Oh no the sky is falling. Oh wait. New England hasn’t played a game yet? Jimmy Garoppolo hasn’t started a game in his NFL career? There has only been one game in the 2016-17 NFL Season? Let’s all relax, and take a look at the first match-up between the New England Patriots and the Arizona Cardinals.
From the Patriot’s offense, we see Jimmy G starting his first career game. It is not fair to compare him to future Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady, but we should set some expectations. Jimmy needs to show he is capable of releasing the ball quick. This is something he had difficulty doing in the preseason. He was constantly being put in poor situations because of his inability to make a quick read. Jimmy may not be a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback, but he should be able to make reads and check-down to the RB, if possible.
RBs LeGarrette Blount and James White will be pivotal this week. To give Jimmy a bit more time, they will need to keep Arizona on their toes by attempting to run the ball. It will be tough without great blockers in Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, and Rob Gronkowski, but they may be able to use some draws to get passed the rush. I expect White to have over 10 receptions in this game, because of the lack of pass blocking experience on the offensive line. New England will need to get him in space if they want a chance in this game.
When it comes to getting open quick, Julian Edelman is one of the best. He will be another key factor in this week’s game. He will likely match-up with Patrick Peterson, so his task will be tough, but if he can get open with a move or two then expect Jimmy to look his way. TE Martellus Bennett will be called on to do exactly what he was brought here for, and that is replace Rob Gronkowski. He will need to make significant changes from the last time fans saw him in the preseason, and he has the talent to produce against the likes of Deone Bucannon. I also expect Danny Amendola to make an impact, as he is eased back into game action.
The offensive line is still the most concerning part of the New England Patriots. This is what caused them to be eliminated in the playoffs by Denver last year, and it is what is on everyone’s minds this week. Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, and Jonathan Cooper are all ruled out for this game. This leaves a lot of inexperience to protect a young, untested quarterback. Not an ideal situation if you ask me. I predict the line to be Cannon-Thuney-Andrews-Mason-Fleming. The tough thing about this is that both tackles have not been too strong in their appearances, and Shaq Mason is recovering from a broken hand. If he does not participate we may see Ted Karras making his debut at guard, and I am not sure how well that will work out.
New England’s defensive line has been one of their better groups over the last few years. Malcom Brown and Alan Branch will continue to do their job stopping the run, while Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long, and Trey Flowers get after the quarterback. I don’t expect a ton of success in terms of sacks, but I do expect them to force some errant passes and turnovers. Watch out for Flowers, who was a fourth-round pick last season. His stellar performance in the preseason earned him a role as the number three guy in the DE rotation.
Patriots’ fans have absolutely nothing to worry about with the LBs. Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins will continue to be the main two in the front seven. Their athleticism and football intelligence make them key pieces in this game. They both have the ability to blitz free up the middle and make an impact sack or force a turnover. I expect that to happen as well, especially if Arizona runs their usual three or four WR packages.
Malcolm Butler and the rest of the secondary will have a pretty big challenge with the talent of the WRs of Arizona. I expect Butler to draw Larry Fitzgerald, Logan Ryan to draw Michael Floyd with help from Devin McCourty, and Cyrus Jones will have to face off with John Brown, if he plays. Chung, or the third safety will likely defend against second-year RB David Johnson. With my expectation of errant passes, the safeties should be the ones to grab those easy picks.
Last time we saw Carson Palmer, he was getting lit up by the Carolina Panthers. This is understandable, but then in the preseason it was more of the same. He was taking hits and throwing picks too often for comfort. He will need to make quick reads and pick on the second and third options of the Patriots’ secondary. Also, when New England comes with a free-rusher Palmer needs to know that if he can’t escape, he needs to take the sack. Stupid mistakes have become too frequent in his last few starts.
The two-headed monster of David Johnson and Chris Johnson pose a threat for New England’s defense. David Johnson’s ability to catch out of the backfield makes him one of the harder match-ups in the NFL. However, we have only seen one season of this, so we don’t really know how he plays. I think he builds on the progress he made in his rookie season. Chris Johnson is not the player he once was, but he is still a solid RB. It will be tough to run on such a successful front seven, but with extra blockers, they could get it done.
Three WRs have been extremely productive for the Cardinals in the past. Fitzgerald, Brown, and Floyd will continue to be the three main targets, along with David Johnson. Floyd will be the toughest match-up against New England, because his skill set is so diverse. He is fast but still big enough to go up and get the ball. This is why I predicted he would get the double coverage. Also, don’t be surprised if Jermaine Gresham has a touchdown reception, because as we saw in the AFC Championship game, covering TEs can be a weak spot of Jamie Collins’ game.
Arizona’s offensive line is one of the most talented in the league. Pro Football Focus ranked them as the ninth best. We should expect to see them compete with the defensive line in a pretty evenly matched battle. I still think New England gets the edge with free-rushers, but off of a base line vs line test, Arizona would take it.
Calais Campbell and Corey Peters look to continue their successful NFL careers against a lackluster offensive line. They will likely be able to dominate the line of scrimmage, and I expect Jimmy Garoppolo to be sacked at least four times, if not more. Not to mention, that DE/OLB Chandler Jones is making his return against his former team. If he plays as a down lineman, he will dominate either tackle, but if he plays as a stand-up LB, he will be taken advantage of in the passing-game.
LB/S Deone Bucannon has made a name for himself as a staple on the Cardinals defense over the last couple seasons. His ability to blitz and cover makes him a versatile weapon for head coach Bruce Arians to use in a number of different ways. Along with his fellow linebackers, Arizona should be able to stop the run, and help chip TEs Bennett and AJ Derby.
The secondary of Arizona has been extremely impressive in recent years. Led by Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, the young group should be able to get physical with receivers and keep them off their mark. Peterson will likely draw Edelman, Justin Bethel will draw Amendola, and Mathieu or Bucannon will draw James White and Martellus Bennett with help. I expect Peterson to come away with atleast one pick, and maybe another pick to a safety on a tipped pass.
Prediction: Arizona 20 New England 13
David Johnson and John Brown both score for the Cardinals, while Garoppolo finds Bennett for a red-zone touchdown. This game doesn’t tell much in terms of the entire season, so everyone should just relax, and no matter the outcome, there are still 15 regular season games to played for each team. I expect to both teams to make the playoffs and fight for a chance to win a Lombardi Trophy.
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