What did I tell you? Relax. Everything will be fine. Now, the New England Patriots are 1-0 and are at the top of the AFC East after defeating the Cardinals 23-21. They came in with a good game plan and made crucial adjustments at halftime. Both opening drives resulted in touchdowns for New England and really showed the brilliance of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and head coach Bill Belichick. They were able to script drives with plays that fit Jimmy Garoppolo’s strengths.
Let’s get into how this game was played.
Garoppolo was a lot more composed than I predicted. He was able to make adjustments and fluidly move through his reads. When the pressure got to him, he used his legs and shoulder fakes to get out of some sticky situations, including one deep pass that he hit Amendola for a first down.
Jimmy also showed the ability to decipher a man coverage scheme that allowed him to throw his first TD to Chris Hogan.
Overall I really enjoyed Jimmy’s performance. There are definitely some things he needs to work on, such as sensing pressure, but that comes with more game experience. I believe that if he gets Gronk and Solder back, there could be some even better results ahead.
Blount ran for 70 yards and a touchdown yesterday. He looked to be more efficient than normal, but looking at his stat line he only averaged 3.2 yards per carry. Blount looked to have some problems holding onto the ball throughout training camp and preseason, and that continued with another fumble in this game. It was extremely annoying, because it came after a jaw-dropping effort on a touchdown run the drive before.
James White also added in 40 yards in the passing game. I expected him to have a larger role, but the screens were going to everyone instead of just to him. I still think he will have a pretty big role this season, maybe they didn’t want to give it all away just yet.
Garoppolo clearly has a rapport with both Edelman and Amendola, as they combined for 10 receptions for 114 yards. This is something I wasn’t sure we would see, because there just wasn’t a lot of time for the trio to practice together. It just goes to show that these two are really good at getting open, and they have both quarterbacks trust. Malcolm Mitchell came on a little bit, making a nice catch and spin for a first down. TE Martellus Bennett may not have had a big day on the stat sheet, but his efforts in the blocking game were a key to the win. He blocked on passing plays and running plays and had absolutely no complaints about it. That is a guy who realizes there is more to the game than stats.
For those who read my preview, you were aware of how nervous I was about the offensive line. Although they had help, I was generally surprised with Garoppolo only being sacked twice. The broadcast highlighted Fleming’s chip plays on Chandler Jones a few times, but they didn’t really show the match-up between the LT and Calais Campbell. Even Karras held up with Mason in the RG spots. I couldn’t have really asked for much more from a makeshift offensive line in their first game against a stellar defense.
Now, for the defensive line, there was a good amount of pass rush to hurry Palmer, and this even resulted in sacks for Chris Long, Vincent Valentine, and Jamie Collins. They need to sure up the tackling. On David Johnson’s longest run for 45 yards, Valentine had him stopped in the backfield for atleast no gain. If they stop him on that run, he only totals 44 yards on 15 carries, which would be a total success.
I didn’t get to see much of the linebackers, because all of the runs were either stopped at the line or in the secondary, and the passes were all stopped by corners or safeties. Both Collins and Hightower did outstanding jobs putting pressure on Palmer up the middle that forced some early passes. He was not able to feel comfortable, and that allowed for the coverage time to be short, which really helped the secondary.
All of the corners split time covering different receivers, but after making a nice play on Larry Fitzgerald early in the game, Logan Ryan was really targeted by Palmer. Ryan appeared in all 61 defensive snaps, but when he was on Fitz, there was a good chance there would be a catch allowed. Cyrus Jones only played five snaps, but gave up a key reception on the final drive for Arizona. Malcolm Butler and Justin Coleman nearly had interceptions that were knocked away by the receivers. Coleman specifically allowed zero catches with two passes defended. It was clear that the second-year CB found himself a role as the third CB.
Palmer had a solid game posting over 270 yards with two touchdowns. He should have been able to take advantage of the secondary more than he did, but his line wasn’t protecting him long enough. He was bailed out by his wide receivers on the two balls Coleman and Butler had their hands on, and another ball Coleman intercepted, but he came down out of bounds. For a quarterback who has had an up-and-down career, this may be one of those average years.
David Johnson had a hard time getting going, but he made up for it with one long run.
He also added a touchdown run where he backed in just over the goal line. I was actually not sure that he had scored, but they didn’t overturn it upon review. His pass-catching really shined in open space. There were just a few instances where him and Palmer were not on the same page. They could have converted some third-downs without the miscommunication.
The receiving core was highlighted by Larry Fitzgerald’s stellar performance. He recorded eight receptions for 81 yards and two touchdowns, giving him 100 career touchdowns. Fitz, covered by Ryan most of the night, was able to break away for just long enough to make the catch and advance up the field. He even made this incredible reception in the end-zone.
Other than Johnson and Fitz, Palmer only completed 12 other passes for 147 yards to the rest of his weapons.
Arizona’s offensive line struggled with New England’s pass-rush. Even in a base line vs line battle, the Patriots’ were consistently winning. This may be due in-part to the loss of RG Evan Mathis. Once Mathis left the game, there was an even larger feeling of the lopsidedness of the trench battle. Without help, this may be a long year for Palmer and the RBs.
The Cardinals’ defensive line really did not produce on the stat sheet either, but they forced Garoppolo into uncomfortable situations. He was forced to move up in the pocket and make quicker decisions than normal. Calais Campbell, who I thought would have a larger impact prior to the game, didn’t really show much against LT Cameron Fleming.
Both Chandler Jones and Markus Golden recorded sacks, and Jones even recovered the fumble on Golden’s strip sack. Jones did look over-matched most of the game by Marcus Cannon at RT, and when he moved to go against Fleming, he was continuously upended. Deone Bucannon had a large impact as well, covering James White in the passing game and making plays against Blount in the running game.
Patriots’ receivers are difficult to stick to, that is why we don’t really give to much blame to the Cardinals’ secondary. Peterson move around and played well for the most part. He allowed only two catches for 13 yards. The biggest target was Brandon Williams. Garoppolo kept going at him after he allowed the long touchdown to Hogan. He allowed four catches for 74 yards. I also want to stress how well Tony Jefferson played in the run game. It is tough to find a DB who plays against the run so well, and Jefferson was making stops left and right at the line of scrimmage.
Overall, it was an exciting game from either side. Jimmy Garoppolo calmed down a lot of New England fans across the nation. Just imagine what he could do with Rob Gronkowski on the field. The Cardinals suffered a tough loss, but they will likely be competing by the end of the season. Just need to shake off the first week rust and jitters and get out there. Good team win for New England. Can’t wait for next week.