Patriots

What To Watch For In Patriots-Cardinals Week 2 Matchup

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
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Wes Welker (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Wes Welker (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) — On paper, it may seem like the Patriots, 13-3 and AFC champs a year ago, are clear favorites this weekend over the Cardinals, who went 8-8 last season.

However, it very well could be a tight game in Foxboro. In the last 10 regular-season games, the Patriots own the NFL’s best record (9-1). The Cardinals, however, are right behind them at 8-2, as the team turned it season around last year behind the unlikeliest of quarterbacks, John Skelton.

Skelton, however, won’t play in this one, due to an ankle injury, meaning Kevin Kolb will be under center. That’s just one of the items to watch for in this one.

Will Welker Get The Ball?

Sometimes in this town, there’s just not enough bad news, so we have to make it up. This week, that meant countless fans and media members stating that Wes Welker is being “phased out” of the offense, as evidenced by his relatively low statistical output in Week 1 (three catches, 14 yards)..

While Welker has had several such games in the past as a Patriot, speculation will continue to fly around New England if he has a similar game. If he has one of his signature 10-catch, 111-yard performances, though, he can do a lot to end that talk before it starts all over again on Monday morning.

Kolb Under Pressure

Rookie Chandler Jones got his career started nicely with a strip sack near the goal line that led to a defensive touchdown. He should get some more opportunities this week, considering Kolb was sacked 30 times last year in just nine games (Alex Smith was sacked the most in the NFL, as he was sacked 44 times in 16 games). That pace would have se up Kolb to be sacked 47 times, which is no formula for success at any level.

Kolb looked great last week, though, as he entered for the injured Skelton and leading the Cardinals 68 yards down the field for what proved to be the winning score.

That, however, was just one drive. Whether he can sustain that kind of play for four quarters remains very much in question, and how he performs will likely make the difference in the Cardinals having a chance or getting blown out.

The Next Jerry Rice?

Larry Fitzgerald is arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL today. He’s a physical specimen (6-foot-3, 218 pounds), he’s explosive, he’s tough, and he’s averaged 87 catches per season, even though the cast of characters has mostly been questionable (Kurt Warner excluded, of course). While you might get an argument that the title of best receiver today belongs to Calvin Johnson or Andre Johnson, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick took it a few steps further.

“He’s a great, great receiver,” Belichick said this week. “[He] will go down as one of the all-time greats and might end up being the best one ever, I don’t know.”

Well, we don’t know either (though Jerry Rice says hello). We do know he’ll be the focal point of the Patriots’ defense and, likely, the Cardinals’ offense.

Ridley: Keep On Rollin’

Stevan Ridley got his finest taste of success at the NFL level last week, rushing for 125 yards and a touchdown against the Titans. But here’s how much that all means come Sunday afternoon: diddly.

It will be interesting to see if the Patriots again take the field committed to the run, or whether they’ll let Tom Brady air things out with his tight ends and receivers. It will also be worth monitoring Ridley to see if he shows the same burst and explosiveness a week after taking a pounding from an NFL defense.

Read more from Michael by clicking here, or follow him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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