What We Saw: Patriots at Cardinals

Kyler Murray's injury cast a shadow over this game, and the Patriots' defense stepped up in a big way

Patriots @ Cardinals

Final Score: Patriots 27, Cardinals 13

Writer: Ben Brown (@BenBrownPL on Twitter)

 

Designed runs were the hot topic heading into this game, at least on the airwaves in Boston. Would Kyler Murray and the Cardinals employ the same strategy that made Lamar Jackson and Justin Fields so successful against New England this season? Well, it wouldn’t really matter, because on the third play of the game Kyler scrambled and went down with a non-contact knee injury and was carted off the field. Bummer.

 

 

Enter Colt McCoy. He would come in, complete a few passes, and set up a 50-yard field goal that kicker Matt Prater would go on to miss. Not exactly the start the Cardinals were hoping for in this game, and suddenly a semi-interesting game for casual fans became more of a Monday night snoozer.

Injuries piled up in the first half, with multiple on both sides including DeVante Parker (concussion) and Rhamondre Stevenson (ankle) for the Patriots. James Conner got banged up at one point as well, but he returned after missing only a few plays.

Conner was a beast in this game, or at least he was when he was the focus on offense. He looked unstoppable. However, once the game started to slip away in the second half he became invisible. And that’s exactly what happened – after a close game in the first half, the Patriots’ defense started to get pressure on McCoy and make some stops. Throw in some turnovers, one really dumb one and one that was a result of good defense, and it’s a recipe for a classic Patriots victory.

 

New England Patriots

 

Quarterback

 

Mac Jones: 24/35, 235 Yards, INT | 5 Carries, -1 Yards, 1 Fumble (Recovered)

 

Mac’s first pass was a dart to DeVante Parker over the middle of the field. It was followed by a run that went nowhere, a misconnection on a screen, and an incompletion on a ball tipped at the line on a 3rd and 14 after left tackle Trent Brown was called for a false start. Sigh. This offense has struggled mightily this year, and out of the gate it was much of the same. Mac threw an interception early, though it wasn’t entirely his fault as his arm was hit as Hunter Henry couldn’t hold his block.

 

 

He was also blitzed by a DB which added to the pressure. That blitz by the Cardinals was a common sight in the first half, and the Patriots countered with quick passes left and right. It worked initially until Nelson Agholor started dropping everything thrown his way.

Mac had an up and down night. It started down, and his frustration with the offensive coaching staff was visible as a result.

 

 

He bounced back in the second half, however, and helped lead a few scoring drives down the field. It still wasn’t 2021 Mac, but it was better than what we’ve seen the last few weeks. From a fantasy perspective, Mac still can’t be trusted, but it’s really not his fault. The issue truly is with the surrounding cast, both on the offensive line and his coaches. Not to mention Nelson freaking Agholor.

 

Running Back

 

Rhamondre Stevenson: 3 Carries, 8 Yards | 3 Targets, 2 Receptions, 2 Yards

Pierre Strong Jr.: 5 Carries, 70 Yards, TD | 2 Targets, 2 Receptions, 20 Yards

Kevin Harris: 8 Carries, 26 Yards, TD

 

Damien Harris was inactive once again, meaning Rhamondre Stevenson would command most if not all of the snaps at RB. That was the case until he got shaken up on New England’s second drive when his ankle was rolled up on. He was able to walk off under his own power, but it’s yet another piece of bad news for this backfield which is struggling to keep anybody healthy. Stevenson returned but was clearly not the same, and at halftime he was ruled out for the rest of the game. Stevenson has been one of the best RBs in the NFL this season, and it’s a shame he’s now injured just when the Patriots and fantasy managers alike need him most.

Kevin Harris was the next man up, and he looked pretty good for a rookie RB who has barely seen the field this season. He was a good back at South Carolina and he was one of two RBs drafted by the Patriots this offseason. He showed some explosiveness in this one, with multiple chunk carries on his first drive after Stevenson’s injury. Here’s a nice angry run where he ran through a facemask for a first down.

 

 

Just a few plays later, Harris rumbled and stumbled his way into the end zone.

 

Harris did a good job of pass blocking as well, which is a very important aspect of this offense and something that is valued very highly, often times over talent. This will be especially important considering how poorly the offensive line has played this season.

Stevenson’s injury also meant more opportunity for Pierre Strong Jr., who showed off his electric speed and ankle breaking moveson multiple occasions.

 

 

 

Strong also found his way into the end zone.

 

 

Despite the TD above, I would still argue that Strong is not good at running between the tackles, yet. The guy you want there is Harris. Strong’s role will be more of a change of pace role and it will be interesting to see just how much of that role he plays moving forward. The Patriots need a bruiser back and with Damien Harris and Stevenson potentially out next week, Harris is that guy.

 

Wide Receiver/Tight End

 

Hunter Henry: 3 Targets, 3 Receptions, 70 Yards

Kendrick Bourne: 5 Targets, 5 Receptions, 47 Yards

Nelson Agholor: 10 Targets, 5 Receptions, 32 Yards

Tyquan Thornton: 5 Targets, 4 Receptions, 28 Yards

DeVante Parker: 2 Targets, 2 Receptions, 24 Yards

Marcus Jones: 1 Target, 1 Reception, 12 Yards

Jonnu Smith: 2 Targets

 

There is nobody in this group that is fantasy relevant right now, unless you’re in an IDP league and Marcus Jones is somehow available on the wire. Jones once again took snaps on offense, which begs the question – if the Patriots are so desperate for a speedy playmaker on offense, why are they using their 3rd round rookie CB instead of their 2nd round rookie WR?

 

 

Speaking of that rookie WR, Tyquan Thornton saw an uptick in targets only because the Patriots came into this game without Jakobi Meyers and DeVante Parker was knocked out of the game early with a concussion. Matt Patricia and co. didn’t try anything special with Thornton, which is a shame, because his speed is the whole reason he was drafted in the 2nd around ahead of guys like George PickensAlec Pierce, and Skyy Moore. Thornton continues to be nothing more than a dynasty stash for fantasy.

Kendrick Bourne didn’t light up the stat sheet, but boy was he good blocking out on the edge. It made a big impact on Pierre Strong‘s huge run and also Kevin Harris‘ touchdown. It doesn’t show up in the box score but he had a huge impact in this game offensively. That should hopefully lead to even more playing time (which was an issue earlier in the year), and therefore more targets.

Hopefully those targets come at the expense of Nelson Agholor. Yes, that Nelson Agholor. Philly Agholor led the team in both targets and drops, with one of those drops nearly resulting in either an interception or a scoop n score. At one point he made a big third down catch in traffic and then proceeded to immediately drop an easy first down on the next play. He hurts this offense more than he helps.

Finally, Hunter Henry made an appearance and caught two deep balls down the seam. It’s almost as if Matt Patricia found a dusty old playbook from the mid 2010’s and thought “hey, some of these plays look useful!” It was vintage Patriots, using the tight end to create a mismatch on a linebacker over the middle of the field. If this trend continues next week, Henry may be a sneaky add in the fantasy playoffs.

 

Arizona Cardinals

 

Quarterback

 

Colt McCoy: 27/40, 246 Yards, INT | 5 Carries, 24 Yards

Kyler Murray: 1/1, 9 Yards | 1 Carry, 3 Yards

 

Oh boy. So the Kyler news sucks for the Cardinals and NFL fans in general. This looks like Colt McCoy‘s team for the rest of the season, and he’s been pretty good this year relative to other backup QBs. For whatever reason, the Patriots played a lot of zone defense in this game and McCoy had no problem picking them apart. He racked up the yards in the first half, driving the team down the field on three scoring drives. It would have been four, however, had Matt Prater not missed a 50 yarder on the opening drive.

The second half was a much different story. The Patriots started throwing in some man defense and things changed quickly. Those short dumpoffs for seven yards on every play suddenly weren’t there, and McCoy held onto the ball longer in the pocket as a result. That led to more personal time spent with this man:

 

 

Matthew Judon (two sacks) and Josh Uche (three sacks) spent plenty of time with McCoy in the second half, and they gave him plenty of fits. McCoy struggled with the added pressure, and the pressure led to an interception thanks to Uche hitting McCoy’s arm on a pass.

 

 

DeAndre Hopkins was open down the sideline, but Uche’s big play forced an INT and turned this game around. The Patriots marched down the field and scored, essentially putting this game out of reach.

All in all, McCoy was put into a tough situation and did well considering the circumstances. As the starter for this team moving forward, he has some juicy matchups coming up with the Buccaneers in Week 16 and the Falcons in Week 17.

 

Running Back

 

James Conner: 15 Carries, 85 Yards, TD | 7 Targets, 6 Receptions, 29 Yards | 1 Fumble (Recovered)

Keaontay Ingram: 1 Carry, 1 Yard

 

James Conner is a stud. I loved him when he was in Pittsburgh but really have forgotten all about him now that he’s moved out west. Monday night was a reminder that Conner is a man among boys and could potentially be a league winner in fantasy. He was essentially taken out of the game in the second half once the Patriots broke open a 14 point lead, but his first half was super impressive.

Conner started the Cardinals’ second drive by getting stuffed up the middle and then bouncing it outside for a long gain. It was the type of playmaking ability that this Cardinals team needed out of him once Kyler went down, and will continue to need moving forward. He was also a force in the receiving game, tallying three receptions on the first two drives alone. He’s not as big as Derrick Henry, but he has a similar running style where defenders simply can’t bring him down one on one.

He was shaken up on a play where he was taken down out of bounds and appeared to be in significant pain, laying on his stomach for some time. Fortunately, he was able to get up on his own power, and reentered the game a few plays later.

His touchdown was a thing of beauty. Just watch the clip – how many guys did he drag into the end zone with him?

 

 

If you roster Conner, you have to be feeling pretty darn good today.

 

Wide Receiver/Tight End

 

DeAndre Hopkins: 11 Targets, 7 Receptions, 79 Yards, 1 Fumble (Lost)

Robbie Anderson: 4 Targets, 4 Receptions, 50 Yards

Marquise Brown: 8 Targets, 4 Receptions, 34 Yards

Trey McBride: 6 Targets, 3 Receptions, 28 Yards

Corey Clement: 1 Target, 1 Reception, 21 Yards

A.J. Green: 2 Targets, 1 Reception, 7 Yards

Stephen Anderson: 2 Targets, 2 Receptions, 7 Yards

 

Even with Colt McCoy in the game, DeAndre Hopkins is a stud. He got his work in, and even made a ridiculous one-handed grab in the end zone that didn’t count but is still noteworthy because of how incredible of a catch it was.

Unfortunately, Hopkins had the play that turned this game on its’ head. Midway through the 3rd quarter, Hopkins caught a crosser and proceeded to carry the ball with one hand while trying to evade a defender. He inexplicably dropped the ball, which led to a scoop and score for the Patriots’ defense.

 

Hopkins has to be better than this.

Robbie Anderson showed up to play. He made an incredible one-handed catch of his own across the middle of the field.

 

 

He was perfectly content exploiting the holes in New England’s zone defense, and he caught everything thrown his way.

Marquise Brown saw the second-most targets on the team, and could have had a much bigger day had he been able to come down with a throw on 4th and short that he had to dive for. It wasn’t a perfect pass by McCoy, but Brown found space down the sideline and likely could have trotted into the end zone if he made the catch in stride. Unfortunately he had to dive, and wasn’t able to come down with it. Still, it was good to see Brown heavily involved even without Kyler under center.

 

 

Trey McBride made an awesome catch while getting lit up by a defender. It was a clean hit, but kudos to McBride for hanging onto the ball and completing the catch.

 

 

Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

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