New England Patriots: 10 Things to Expect for Week 2

Ben StepanskyCorrespondent ISeptember 12, 2012

New England Patriots: 10 Things to Expect for Week 2

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    As expected, the New England Patriots marched into Tennessee on Sunday and won their season opener 34-13.

    If post-Week 1 chatter wasn't over-exaggerated enough, it seems that the Patriots are on their way to the analyst-predicted 16-0 season.

    But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's take a glance at the Pats' Week 2 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals.

    The Cardinals also won on Sunday, defeating Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks at home 20-16.

    They're on pace for a 16-0 season too! 

Defense Will Continue to Stop the Run

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    One of the most impressive aspects of the Patriots game on Sunday was their ability to stop the run.

    Chris Johnson of the Titans was looking to start off his comeback year on a high note and analysts are expecting a big year for him.

    However, the Patriots defense, led by defensive linemen Vince Wilfork and rookie Chandler Jones, along with gut-stopping linebacker Brandon Spikes, allowed just 20 total rushing yards. Only four of those yards came from Johnson.

    The New England defense will be looking to translate the 1.3 yards per carry average they forced against the Titans to their game against Beanie Wells and the Cardinals.

    The Cards struggled on the ground in Week 1, gaining just 43 yards on 20 attempts (2.2 yards/carry). Wells was responsible for only 14 rushing yards.

    If the Pats can clog the running lanes, replacement quarterback Kevin Kolb will be heavily relied on. That could spell trouble for the Cards' offense.

Vince Wilfork and Chandler Jones Will Cause Mayhem for Cardinals O-Line

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    Vince Wilfork, the veteran driving force on the Patriots defensive line, and Chandler Jones, the quick-footed first-round pick with high expectations, are going to wreak havoc on the Cardinals' offensive line.

    Entering his ninth season with the Patriots, Wilfork, the 6'2'', 325-pound nose tackle, has already marked his place in the mind of opposing quarterbacks. Just ask Titans QB Jake Locker, who gingerly got up from a play in Sunday's game in which Wilfork fell on top of him following an incomplete pass.

    Wilfork is also a classic run-stopper, filling the hole as it develops.

    Jones quickly proved why he was the first-overall pick for the Patriots in the NFL draft. He collected five tackles and a forced fumble on his sack of Locker, which led to fellow rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower returning the ball for a touchdown.

    At 6'5'', 280 pounds, Jones is big. He comes off the end position with an amazing burst of speed.

    Wilfork and Jones will be licking their chops when they see the Pro Football Focus review of the Cardinals' O-Line in Week 1: 

    The offensive line is the foundation of any offense, and against Seattle the Cardinals’ offensive line gave their skill position players almost no chance to succeed. In one-on-one situations, every single player, except perhaps for Daryn Colledge, appeared to be outmatched and they struggled even to make double team and combo blocks work correctly...It is only Week 1, but it is difficult at this point to see how this offensive line can move forward without getting some unexpected performances from backups or some fortuitous pickups on the waiver wire.

    Have at it, boys.

Secondary Will Be Tested Against Fitzgerald

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    While the Patriots run defense looks top notch, it is too early to tell if the secondary has improved over the offseason.

    The No. 31 passing defense last year allowed 293.9 yards per game and 26 touchdowns in the air.

    Based purely off statistics, the Patriots ranked in the middle of the pack during Week 1, surrendering 264 passing yards and one touchdown. 

    Rookie Tavon Wilson picked off Jake Locker for his first career interception and Devin McCourty, in search for a comeback season, recorded seven tackles and two deflected passes. 

    A test will come to Foxboro on Sunday in Larry Fitzgerald.

    The Titans lacked a big play receiver with Kenny Britt out for Week 1. Fitzgerald, however, can burn the cornerbacks. If he creates space, Kolb will have no trouble connecting with him.

    Fizgerald had 80 receptions for over 1,400 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

    Expect the Cardinals to use the passing offensive extensively, especially if the run game cannot establish itself.

Third-Down Defense Will Prove Its Worth

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    In the last two seasons, the Patriots third-down defense has been an obvious weak point.

    In 2010, the Pats defense ranked 32nd on third down, allowing opposing offenses to get the first down 47 percent of the time. 

    It got a little better in 2011 when the defense escaped the basement and ranked 28th in the league on third-down defense. They gave up the first 43 percent of the time last year.

    During their Week 1 matchup, however, the third-down efficiency for the Titans was just 36 percent (5-of-14). The Patriots defense also stopped them on one of two fourth-down attempts.

    Depending on how the defense steps up in big third-down scenarios in Week 2, it could be a shining year for the defensive squad.

Stevan Ridley Will Have Another 20-Plus Carry Game

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    Nothing was more exciting for Patriots fans than witnessing the breakout game from second-year running back Stevan Ridley.

    Ridley exploded for 125 yards and one touchdown. He averaged 6.0 yards/carry and was able to bounce off tackles.

    Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will continue to balance the Patriots' offense by complementing Brady's stellar passing game with Ridley's speedy running style.

    After one game, Ridley has already won the confidence of his teammates and Patriots fans. With Shane Vereen likely out for Week 2, Ridley has the chance to establish himself as the first reliable feature back since Corey Dillon.

Brandon Lloyd Will Develop More Chemistry with Brady

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    Tom Brady has faith in Brandon Lloyd to make the big play. 

    Unfortunately, on their first drive on Sunday, Brady launched a deep pass to Lloyd that arguably should have been caught. Lloyd twisted around to catch the ball but fell just short of the intended pass.

    If he had kept his pace, the ball would have landed in his outstretched arms for the first Patriots score of the season.

    Despite the missed opportunity between Brady and Lloyd, the Patriots quarterback believes in his top receiver.

    Brady targeted him eight times on Sunday, more than any other receiver on the field.

    Lloyd had a great grab on one of his five receptions on an out route towards the sideline in which he extended his arms to full length and snagged the ball in his finger tips.

    Brady should target the reliable-handed Lloyd plenty of times on Sunday, including one or two deep balls.

Wes Welker Will Be a Larger Factor

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    When Wes Welker left Sunday's game with just three catches for 14 yards, Patriots Nations was up in arms asking questions about his declined role and his productivity. 

    Don't worry, Pats fans. There's no need to start sweating the end of the Welker era yet.

    Nonetheless, Welker conspiracies ran amuck in the following few days. Fans were asking questions such as, "Are the Patriots 'phasing out' Welker from the offense?! Was Welker benched for letting a first-quarter pass bounce off his facemask? Are the Patriots already in talks with other teams to trade Welker?!"

    Listen, Welker has caught the most passes of any NFL receiver since 2007. While a decline in his production may occur, he is still going to catch close to 100 passes this season. He is too useful of a commodity to fall by the wayside.

    Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels described Welker's declined output to ESPNBoston as simply due to which personnel team would give them the greatest production against Tennessee.

    According to McDaniels, the process of determining the most advantageous personnel in any given game is a week-by-week decision.

    Welker will get his touches. 

Gronk Will Land His Spike

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    Star tight end Rob Gronkowski set his touchdown pace at 16 for the season as he chases his record setting 17 from last year.

    Gronk caught his first touchdown pass late in the second quarter, but as he reeled back for his signature spike, the ball popped loose and all he could look at was his empty hand.

    Tom Brady's most reliable red-zone target is guaranteed another touchdown catch, or two, against the Cardinals on Sunday.

    And this time, he'd spike the ball twice if he could.

The Patriots Will Score on the Opening Drive

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    The Patriots opening drive of the season went for six plays and 28 yards before they punted the ball.

    On Sunday, with the home crowd cheering them on, the Patriots will meticulously drive down the field for an opening drive touchdown.

    The Pats opened last season by scoring a touchdown on their opening drive in four of their first five games.

    It is a great way to set the tone for the rest of the game. If they can establish the run with Ridley early, the passing lanes should be wide open for Brady to pick apart for the remainder of the match.

The Patriots Will Win

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    What else would you expect?

    The game will be a tougher matchup than their Tennessee foes in Week 1, but the Patriots will definitely be the better team on the field come Sunday.

    It will be Belichick's 140th win as the Patriots head coach, leaving win number 150 as a distinct possibility on the year.

    Brady will pass for over 300 yards and three scores, while Ridley will eclipse the 100-yard mark for the second straight week.

    The run defense will be solid again, but the secondary may look shaky as they break the new season in.

    No team wants their home opener spoiled, so expect a dominant performance by the Patriots.

    Prediction: New England 35, Arizona 21