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On Sunday, the New England Patriots took on one of the elite teams in the NFC in the Arizona Cardinals. The Patriots needed to play above and beyond their expectations for these first four games without Tom Brady, and they did just that. Lets give some grades and reactions to the Patriots' win in Arizona.
The Patriots' offense was much better than I anticipated, specifically with Jimmy Garoppolo running the offense in place of Tom Brady. Garoppolo was able to find open receivers when needed and limit his mistakes to one strip sack, with old friend Chandler Jones recovering the fumble. The Patriots were able to put up 23 points without Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Nate Solder and Jonathan Cooper. I consider that a win, especially considering who they did it against.
Nonetheless, the Patriots put the ball on the ground three times, two of which came from running backs Brandon Bolden and Legarrette Blount. The running back position has been a known weakness for this team dating all the way back to last season and, with DJ Foster inactive for the game, there were not many options to turn to. Moving forward, I expect to see less and less of Brandon Bolden, who has now fumbled multiple times in the preseason and regular season.
We did not see a lot of Martellus Bennett, as he was relied upon to help the offensive line, who had some issues Sunday night. Marcus Cannon and Ted Karras both had holding penalties, as well as allowing pressure throughout the night on Garoppolo. That being said, I am not all that upset with how the line played, considering they are missing Nate Solder and Jonathan Cooper, both of whom will hopefully be back sooner rather than later.
Final Grade: A
Studs: Julian Edelman (7 receptions, 66 yards), Jimmy Garoppolo (264 yards, 1 TD, 106.1 Rating), Chris Hogan (3 receptions, 60 yards, 1 TD)
Duds: Martellus Bennett (3 receptions, 14 yards), Brandon Bolden (2 attempts, 4 yards, 1 fumble)
I have heard a lot of pundits say that the Patriots defense isn't as good as we all thought because they allowed 21 points last night. While I expect the Patriots to hold their next three opponents to lower point totals, it is important to remember who they were playing. The Arizona Cardinals have a Top Three offense in the NFL and were playing at home in front of a raucous crowd.
I thought Defense Coordinator Matt Patricia did a fantastic job of confusing Carson Palmer (which isn't that hard to do, loser) at the line of scrimmage. Additionally, the secondary played fantastic all night. While Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan had a tough night, it is important to remember the competition they were going up against. Justin Coleman was able to excel in the secondary, while Chris Long and Dont'a Hightower were able to put some pressure on the quarterback. Sure, the front-seven were able to bring Palmer down three times, but that is because he had no one to throw to 15 yards down the field. I would like to see the defense cause some more turnovers, but I am hoping that comes as their competition is downgraded a bit this week against a more turnover-prone team in the Miami Dolphins.
Final Grade: A-
Studs: Justin Coleman (0-3, 2 pass breakups), Chris Long (1 sack, 1 QB hit, 4 pressures), Dont'a Hightower (2 QB hits, 3 pressures, 1 tackle)
Duds: Malcolm Butler (3-7, 61 yards, 2 pass breakups, holding penalty), Duron Harmon, Shea McClellin
As always, the Patriots' special teams was one of the highlights of the night. With the new rule of touchbacks being brought out to the 25 yard line, Bill Belichick decided to have Stephen Gostkowski kick the ball within the five yard line in hopes of pinning the offense back deep in their own territory to start out drives. And, as always, it worked in the Patriots' favor. The Patriots were able to pin Arizona back at their own 18.2 yard line on average on kickoffs.
Additionally, Danny Amendola and Cyrus Jones were able to give the Patriots good starting field position multiple times with 10+ return yards regularly. As always, this was the facet of the game that ultimately won the game for the Patriots, in my opinion.
Final Grade: A+
Studs: Stephen Gostkowski (3/3, 53 Long), Cyrus Jones, Danny Amendola
Like I said earlier, I love what Matt Patricia did on defense for the entire game. Carson Palmer had no idea where the pressure was coming from and looked uncomfortable for a large majority of his time in the pocket. Josh McDaniels did a great job of putting Jimmy Garoppolo in situations to succeed, but I feel that he was a bit hesitant at times. The Patriots had an opportunity to score in the closing minutes of the first half, but instead milked the clock. Now, I get why they did it, and it was probably the right decision, but I guess I am just used to seeing Tom Brady lead the offense down the field in a minute and a half as time expires.
Now, on to Bill Belichick. As always, Belichick has his fingerprints all over the defensive and offensive schemes, so a lot of the credit has to go to the greatest coach of all time. However, I do not think that Belichick managed the clock very well in the closing minutes of this game. He was letting time slip off the clock, but then calling time outs to preserve time within the course of a minute. While it worked out, I don't think it is fallacious to say Belichick froze up a little bit.
Final Grade: B+
All in all, this was an ideal way to start the season for the New England Patriots. All three units played fantastic and contributed to a victory over a perennial Super Bowl contender in the Arizona Cardinals.
Next up, the Patriots will take on the Miami Dolphins in their Home Opener at Gillette Stadium. Be sure to check back in for pregame predictions and thoughts.