By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots dropped their first home opener ever at Gillette Stadium as the Arizona Cardinals held on for a 20-18 victory, Sunday at Foxborough.
Penalties, poor play and curious decisions by the coaching staff all led to the Patriots defeat. Give Arizona credit, they had a game plan that they executed perfectly until the final 60 seconds of the game when they tried to hand the game away but the Patriots weren’t taking.
The loss of Aaron Hernandez hurt and will continue to do so for at least six weeks as these type injuries take at least that long to recover from. Tom Brady didn’t have the greatest of afternoons but one thing to take away from this was when the Patriots went to the up-temp, no huddle, Brady was able to move the team much better than they had all game.
So why did the team look so good in Tennessee and so poor against Arizona, here are Five Observations (some good, some not so good) from the game:
This team was not ready to play on Sunday, we heard from the mainstream beat writers that Bill Belichick was lighting into the offense on Friday for poor practices. It showed on Sunday. The play calling by Josh McDaniels was particularly atrocious, trying to attack the strengths of the Cardinals defense rather than their weaknesses.
Defensively I thought the Patriots did fine, 10 of Arizona’s points came off of turnovers where they gained a total of nine yards following Patriots miscues. But one sack against that patchwork Cardinals offensive line is unacceptable. They did a fair job of disrupting Kevin Kolb (140 yards passing), most of the afternoon, but why did they dial back the blitzing when they were successful when they did blitz? There were opportunities for more turnovers which could have turned the game in their favor on a day when the offense was scuffling.
One final thought on the coaches, it wasn’t long ago during training camp that everyone was gushing over the riches at WR for the team. So how in the world did the team come to have Julian Edelman as its #2 WR? For two weeks we’ve seen Edelman start over Wes Welker and “personnel groupings” or not, it is not working. They need to get Welker back into the #2 slot and get back to work.
Offensive Line Struggles-
The Cardinals defensive line and linebackers did a great job of disrupting Tom Brady and the passing attack of the Patriots. The offensive line had more than their share of troubles keeping Brady upright but some of that can be attributed back to coaching. Too many seven step drops and not enough quick throws.
Nevertheless, the offensive line did not have a great effort, they struggled to stay consistent in run blocking and Donald Thomas subbing for injured Dan Connolly had a rough day. One bright spot however was Nate Solder who it appeared played pretty solidly. The one sack by Sam Acho was initially blamed on him, but it appeared that back-up tight end Michael Hoomanawanui whiffed on a block.
The team has an even tougher test coming next Sunday in Baltimore, so they will need a much better team effort if they are to beat the Ravens on the road.
Young Players on Defense Again Shine-
Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Tavon Wilson all once again had solid games for the new look Patriots defense. Jones was disruptive in the passing game doing a great job pressuring Kevin Kolb in the pocket. He could have drawn a couple of more holding penalties that weren’t called, but that is neither here nor there. You look for consistent effort and playmaking ability and he did that, (tackle for loss, QB hit, forced fumble).
Hightower (five tackles, 1 for a loss) and Wilson (fumble recovery) both looked strong as they were instrumental in limiting Arizona’s rushing game (3.2 yards per attempt) and passing attack, where the plan was to limit Larry Fitzgerald and they did that extremely well, holding him to just a single catch for 4 yards.
Stevan Ridley had a pretty strong game with 71 yards on 18 carries but didn’t have the room to operate that he did the week before, but overall he played well and protected the football.
Special Team’s Struggle-
It’s hard to pin this loss on Stephen Gostkowski with the miss of the 42 yard field goal in the last six seconds of the game when he hit four others especially when two of them were from 50+ yards. He’s usually automatic in the 4th quarter of games, hitting his last 38 FG attempts in the 4th quarter prior to the miss.
In the third quarter, the team called for a directional punt to keep the ball away from Patrick Peterson and Nate Ebner whiffed on a block allowing Quentin Groves to block the kick and give Arizona the ball on the 2 yard line. That was a key point of the game and gave the Cardinals too easy a field to work with.
Defense Plays Well-
While the Arizona offense hardly resembles a juggernaut, the Patriots held the Cardinals to just 245 yards of total offense. Kolb had 140 yards passing and the Cardinals had 105 yards rushing, (17 on one wildcat run by Peterson).
Brandon Spikes had another outstanding game in the middle, displaying a nifty spin move on a blitz to pressure Kolb and he blew up the running play with a minute to go that caused the fumble that gave the Patriots a chance to win. Spikes finished with seven tackles and Jerod Mayo had nine, the LB position seems solid.
Devin McCourty and Steve Gregory did an outstanding job on Larry Fitzgerald in the secondary. The game plan was to limit Fitz and make the Cardinals beat them elsewhere. And it worked from their perspective, they had the major responsibility of covering Fitzgerald and they held him to 1 catch for 4 yards. For a secondary that struggled so badly last year, that has to go down as a big plus.