BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots defense had all kinds of trouble containing DeShaun Watson in last weekend’s loss to the Texans. They’re going to have an even bigger challenge this weekend when Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals visit Foxboro.
The 6-4 Cardinals will bring one of the NFL’s most potent offenses to Gillette Stadium, averaging a league-best 413.3 yards per game. Murray is another dual-threat quarterback that has been burning teams with his arm and his legs, and he’s done it better than any other QB this season. The 23-year-old leads all quarterbacks with 619 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. His 10 rushing scores are second overall in the league, behind the 13 rushing touchdowns by Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook.
Murray also has 19 passing touchdowns and over 2,600 passing yards. That’s thanks in large part to having the best receiver in the game in DeAndre Hopkins (72 receptions, 912 yards, four touchdowns), who leads a talented pass-catching group in Arizona. Murray’s arsenal also includes sure-handed veteran Larry Fitzgerald (43 receptions, 336 yards), Christian Kirk (31 receptions, six touchdowns), and former UMass great Andy Isabella (17 receptions, 122 yards, two touchdowns).
Add in running back Kenyon Drake, who is averaging 4.4 yards per carry with 641 rushing yards and four touchdowns, and the Cardinals are a force to be reckoned with.
“They are as explosive as anybody we’ve played,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said of the team’s Week 12 opponent. “They have a lot of good players – experienced offensive line, some good speed players in the passing game from Kirk to Isabella, a couple of great receivers with Hopkins and Fitzgerald, [Chase] Edmonds and Drake are dangerous, and the tight ends, that’s an explosive group there as well, plus the quarterback. So, they have a lot of guys that can make big plays, that run well.
“And, Kliff [Kingsbury] does a good job with the offense of getting the ball into space, getting the ball to receivers – or whether it be backs, tight ends or receivers – but getting the ball to somebody in space where they have an opportunity to make big plays,” Belichick said of Arizona’s head coach. “So, I think they probably make as many as anybody. They are hard to defend. They do a good job.”
Big plays are all over Murray’s resume. It was just two weeks ago that he heaved up a hail mary in the closing seconds against the Buffalo Bills, which fell into the hands of Hopkins for a 43-yard, game-winning touchdown. He’s three weeks removed from rushing for a career-high 106 yards in a loss to the Miami Dolphins. For the season, Murray has the second-most running plays of 20 or more yards this season.
“I think he’s elusive and hard to tackle because he’s quick and he’s fast and he’s a very instinctive player,” Belichick said of Murray. “He’s got a very good arm. He throws an excellent deep ball. He’s quick, but he’s fast. He can he can get away from most everybody. 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 very dynamic player.”
Keeping Murray in check is easier said than done, but it’s the key to beating the Cardinals on Sunday. Arizona is 0-5-1 when Murray rushes for less than 20 yards in his career. Given the young QB has six rushes on the season that have gone for at least 20 yards, keeping Murray from running wild may be wishful thinking on New England’s part.
The Cardinals will come to Gillette Stadium as 2.5-point favorites over the 4-6 Patriots.