Brady-led Patriots a 'measuring stick' for Cards

Brady-led Patriots a 'measuring stick' for Cards

Published Sep. 14, 2012 3:57 p.m. ET

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Early in training camp, Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton was rattling off what he called the “murderer’s row” of great quarterbacks Arizona is slated to face this season. Well, might as well start with the most notorious opponent-killer of them all: New England’s Tom Brady.

“This, to me, is the pinnacle of quarterbacks in the history of football,” Horton said Friday of his Week 2 opponent. “I think he’s unquestionably the best football player ever to play this game.”

It’s unknown whether Horton believes that lofty statement or is simply playing a game of one-upsmanship with notorious praise-heaper Bill Belichick. But it’s hard to envision holding a best-player debate without including Brady. And it’s hard to concoct a greater challenge for the emerging Cardinals defense than the three-time Super Bowl champion, five-time AFC champion, Brady-led Patriots.

“It’s New England,” free safety Kerry Rhodes said succinctly. “When you see New England, it ratchets up a little bit – especially there. They don’t lose there.”

With Belichick as coach, the Patriots are 76-20 at home. There are many reasons for that success. Belichick is famous for his detailed game preparation and ability to evaluate talent. The Patriots were ahead of the NFL curve with their multiple-tight-end sets, allowing them to run or pass out of multiple formations without tipping their hand to the defense.

But the biggest constant in their offensive success has been Brady – a poised, intelligent, big-game player whose bust will one day adorn the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If the Cardinals defense hopes to emerge from Gillette Stadium in a different mood than most defenses do, it must accomplish one simple yet seemingly impossible task.

“What works well is hitting Brady,” Horton said of a player who was sacked just 32 times last year (ninth best in the league) and just once last week. “If you don’t hit that guy, you have no chance.”

In that regard, the Giants’ Super Bowl wins over the Patriots in 2008 and 2012 are widely viewed as the blueprint for handling Brady and Co. But Horton has a wealth of experience to draw on as well, having faced the Patriots multiple times while an assistant with the Steelers.

“They know us, and trust me, I know them,” Horton said. “Our players did a great job this week of understanding who they are. They’re not going to surprise us. They’re not going to fool us.”

While the Patriots are no doubt examining tapes of last season’s Cardinals defense as well as Steelers footage to get a feel for Horton’s schemes, Horton said he is looking at every Patriots opponent to see what works and what doesn’t.

“Everything’s relevant,” he said. “A little tip here, a play they ran against Pittsburgh, a play they ran against Baltimore or the Jets that you’ve seen seven years ago.”

To be clear, sacking Brady is not the only way to make him uncomfortable. The Giants harassed him into hurried throws, they made him move around in the pocket and they got some licks on him after the ball was gone – but in timely enough fashion to avoid penalties.

The Cards know they must do the same. And while they understand this is just Week 2 and the season won’t end with a loss, Horton still called it “a measuring-stick game” for his unit.

“It’s a very important game for where we are as a franchise,” he added.

So while the Cards can talk about staying on an even keel as they approach this game, there is a simple reality at play when facing the Patriots.

“Right now, I’m pretty cool,” inside linebacker Paris Lenon said as he prepared to board the bus for the airport Friday afternoon. “Come Sunday, I’m going to be something else.”

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