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How the Patriots defense can keep playoff hopes alive against Arizona


If the Patriots are going to get back into the playoff hunt in earnest, the defense has to play a huge role in order to make that happen.

While the unit has performed well against most teams throughout the year, it wasn’t able to contain two high-powered offenses during the last two games.

Minnesota and Buffalo seemed to move the ball at will through the air, and while Arizona isn’t in the same weight class as the Vikings and Bills, the Cardinals could still make it a long night for the Patriots, who are 6-6 and trying to stay in the playoff race.

The Cardinals won’t have tight end Zach Ertz, who was lost for the season with a knee injury, for the Monday night game with the Patriots but they’ll have DeAndre Hopkins and Marquise Brown to keep them busy in the secondary.

Add in Kyler Murray, a dual threat quarterback, and this isn’t the best matchup for the Patriots defense, at least on paper.

“Very explosive team. A lot of firepower,” Bill Belichick said of the Cardinals. “They make plays on offense.”

Here’s how the Patriots defense can get the two-game west coast swing off on the right foot.

1. Slay the monster

This season, the monster for the Patriots defense has been mobile quarterbacks who can also throw the football. Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and Chicago’s Justin Fields beat them early, while Buffalo’s Josh Allen took them down last Thursday.

Jackson was deadly as a runner and throwing the football. Fields killed them on the ground, while Allen did most of his damage in the air.

The Patriots may not have allowed Allen to gain a ton of yards on the ground like Jackson and Fields, but he still managed to beat them with throws on the run.

Murray is averaging 6.3 yards per carry this season. He’s carried the ball on designed runs 26 times for 202 yards (7.8 average). So he’s dangerous like the rest, and if Kliff Kingsbury has watched tape of the Patriots defense, he’ll make sure to stick in more designed runs.

It behooves the Pats to make Murray more of a traditional pocket passer, where his numbers aren’t as good.

2. Double DeAndre

The Patriots haven’t done the best job of taking away an opponent’s best weapon in recent weeks. Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson and Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs, both game-changing receivers, shred them in back-to-back games.

Next up is DeAndre Hopkins.

For some reason, the Patriots really didn’t double Jefferson or Diggs all that much. They relied on Jonathan Jones to keep both in check on an island.

It didn’t happen. Jefferson and Diggs combined for 16 catches, 231 yards and two touchdowns.

If they don’t want Hopkins to influence the outcome, they’re just going to have to bite the bullet and double him as much as possible.

Since returning from a six-game suspension in Week 7, Hopkins is tied for third in targets (64), tied for second in receptions (49), and fifth in receiving yards (574).

Said Belichick: “He’s every bit as good as anybody that I’ve ever coached against.”

That’s high praise indeed. At age 30, Hopkins may not be quite the threat he once was, but he’s still a difference-maker, one Belichick still views as the key to stopping the Cardinals’ offense.

3. Dial up zero blitz

One strategy Belichick used against Murray in their most recent matchup was a heavy use of zero blitzes, as they basically sent the house quite a few times. In the meeting two years ago at Gillette, the Pats blitzed Murray 10 times and enjoyed success.

With the added rushers, either you bring Murray down, or keep him in the pocket by flooding all of his avenues. The Cardinals quarterback has been sacked 25 times this season, which is in the top 15. So the pass rush looms large.

Look for the Patriots to also have a spy on Murray. Linebacker Mac Wilson has performed that role against the mobile quarterbacks. Kyle Dugger or Jabrill Peppers might also draw that assignment.


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