The Cardinals, despite winning their opener, aren’t considered a threat to much of anything in the NFL this season, and they’ll likely help the Pats pad their numbers — and the win column, most importantly.
Bill Belichick and his coaching staff won’t be taking the Cardinals lightly, of course, especially when charged with game-planning to attempt to slow Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Belichick loves to play up his opponents — Curtis Painter was benched last year literally moments after Belichick got done praising him — but there’s no doubt that his praise of Fitzgerald is legitimate.
Even so, the Patriots head coach has some very lofty praise for the wideout.
“He’s a great, great receiver, will go down as one of the all-time greats and might end up being the best ever, I don’t know,” Belichick said Tuesday. “He has size, quickness, ability to separate and gets open, exceptional hands. He’s good short, deep, with the ball in his hands after the catch; strong, very smart, sets up his routes well.”
Belichick isn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last to praise Fitzgerald. He’s arguably the best receiver in the game right now, and he seems to get better every time he plays.
The Patriots have had a couple of looks at Fitzgerald before this weekend, too. He had an unremarkable performance against New England in the second game of his career, catching just five passes for 36 yards. A few years later, though, he was a little bit more impressive. Fitzgerald caught three passes for 101 yards, including a 78-yard touchdown, albeit a garbage-time score in a 47-7 Week 16 loss in 2008.
Fitzgerald has caught no fewer than 80 passes in a season since the 2007 campaign began. While he “only” had 80 grabs last season, they were good for 1,411 yards, which was the second-highest season total in his career.
Those numbers are even more impressive considering the quarterbacking carousel that has been the Cardinals offense dating back to the beginning of Fitzgerald’s career. The situation under center is up in the air once again this weekend, with starter John Skelton reportedly set to miss two to four weeks with an ankle injury. That means Kevin Kolb will likely get the start in New England this week.
That means that the Cardinals will probably attempt to get even more creative than usual with trying to get Fitzgerald looks, a task that may be even more difficult given Belichick’s reputation in regards to game-planning.
“They move him around, they put him in a lot of different spots, it’s hard to even find [him],” Belichick said. “You have no idea where he’s going to line up from play to play. He has a very big route tree. He runs all the routes with double moves off of them and complementary moves so one route sets up another.
“It’s very hard to find him, and then it’s very hard to defend him. Again, he’s just as dangerous going down the field as he is taking a shorter pass and running with it, so that’s not really the answer, either — just letting him catch it in front of you and not give up any big plays because he can make plays there, too. Try to keep the ball out of his hands, but that’s not easy.”
One way the Cardinals may try to exploit the Patriots defense — particularly with Kolb at quarterback — will be to utilize the no-huddle offense. The Cards used it with some success late in Week 1, and it’s something to keep an eye on this weekend.
“They’re trying to make personnel adjustments and changes, and it really messes up the defense’s flow from that standpoint,” Fitzgerald said, according to the team’s website. “Kevin does a really good job of the up-tempo offense. I think he really excels at that. He has a good understanding of the coverages where his hots and sights are.”
If the Cardinals are able to utilize the no-huddle this weekend in Foxboro, it could make the unenviable task of trying to slow down Larry Fitzgerald even more difficult than it already it is.
Check out some Fitzgerald’s greatest hits in the video below.