the second time in three weeks, two former Heisman Trophy winners will clash when Cam Newton’s New England Patriots host Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals. The Patriots, who sit at 4-6 on the year and are coming off of one of the most frustrating losses of the season, are arguably playing for their season this weekend as they are currently two games out of a wild card spot in the AFC and will likely need some help around the league today.

A big reason for the Cardinals’ rise in the NFC this year, meanwhile, has been the emergence of their second-year quarterback Murray — a player who is dangerous as both a passer and a runner.

The Cardinals come into Sunday with the number one offense in the NFL in terms of total yards and seventh in the league in points scored, while Murray ranks in the top-12 in all offensive categories including number three in rushing touchdowns with 10. There’s no question the Patriots will have their hands full with this powered offense led by Murray and DeAndre Hopkins but taking a similar approach as they did in their win against Baltimore may be enough to slow them down a bit.

Control the game

The Cardinals want to get out and go by playing at a high tempo with RPOs and quarterback draws while shooting it deep to their weapons on the outside. With the Patriots’ front seven struggling both when it comes to production and staying healthy this year, it will be the job of Cam Newton and the offense to control the clock and keep the Patriots defense on the sidelines as much as possible.

New England’s ground game that they went away from after having early success with last week should be plenty busy with Newton and Damien Harris being joined by Sony Michel fresh off of injured reserve. The Patriots can’t keep up with Arizona if this gets into a shootout, so controlling the pace of the game and time of possession is one way to keep it tight and have a chance in the end to pull off the upset versus the two-point favorites.

Play mistake-free football

It’s been three games since the Patriots last committed a turnover. However, the Patriots racked up a season-high seven penalties last week in Houston. On the other hand, the Cardinals are certainly a young and inexperienced football team: they are the most penalized team in the league, and for as great as Murray and that offense has been, have been known for some timely turnovers that have allowed opponents to get back into the game.

If the Patriots can play a clean slate of football while controlling the game, they should be able to keep this game tighter than people may think and potentially have a chance to win this one in the end.

Limit big plays

The Patriots’ defense was torched for big plays all last week in Houston as they allowed Deshaun Watson to sit in the pocket comfortably and pick them apart down the field. Although the Cardinals have a more balanced attack than Houston’s air-raid offense, the big plays for Arizona typically come from Murray, Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds in the run game.

With the Patriots’ front line lacking speed and athleticism, they may turn to rookie Kyle Dugger, who has shown his ability to come down hill and stop the run, to spy Murray and follow him wherever he goes on the field. After producing very limited pressure last week in Houston, New England will need to get to Murray today and make life difficult in there before he escapes or launches a deep ball for a big play.

Prediction: Patriots 27 - Cardinals 21