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HomeNFLFour things to watch for in Patriots-Cardinals game on 'Monday Night Football'

Four things to watch for in Patriots-Cardinals game on ‘Monday Night Football’

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Both second-place finishers in their respective divisions a season ago, the Patriots and Cardinals are slated to take each other on under much different circumstances one year later.

Despite entering the contest with a .500 record, the Patriots sit in last place in the AFC East, having dropped two in a row and in desperate need of a win to stay competitive in the playoff picture.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, are losers in six of their last eight, with seats growing much hotter than expected after extending their franchise QB, head coach and general manager last offseason.

Barring the NFL’s third tie of 2022, one of these squads will snap a two-game losing streak to get back in the win column at the close of Week 14.

The other could be left with more questions than there are weeks left to answer them.

Here are four things to watch for when the Cardinals host the Patriots on Monday Night Football:

  1. Can Mac Jones generate something down the stretch? Time is running out for those who were hoping to see a second-year leap by the former No. 15 overall pick. New England’s offense has been uninspiring in the majority of contests, ranking 20th or worse in total yards, scoring, passing yards, third-down conversions, sacks allowed, turnovers and red-zone touchdowns. The fault for the dormant unit cannot be laid entirely at Jones’ feet, but he must step it up soon to prove himself the signal-caller of the future. With seven touchdowns and seven interceptions on the season, Jones is one of six qualified QBs with at least as many INTs as TDs this season, per NFL Research. Four of the other five have been benched at some point this year due to performance. Although some might think the answer is to open things up after Jones was visibly fired up in Week 13 about wanting more chunk plays, the stats favor keeping things short against Arizona. While Jones has thrown four TDs with a 99.4 passer rating on passes of fewer than 10 air yards in 2022, according to Next Gen Stats, he’s struggled to the tune of three touchdowns, seven picks and a 62.7 passer rating on balls thrown beyond that.
  2. Kyler Murray is in a similar boat as Jones. The Cardinals quarterback has had two weeks to stew over the heartbreaking Week 12 loss that transpired against the Chargers ahead of the team’s bye. Arizona’s offense went cold in a fourth-quarter punt fest for both teams, going three-and-out on three straight drives before Los Angeles scored a TD and a go-ahead two-point conversion with 15 seconds remaining to steal the win, 25-24. That’s exactly the type of game script that has plagued Arizona during a disappointing 4-8 season. Like Jones in Year 2, Murray has largely stagnated in Year 4. Although his interception percentage on the season is at an all-time low (1.8), he’s throwing touchdowns at his worst rate ever (3.6%), and currently has career lows in yards per attempt (6.1) and passer rating (87.1). Murray’s last win came half a season ago against the Saints in Week 7. Whether he opts to exploit New England with his feet, his arm or both, Murray is in a prove-it spot here against a top-seven defense after having 15 days to prep.
  3. Getting pressure might be more important than the Pats getting home. Despite being 17th in the league with pressures on 27.7% of QB dropbacks, New England’s defense entered Week 14 boasting the third-highest sack total (39). Coaches would normally thank their lucky stars for those results given the middle-of-the-road pressure rate, but it might actually prove beneficial to achieve more consistent disruption in place of sacks Monday night. That’s because Murray currently possesses the lowest passer rating (12.8) under pressure of any qualified QB in the Next Gen Stats era, which began in 2016. His passer rating is 7.5 worse than the next lowest, Jay Cutler in 2017. Having allowed 57 points during their two-game losing streak compared to three points each in their previous two wins, the Patriots’ key to victory starts with rattling Murray, who has six interceptions, a 41.9 completion percentage and just 3.7 yards per attempt under pressure this season. Pass rushers Matt Judon, Josh Uche and Deatrich Wise could decide the night.
  4. Exclusive-game slump versus home-field disadvantage. Something’s got to give in the desert. New England has lost all three of its exclusive-window games this season by a combined score of 90-50, including two defeats in a row. The Patriots unpreparedness on the national stage is uncharacteristic of teams under Belichick, but it’s nearing a trend if New England falls to 0-4. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have hardly been able to get off the schneid at home for two years now. Arizona closed out 2021 losing five straight in Glendale, and the befuddling pattern has bled into this season, as the Cardinals have lost six of seven home games in 2022. Something like DeAndre Hopkins trying to score his first touchdown in eight tries against the Patriots might be a storyline of greater intrigue if this game was being played in Foxborough during a crowded Sunday afternoon window. Instead, the stage is set with all eyes on Pats-Cards come Monday night. One of these teams will begin to rewrite the narrative in prime time.

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