A big load
The Cardinals will have to find a way to minimize the impact of Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson, who has this habit of breaking tackles and carrying defenders for extra yards.
He leads the team with 734 rushing yards on 161 attempts (4.6 per attempt) and has also contributed 383 receiving yards (fourth among NFL running backs) on 56 catches (third in the league).
Said defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, “He is special guys. He’s a big back who plays first, second, third down, catches the ball out of the backfield. He can make big plays. He runs through arm tackles. So, the offense definitely goes through him.”
Safety Budda Baker was asked about seeing a player on tape and then experiencing the reality of facing him on the field.
Baker said, “On tape is what I’m gonna see on the field, a guy who is rarely getting tackled by one person. He’s going to be heavily into the game plan and a guy we’re going to need all 11 men to get to. He’s a big dude, 240-plus. I don’t know how tall he is.
“But I know once I see 240 and once I watched the film and see guys shying away from tackles and D-linemen missing tackles on him, I know what type of player he is. He’s definitely a guy I’m going to be excited to try to tackle and he’s a guy I’m definitely going to have to wrap up.”
Coach Kliff Kingsbury noted that Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Stevenson’s jump from Year 1 to Year 2 “compares to Tom (Brady) and Lawrence Taylor, which is probably the best offensive player and best defensive player ever in the history of the game. So, that shows how he feels about Stevenson and he’s not one to heap praise on people. The first guy rarely tackles him.”
A fourth-round pick last year, Stevenson had 133 rushes for 606 yards (also a 4.6-yard average) and five touchdowns, but only 14 receptions for 123 yards.
Asked that same question, Joseph said, “It’s tough for the players because he’s a big back and you can’t simulate that in practice. We played some really good backs this year, so that’s what helped us a little bit. But he’s a bigger back who gets through arm tackles constantly.
“It’s gonna take effort of all of us to get to the ball and hit on this guy’s legs, because he’s gonna break some tackles. So you have to show up with a mindset of being physical from the first snap to the last snap to get him stopped. If not, it’ll be a long day for you.”
Hollywood on Monday night
While it’s a small sample size, wide receiver Hollywood Brown has six touchdown catches in five games, tied for third-most in Monday Night Football history.
He has 24 receptions for 299 yards in those five games and in is most recent appearance with the Ravens against the Colts on Oct. 11, 2021, he had nine catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning 5-yard score in overtime.
For his career, Brown has two go-ahead touchdowns in the fourth quarter or overtime and both were on Monday night.
Stefon Diggs (13 games) and Travis Kelce (12 games) each have 12 touchdowns on Monday night.
As for Hopkins …
Belichick is an admirer of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, although it should be noted that the Patriots coach often gives glowing accolades about opponents when asked by the New England-area media.
“He’s got tremendous ball skills, he catches everything, great hands,” Belichick said. “Even if he’s covered, there’s a place the ball can be that he can get it, still make the catch. Great coordination on the sidelines, and he doesn’t really look it but he’s a strong kid. You see him break tackles, he’s strong creating separation on routes, yards after contact, tough yards like around the goal line or the extra yard for a first down. He’s a smart football player, very savvy.
“His ball skills are at the very elite level with guys I’ve seen in this league. He’s up there with whoever the top guys are. I think he’s every bit as good as anybody I’ve ever coached against.”
Asked about those comments, Hopkins said, “A guy like Belichick is one of the most respected people in the NFL. And obviously, he’s a Hall of Fame coach, and for him to have that high praise about me, it’s definitely mutual. Love playing against him. After every game, I tried to make sure I say ‘Hey, what’s up?’ to him. So, you know, I’ve got a lot of respect for Belichick for sure.”
Perhaps he loves playing against him, but in seven previous games, Hopkins hasn’t scored a touchdown.
Close games and takeaways
After 13 weeks of the NFL season, there were 86 games decided by six points or fewer, the most ever. The 87th was played Thursday night when the Rams defeated the Raiders, 17-16. In addition, of the 15 games played in Week 13, 11 were within one score in the fourth quarter and including Thursday’s game, there have been 148 this season.
Results of close games usually determine a team’s record. Minnesota is 9-0 in one-score games with three by a field goal and by a combined total of 48 points. The Eagles are 5-0 by a total of 22 points and three by a total of seven. The Chiefs have won four games by a total of 10 points and lost three by a total of 10.
Meanwhile, the 6-6 Patriots are 3-2 in one-score games with one of the losses in overtime. The Cardinals are 2-4 with two of the losses to the Eagles by three and the Chargers by one.
Turnovers are a big part of it. The Cardinals are 3-2 when they have a positive turnover/takeaway ratio, 1-1 when it’s even and 0-5 when it’s been negative.
The Patriots enter Monday’s game not having a turnover in their last three games. The last time the Patriots had four consecutive games without a turnover was in 2018 and they hold the NFL record with seven straight games during the 2010 season.
Said Joseph, “I see an offense that’s running the football well. It’s a very conservative pass game. Lots of screens. It’s like a defensive guy (Matt Patricia) is calling the offense. Let’s not turn the ball over, let’s get four yards a play and try to burn clock. That’s what they’re doing and that’s what he’s gonna do on Monday night. He’s gonna be patient, maybe take a shot here from time to time, but for the most part, it’s especially run game and quick screams.”
More work for Lecitus
Rookie sixth-round pick Lecitus Smith, who started against the Rams and 49ers at right guard and admitted he never thought he’d actually play this season, is expected to see some time at left guard Monday night in a potential job-share with Cody Ford.
Rashaad Coward, who had started the last three games at left guard and played every snap in Week 12 against the Chargers, is out because of a pectoral injury. Max Garcia will start his second consecutive game at right guard.
Kingsbury said Smith is “ready to roll. See how the flow of the game goes. We liked what we saw when he got his opportunity so we’ll see how it plays out.”
Smith said he’s looking forward to playing another spot and believes he can be proficient on either side at guard or at center.
“I want to be good at all three,” he said. “So that’s what I’m striving for, that’s I’m working for. I want to be looked at as a guy that can play all three positions.”
As for the adjustment of going from one side to the other, Smith said, “The main thing in the back of my mind when I flip sides like that is just to keep my steps square. When I’m setting, don’t turn my hips or anything like that, don’t bail too fast on my center. Don’t lose too much ground for my tackle. We pretty much have to be on the same level.”
Meanwhile, asked whether the difficulty of facing a Belichick defense is in preparing for what they do or trying to figure out what they might do, Kingsbury chuckled and said, “Yeah, it’s the unexpected because you know something new is coming each and every week. All different personnel groups, all different blitzes. That’s why you have to focus on what you do best.
“Execute your stuff at a high level. You get caught chasing ghosts, it will be a long day and a long week trying to draw everything up. You can anticipate it, but you never know. The way they’re able to get that coached up each and every week is amazing and they’re doing a tremendous job this year with that group. He’s gonna have ways to try and take away your best player and find mismatches. It’s a constant chess match and he’s usually one step ahead of everybody.”
Meanwhile, Will Hernandez, who started the first nine games of the season at right guard before heading to reserve/injured with a pectoral injury, is eligible to return after the Monday night game.
Asked if it’s looking good for him coming back, Hernandez answered in the positive, prompting right tackle Kelvin Beachum, who heard the question from his locker next to Hernandez, to say, “It better be.”
Those left-footed punters
There aren’t many in the NFL, so when a team is preparing to face a lefty, they will often bring one in for a “tryout” so the punt returner can get accustomed to catching punts because they come off the foot differently.
The Cardinals apparently did that with the reported tryout Saturday of former Nevada punter Julian Diaz. He last played in 2021 and while he has had some other tryouts, so far he has yet to be signed by an NFL team.
Wide receiver/return specialist Greg Dortch, who missed the game against the Chargers because of a thumb injury, is expected to play Monday night, but it’s likely Pharoh Cooper will return kicks.
My Cause My Cleats
For the seventh season, NFL players can choose to have customized cleats designed for the causes close to them. This season, causes players have chosen to support include topics such as preventing gun violence, tackling social justice, prioritizing mental health, raising awareness for individuals with disabilities and disability research, youth and education, military support, cancer and other diseases, animal welfare and more. This year, more than 30 percent of players have chosen to support various forms of cancer and other physical health related causes, while nearly 20 percent have selected topics related to youth and education.
Numerous Cardinals players will be wearing the special shoes Monday night and fans can go to nfl.com/Auction to bid on cleats or simply to contribute to any cause.
Several players talked to gophnx.com about their causes and what it means to them.
Zach Allen, Team IMPACT
Allen said it’s an organization like Make-A-Wish that “connects kids facing tough time with their favorite universities. I’m glad to be able to spread the word and represent it.”
Last year, Allen didn’t participate because he noted that one other year he did it he had a bad game. Asked about that, he said, “I’m still not wearing the cleats. We’ll auction them off but they’re not being worn. They look cool, though.”
Chris Banjo, Tackle Sickle Cell
Banjo said, “It means a lot. Directly, it had a direct impact on me with my mother (Olayinka). She was born with it, battled it her whole life. When I was born, I was able to see it on a day-to-day basis. It’s something I would never wish on my worst enemy to think there’s people out there battling on a day-to-day basis. They’re warriors. There’s more technology and information now, it’s a little bit better now compared from when I was growing up and seeing what my mom went through. It was rough.”
Banjo said he doesn’t have “full-blown” sickle cell anemia, does have the trait, but can live a perfectly normal life.
He explained that those with full-blown sickle cell anemia “go on streaks where their body will go into what’s called a sickle-cell crisis. My mother would describe it as pins and needles, like daggers throughout her whole body. It’s where the vody can lack oxygen and the blood is not operating the way it’s supposed to be.
“Normally blood cells are shaped like holes. With sickle cell they’re like half-moons, which doesn’t allow blood to pass through the vessels normally. With all the organs that need healthy blood cells, it can cause the body to go into crisis, which is excruciating.”
Olayinka died at the age of 45, but Banjo said the family was in some way blessed because she wasn’t expected to live past the age of 21.
Kelvin Beachum, United Food Bank
Asked how he picks what cleats to wear because he’s involved in numerous endeavors, Beachum said, “It’s really two verticals. One is hunger, one is STEM education. This year, it’s hunger. Working with United Food Bank, we work with them since I’ve been in town, so I thought it was needed to bring some awareness to what they’re doing and the great work they’re doing over there to help serve the greater Phoenix area.”
Beachum has alternated cleats in previous years and one year did so for World Vision.
Leki Fotu, American Diabetes Association
Fotu’s sister Alice is 29 and has been battling diabetes ever since she was a teenager.
“It’s a huge part of my story,” he said. “She’s been battling Type 1 diabetes and the depression that comes with it for many years. Her story, her fight, is nothing compared to what me and the guys go through here on the field. That motivates me to not only be a better player but be a better person.”
Fotu said Alice, who is on dialysis, is in the waiting process for a kidney transplant.
“I’m grateful that she got on that waiting list. It’s all God’s timing now.”
Antonio Hamilton, Valleywise Health Foundation
Hamilton’s choice was a slam dunk after what Valleywide did for him after the August cooking accident in which he suffered severe burns to his feet.
He said, “They took really, really good care of me throughout my process so it’s just a small token of the way that I can show my appreciation.”
DeAndre Hopkins, S.M.O.O.T.H (Speaking Mentally, Outwardly Opening Opportunities Toward Healing)
The story how Hopkins’ mom, Sabrina Greenlee, was blinded by acid has been well-chronicled. The attacker was a woman who was involved with Greenlee’s former boyfriend. She is blind in the right eye and considerably visually impaired in the other eye. Hopkins was 10-years-old at the time of the incident and that’s why his jersey number is 10.
Ad for S.M.O.O.T.H, Hopkins said his mom started the charity and added, “We help in a lot of domestic violence situations, shelters for women and we have stuff that we do yearly. We both do a lot of stuff, but she is definitely spearheading it.”
Asked how much he appreciates the league for having the program, Hopkins said, “This is awesome. I think this is one of the best things the NFL does is allow us to shout out some of those charities that need it. Big or small, I think a lot of those charities, they need that help on a bigger stage and we have a platform to do it and I love it.”
Josh Jones, Boys and Girls Clubs of America
Jones grew up in Richmond, Tex., part of the Houston area and he said, “My parents, every time they had to go to work and I wasn’t doing anything structural like AAU basketball, they would take us to the Boys and Girls Club, me and my brother. And that was just a great outlet for my parents to be able to just have that. I feel like it kept me out of a lot of trouble, me and my brother. Because we could have been doing anything on those days.
“So just being able to go there and, and still be able to communicate with other kids and, and kind of just grow up there, I feel like I owe a lot to them.”
Myjai Sanders, JCP Foundation
The rookie’s god-sister’s son, Jordan, who is 3-years-old, has achondroplasia, or dwarfism.
Sanders said his cousin is dealing with the situation and is “fun to be around. He makes my day.”
By wearing the cleats, Sanders said, “I’m jelping him by telling him how much I appreciate him for helping me to keep pushing because I see him keep fighting every day.”
Isaiah Simmons, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
“Personally, this is something real special to me, showing support to many different leukemia foundations. I lost my aunt (Sophie), someone I was really, really close to, to leukemia. She was kinda like my right hand, so it really hits home with me.”
Cameron Thomas, ALS Association
Thomas’ uncle, Steve Abels, was diagnosed four years ago, and he said of wearing the cleats, “It’s a big deal for me and my entire family. To be able to have this week and be able with the other foundations to do something; I’m really happy the NFL does this.”
Jalen Thompson and Charles Washington, LA Boys and Girls Club
Thompson said, “Growing up in SoCal, that was someplace that we could go to and hang out during the day while trying to stay out of trouble. Anything I can do to give back or anything I can do to help. I really appreciate the Boys and Girls Club for guys like me where the parents couldn’t be there. They brought us in and helped us out a lot.
“Guys that are struggling at home, struggling when they’re younger can go somewhere else during the daytime and then at nighttime come back home. But I’m glad that I went through that. It taught me a lot. It taught me to give back to organizations like this.”
To see a complete list of Cardinals players participating, go to nfl.com/mycausemycleats
Joseph on the fumble and interception reversed on replay in the game against the Chargers: “We’ve had a couple of calls this year that’s been mind-boggling. Seattle, we got a couple of touchdowns caught on us that were blatant push-offs. We had a play against the Rams that J (J.J. Watt) picked up a touchdown. That was a blatant sack, fumble, touchdown. So every week has been calls that hadn’t gone our way. But again, that’s the game, and we have to make more plays to win games. And that’s what we’re not doing.”
Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: email@example.com