Cardinals blitzes may be familiar to Patriots

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Cardinals blitzes may be familiar to Patriots

FOXBORO -- It's been almost four years since the Patriots last played Arizona, but they'll be familiar with the blitz schemes they face on Sunday.

Arizona's defensive coordinator Ray Horton was an assistant in Pittsburgh, his time there overlapping with current Cards head coach Ken Wisenhunt between 2004 and 2006. Under renowned Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, Horton got an education on the zone blitz packages he now puts to use in his current position.

Since Horton took over last year, the Cardinals blitz early and often -- they brought five pass rushers in just over half their plays in Week 1 against the Seahawks and blitzed on 40 percent of their plays last season under Horton, according to ESPN -- and the Patriots know it.

"You just have to be prepared for it," said Logan Mankins. "The play-callers have to be aware of it and as linemen we're always aware that there's always a good chance of pressure when you play a team like this. You gotta be ready for it."

Mankins, now the senior member of the offensive line, said there may have to be a bit more communication when facing a blitz-happy defense like Arizona's. But Patriots offensive linemen are doing their homework this week in the hopes that they will recognize whatever looks they see Sunday.

"If we've done enough studying and can see our keys, we shouldn't have to talk a whole lot," Mankins said. "But there's gonna be times in the game where they might confuse us with the amount of things they do, and we'll just have to get to the sideline and learn from that."

The Patriots offensive line gave up just one sack last week against the Titans. Though Tom Brady's nose got busted up, it was a solid performance from the guys up front. This week, however, will be a very different challenge. Between Arizona's varied blitzes and their ability to pass rush with defensive linemen Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell, New England's offensive linemen will have their work cut out for them, especially if they are missing any of their regulars.

Starting right guard Dan Connolly missed time because of a concussion he suffered in Week 1, but he returned to practice Thursday and could be in line to play against Arizona. Backup Donald Thomas would likely fill in if need be.

"Being able to fill in where I can in the interior line, you just never know what can happen from week-to-week and you have to be ready to go," Thomas said. "And I think we all understand that, and we all know we can play multiple positions so we have to be able to play them."

No matter who is out there, they'll inevitably face pressure. What's important is how they react to it.

"That's gonna be key for us this week," Thomas said, "is to be able to identify what's going on before the snap of the ball and all of us to be on the same page and pick up the blitz is gonna be key."

Quick Slants Podcast: Antonio Brown’s betrayal; Matt Light; eyeing up Pittsburgh

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Quick Slants Podcast: Antonio Brown’s betrayal; Matt Light; eyeing up Pittsburgh

Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry discuss the aftermath of Antonio Brown’s Facebook Live video. Curran interview Matt Light ahead of the AFC Championship. They dissect the press conferences of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and look at how to beat the Steelers.

SUBSCRIBE iTunes | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | AudioBoom

2:29 Antonio Brown’s Facebook Live aftermath

13:14 Stopping Le’Veon Bell

27:16 heywassyonumba? with Patrick Chung and Kyle Van Noy

32:30 Injury report updates for AFC Championship

36:51 Brady and Belichick’s press conferences

44:50 Matt Light interview

Belichick asked if playing at home helps: 'Go ask Dallas and Kansas City'

Belichick asked if playing at home helps: 'Go ask Dallas and Kansas City'

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick knows that how you play, not where, is what matters most. 

That's why when he was asked on Wednesday about the advantage the Patriots will have by playing at Gillette Stadium in the AFC title game, he wasn't willing to go all-in on how a comfortable environment will positively impact his team.

"I don’t know," he said. "Go ask Dallas and Kansas City."

The Patriots apparently thought enough of home-field advantage that they played their starters throughout their regular-season finale win in Miami, exposing their best players to potential injury in order to maintain their positive momentum while simultaneously ensuring a better road to the Super Bowl. 

The Patriots fans in attendance on Sunday will help when the Patriots take on the Steelers, Belichick acknowledged. But there's much more to it than that. 

"Yeah, of course," he said, "but the game is won by the players on the field. That’s who wins football games – the players. And they’ll decide it Sunday night."

And if you needed any further proof, just ask the Cowboys and Chiefs how helpful their home crowds were in the Divisional Round.