No one was expecting that. And when I say no one, I mean no one. Even I believed that the Patriots were in for a tough loss week one to one of the top teams in the NFC.
Boy were we all wrong.
New England came out firing on both sides of the ball, and got a jump on the game from their opening defensive series. They controlled the tempo, and did not make any rash decisions. Their game plan was extremely well thought out, and they were ultimately prepared for an exceptionally talented Arizona team. There was a lot to digest in that very well played game:
a) The offensive line played surprisingly well considering they were missing 2.5 starters in Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, and Jonathan Cooper (Cooper counts as a half because he was hurt so early that there’s not a 100% guarantee he would have been a starter). The starting o-line consisted of Cameron Flemming, Joe Thuney (fourth round rookie), David Andrews, Ted Karras (sixth round rookie), and Marcus Cannon. Fleming and Cannon both played well, with only one blown play coming from Cannon on a fast outside rush by Chandler Jones. Ted Karras, who rotated in and out with Shaq Mason, handled the situation well as a late round draft pick starting in his first NFL game. Joe Thuney impressed as usual. In particular, early on in the game the Patriots were backed up on their own eight yard line. They ran a running back screen to James White, who took the ball for a gain of 20+ yards. Thuney was far down the field ahead of White, and made a number of key blocks to open the hole.
b) LeGarrette Blount also surprised me. He looked nimble on his feet, and had good speed to the outside. His numbers were not overly impressive, at only 70 yards on 22 carries (3.2 yd/car average). However, it was the importance of his runs that was key. On his eight yard touchdown run in the third quarter, Blount burst through the line to be met by Tyrann Mathieu and Tony Jefferson. He then proceeded to run through both of them to reach the end zone. Later in the game, the Patriots had a third down and eleven, on the Arizona 35 yard line. They chose to run the ball, so as to get a few yards and have an easier field goal. Instead, Blount ran over Patrick Peterson to get 12 yards. He showed a lot of grit, and made the Patriots offense much more balanced.
c) Julian Edelman looked like a mad man on the field. He was clearly happy to be back, as he threw a number of hard blocks, and dove for every extra yard that he could.
d) Jimmy Garoppolo was outstanding on Sunday night. Now don’t misunderstand me, he certainly did not have a perfect game nor did his numbers blow anyone away. But in his first career start, which happened to be against one of the best teams in the league on primetime Sunday night football, he kept his composure and made very few mistakes. His throws were generally right on target, and he seemed to have a good connection with his receivers, particularly Julian Edelman. He also seemed to have decent awareness in the pocket, routinely scrambling to buy himself more time. This was evident on one play in particular, where a failed fake screen turned into a 32 yard strike to Danny Amendola, when Garoppolo escaped the broken pocket and kept his eyes downfield. It was a very good sign for things to come, and if he can stick to Josh McDaniels’ game plans, he should have a solid four games.
e) The offense was not perfect however three total fumbles, two of which were recovered by the Cardinals and flipped for points, are not something that Belichick will take lightly. Had those not occurred, the game might not have come down to the wire.
a) The game plan that Patriots defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia, drew up was outstanding. One of the best features of the Cardinals offense last year was their abundance of burner receivers who could stretch the field and create mismatches. Patricia countered this by spending most of the game in zone coverage, and preventing Carson Palmer from sending anything over the top. They let the Cardinals take the short chunks, while preventing them from going to their usual bread and butter.
b) The defensive line played a great game coming up with three sacks on Carson Palmer. The sacks did not tell the whole story either as the pressure was constant all game long. Palmer routinely had to scramble out of a collapsing pocket. They also held David Johnson to minimal production. Before his broken tackle that he took for 45 yards (which, while impressive, came mostly from Patrick Chung knocking Vincent Valentine off the tackle), Johnson was only averaging 2.7 yards per carry. He was well contained for a running back of his caliber.
c) The cornerbacks were a mixed bag. There were some flashes of greatness; Malcolm Butler had a number of nice pass break ups, and Justin Coleman had a great play on a pass intended for John Brown. However, as a whole, I was not impressed. Cyrus Jones got burned on a third down play in the middle of the field. Logan Ryan spent the entire fourth quarter getting dominated by Larry Fitzgerald (to his credit, Larry Fitzgerald is an absolute legend). Their play will need to improve in the coming weeks, especially with superstar receivers like Deandre Hopkins coming up in a week and a half.
Other random observations:
a) David Johnson is incredible. At 6’1, 224 lbs, Johnson is not a small running back. Despite this, his cuts were incredible, and routinely made Patriots defenders look rather flabbergasted. He has a very high ceiling.
b) Chandler Jones came up with a fumble recovery and a sack against his former team. I bare no ill will, and hope for the best for him.
c) Martellus Bennett had a minimal effect in the passing game, but his run and pass blocking were outstanding, and played a huge role in the offense.
d) Danny Amendola was the Patriots first punt returner, a fact I was not happy about considering it was his first game back and Cyrus Jones had been groomed for that role all training camp. However, Amendola did not get hurt, so I’ll let that one go.
Sunday night was an incredible game, and showed the talent of both teams. From a Patriots standpoint, it gives hope that the team will be able to survive the first quarter of the season without Tom Brady. This is the one game that everyone was expecting the team to lose, but they managed to pull out a hard-earned victory.
Until next time- B$