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Patriots vs. Cardinals preview: Get to know New England’s Week 14 opponent

The Patriots will start their two-game road trip in Arizona on Monday Night Football.

Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Coming off back-to-back losses to drop them to 6-6 on the year, the New England Patriots will embark on a two-week road trip featuring games against the Arizona Cardinals and Las Vegas Raiders. That trip will give New England a chance to right the ship and make a final push for one of the coveted seven playoff seeds in a competitive AFC.

The first of those games will take place in Week 14, wrapping up the action on Monday Night Football. Not unlike the Patriots’ first Monday game — a Week 7 loss to the Chicago Bears — this one will also see the team go up against an uneven opponent led by a mobile quarterback.

Before taking a closer look at the team, however, let’s dig into the numbers to find out what exactly Arizona’s inconsistency looks like:

  • Record: 4-8 (3rd NFC West)
  • Offense: 22.0 points/game (16th), 334.8 yards/game (20th), -0.024 EPA/play (24th)
  • Defense: 26.8 points/game (31st), 356.2 yards/game (21st), 0.035 EPA/play (20th)
  • Scoring differential: -57 (27th)
  • Turnover differential: +1 (t-13th)

As can be seen, Arizona is entering Week 14 with a 4-8 record and in third place in its division. While theoretically still alive in the race for a playoff spot, it seem unlikely that the team of fourth-year head coach and former Patriots backup quarterback Kliff Kingsbury.

There is no one factor at play here. The Cardinals have struggled on both offense and defense, as evidenced by the units’ respective rankings and the team’s overall point differential. The only above-average area has been turnovers on offense, with the team’s 13 giveaways ranked 10th in the league. Most other areas have not been good.

Injuries as well as wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins missing six games with a suspension have played a role in this, but the fact remains that the team has struggled. Its list of wins is further proof of that: the Cardinals have yet to beat an opponent .500 or better this year. Their four wins came against the then-0-1 Raiders, 1-2 Carolina Panthers, 2-4 New Orleans Saints, and 3-5 Los Angeles Rams.

With that said, let’s now jump right to the Cardinals’ active roster to get to know each of the players currently with the Patriots’ Week 14 opponent.

(Note: The 53-man roster is up-to-date as of Wednesday 8 a.m. ET; *denotes projected starter)

Quarterbacks

  • Kyler Murray* (1)
  • Colt McCoy (12)
  • Trace McSorley (19)

Even though a hamstring injury forced him to sit out two games in November, there is no question about who Arizona’s QB1 is. Former first overall draft pick Kyler Murray is the team’s franchise quarterback, and a classic dual-threat player at the position. As such, Murray can put pressure on defenses with both his arms and his legs — something he has done a solid if not always overly successful job of this year.

In total, Murray has completed 258 of his 389 pass attempts (66.3%) for 2,359 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also has been sacked 25 times in his 10 games. Additionally, he has advanced the football on 61 non-kneel-down carries for 420 yards — an average of 6.9 yards per attempt — and three touchdowns.

Realistically, backup Colt McCoy will not see the field against New England. Third-stringer Trace McSorley will be a game-day inactive.

Offensive backfield

  • James Conner* (6)
  • Keaontay Ingram (30)
  • Corey Clement (23)

With No. 2 running back Eno Benjamin released in November, it is clear the Cardinals are trusting James Conner to serve as their undisputed top option in the running game. So far, he has shown he can handle the responsibility: Conner has gained 476 yards on 121 carries (3.9 yards/attempt) and scored four touchdowns.

He has also caught 27 passes for 171 yards and another score. Adding those numbers together results in a team-high in touches (148), yards from scrimmage (647) and total TDs (5).

For comparison, sixth-round rookie Keaontay Ingram — the new No. 2 following the Benjamin release — has touched the ball 23 times for 75 yards and a score.

Wide receivers

  • DeAndre Hopkins* (10)
  • Marquise Brown* (2)
  • Rondale Moore* (4)
  • A.J. Green (18)
  • Greg Dortch (83 | KR | PR)
  • Robbie Anderson (81)

The Cardinals have as prominent a wide receiver group as any team in the NFL. DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green are potential future Hall of Famers, with Marquise Brown an impressive young talent added to the mix via trade from Baltimore; Robbie Anderson is an experienced speedster, with Rondale Moore a reliable chain mover and Greg Dortch a rotational option capable of making plays on both offense and special teams.

The main men in the lineup, however, are Hopkins, Brown and Moore. The trio is responsible for more than half of the team’s passing game production: Hopkins and Brown have both caught 49 passes and three touchdowns, gaining 574 and 531 yards, respectively. Moore’s 41-414-1 stat-line is not shabby either.

His status, however, is in question after he missed Arizona’s last game — Week 12 against Los Angeles — with a groin injury. The team’s bye week has come at an opportune time for him, but it remains to be seen how involved Moore will be.

Tight ends

  • Trey McBride* (85)
  • Stephen Anderson (89)

Originally led by Zach Ertz, the Cardinals’ tight end position is now in the hands of rookie Trey McBride and ex-Patriot Stephen Anderson. Neither of the two has come close to Ertz’s production: while he was sent ton injured reserve after Week 10 having caught 47 passes for 406 yards and a team-high four touchdowns, McBride and Anderson have a combined 10 receptions for 48 yards on their season résumé.

Offensive tackles

  • Josh Jones* (79 | LT)
  • Kelvin Beachum* (68 | RT)
  • Wyatt Davis (66)

The Cardinals have been bitten hard by the injury bug, and that is most evident along the offensive line. At tackle, for example, left-side starter D.J. Humphries is currently on injured reserve with a back injury.

With him out, Josh Jones has taken over opposite veteran Kelvin Beachum. The depth behind the two, however, is suspect: the next man up in case of further injuries would come from the team’s original interior group, with Wyatt Davis the likely candidate to take over.

Interior offensive line

  • Rashaad Coward* (65 | LG)
  • Billy Price* (53 | C)
  • Max Garcia* (75 | RG)
  • Cody Ford (72)
  • Sean Harlow (64)
  • Lecitus Smith (54)

The Cardinals’ injury woes at tackle pale in comparison to what the team had to endure at the guard and center spots: all three starters — LG Justin Pugh, C Rodney Hudson, RG Will Hernandez — are now on injured reserve.

The replacements have been a mixed bag, with the snap numbers painting a clear picture. All nine players listed in this group — the six above plus Pugh, Hudson and Hernandez — have been on the field for at least 150 snaps already this season. A lack of continuity up front has been a major problem for the Cardinals offense this season.

Arizona Cardinals v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Interior defensive line

  • Zach Allen* (94)
  • J.J. Watt* (99)
  • Leki Fotu* (95)
  • Jonathan Lebetter (93)
  • Trysten Hill (98)

He may no longer be the same elite pass rusher he was earlier in his career, but J.J. Watt is still a force to be reckoned with. He is leading the team with 6.5 sacks and a combined 42 quarterback pressures, all while playing a high number of snaps week-in and week-out. Oh, and he did all that despite having to have his hard shocked earlier this year after going into arrhythmic state.

Watt is the big name up front, but not the only player worth watching. Zach Allen and Leki Fotu have both been productive for the Cardinals as well, with Allen in particular standing out: the former Boston College standout is ranked second with 4.5 quarterback takedowns.

Defensive edge

  • Markus Golden* (44)
  • Victor Dimukeje (52)
  • Myjai Sanders (41)
  • Cameron Thomas (97)
  • Dennis Gardeck (45)
  • Jesse Luketa (43)

While not posting the same sack numbers as other players on the team, Markus Golden is a disruptive player off the edge. The top option among the team’s edge players, he trails only Watt with 38 quarterback disruptions.

Worth pointing out among the depth players behind him are third-round rookies Myjai Sanders and Cameron Thomas. The two have combined to notch four sacks this year, seeing rotational action at the outside linebacker position.

Off-the-ball linebackers

  • Zaven Collins* (25)
  • Isaiah Simmons* (9)
  • Ben Niemann (56)
  • Tanner Vallejo (51)
  • Ezekiel Turner (47)
  • Kamu Grugier-Hill (57)

Arizona’s off-ball linebacker group is led by a pair of first-round draft picks. Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins, who joined the team in back-to-back drafts in 2020 and 2021, are both impressive athletes and big-time playmakers for their team.

Simmons is a true jack-of-all trades, capable of lining up in several spots as a linebacker/defensive back tweener. While he may lack traditional linebacker bulk at 238 pounds, his 6-foot-4 frame and athletic profile allow him to carry out several assignments on a high level — something that is also true for Collins, who was selected one pick after the Patriots’ Mac Jones last year.

While not as versatile as his teammate, Collins also is a player capable of positively impacting the passing and running games. He is ranked second on the team with 74 tackles, has registered two sacks and a forced fumble, and also has a 30-yard interception return touchdown to his name.

Cornerbacks

  • Byron Murphy Jr.* (7)
  • Marco Wilson* (20)
  • Antonio Hamilton* (33)
  • Trayvon Mullen (21)
  • Christian Matthew (35)

Led by the starter-level trio of Byron Murphy, Marco Wilson and Antonio Hamilton, the Cardinals’ pass defense has not stood out and is ranked 20th in the NFL with an EPA of 0.087.

Of course, the injury bug has also not shied away from biting the group. Murphy has missed the last three games with a back injury, while Hamilton opened the year on the non-football injury list after suffering second- and third-degree burns while in training camp.

Safeties

  • Jalen Thompson* (34)
  • Budda Baker* (3)
  • Chris Banjo (31)
  • Charles Washington (28)

Whereas other spots on the team have been plagued by personnel change, the safety position is not one of them. Jalen Thompson and Budda Baker are as reliable as they come, ranking first and second on the team in defensive playing time.

Availability is not the only good thing about them. They have also been mostly productive, between forcing turnovers and helping out in run support.

Specialists

  • Matt Prater (5 | K)
  • Andy Lee (14 | P)
  • Aaron Brewer (46 | LS)

The Cardinals are fielding a strong special teams unit this year, despite some inconsistency at place kicker: a total of four players have attempted field goals and extra points for the team, with Matt Prater being forced to miss time due to a hip injury. Prater should be good to go against New England, though, bringing with him a combined 95.8 percent success rate on field goals and extra points.

The other specialists on the team are punter Andy Lee and long snapper Aaron Brewer, who have been with the team since 2017 and 2015, respectively. The aforementioned Greg Dortch is serving as the main return man on kickoffs and punts — averaging 19.5 and 6.5 yards, respectively — while the core coverage group is led by linebackers Tanner Vallejo and Ezekiel Turner.

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