FOXBORO -- The Patriots will try to go to 2-0 when they meet the Cardinals Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. In 2012 debut edition of “Scout’s Take,” one NFC scout who has broken down film on both the Patriots and the Cardinals takes a look at some of the points of emphasis for New England heading into this weekend’s game. (Per usual, we have the scout’s statements in italics, with our notes underneath.)
“The quick passing game and use of the tight ends should be the primary plan of attack for the New England offense against Arizona. The Cards have the ability to get some pressure on the quarterback with Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell, and will show a variety of different looks. However, the Patriots’ tight ends are a mismatch on Arizona’s outside linebackers -- they can run with Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, but they’re smaller and can be outphysicaled. Strong safety Adrian Wilson has the size to match up with the tight ends, but lacks speed.”
Because of Arizona’s ability to put pressure on the quarterback, look for Brady and the Patriots’ passing game to emphasize quick and intermediate shots as opposed to going deep downfield. The New England offensive line will be tested this week trying to hold up against Dockett and Campbell -- and don’t forget old friend Paris Lenon. The inside linebacker, who had a cup of coffee with the Patriots in 2009 -- had two sacks in the regular-season opener against the Seahawks. However, New England will likely be able to physically exploit the matchups with Arizona’s outside linebackers, and while the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Wilson is maybe the one guy in the secondary with the size necessary to contend with Gronkowski or Hernandez if left alone in single coverage, he doesn’t have the quickness to stick with either one of them in the open field.
“The Patriots may be able to get a few double-move shots on whoever is the corner lined up opposite of Patrick Peterson.”
When the Patriots do throw, expect them to stay away from Peterson. Across the board, the Patriots were extremely complimentary of Peterson and what he brings to the field, both as a returner and as a cornerback. As a defender, he’s become one of the best corners in the league -- our friends at Pro Football Focus graded him at +3.0 in pass coverage in the season opener against Seattle. (That’s tied for fifth best in the league with Darrelle Revis.) In the opener, William Gay was the right corner, who graded out at -1.0 overall for Week One. If Gay is at RCB again on Sunday, look for the Patriots to try and exploit that matchup.
“It will be a little tougher for the Patriots to run on the Arizona defense than it was against Tennessee. The Cardinals are stout up front. The Patriots still have to run the ball to create looks they want in the passing game. New England needs to get the Arizona safeties down in the box -- if you can do that, you’ll get some favorable matchups downfield.”
The Patriots were able to run wild in the regular-season opener against the Titans: Stevan Ridley had a career-best 125 rushing yards, and New England finished with 162 yards as a team and an astounding 4.6 yards per carry average. That probably won’t be the case Sunday against the Cardinals, who have a better run defense than Tennessee. Not only is the Cards’ defensive front better, they also have a quality linebacker in Daryl Washington. He had nine tackles last week against the Seahawks, and according to PFF, graded out as Arizona’s second best defender against the run against Seattle. (In run defense, Washington trailed only Dockett, +4.5 to +3.4, and seven of his nine tackles were classified by PFF as “stops,” meaning they were tackles which constituted an “offensive failure.”) However, like any game plan, good complementary football -- in this case, using the run to set up the pass -- should pay off for the Patriots.
“The Patriots should double Larry Fitzgerald and try to contain him. At the same time, they have to understand that it doesn’t matter what defense he’s facing or who is throwing him the ball, he’s going to get his plays. New England must limit his productivity by taking him away with combination coverage -- something other teams have utilized in the past with great success -- and making quarterback Kevin Kolb go to second and third options in the passing game. Take away their No. 1 wide receiver, and Kolb begins to get happy feet, and that will limit his effectiveness.”
The primary key for the New England defense will be keeping Larry Fitzgerald in check. The wide receiver was celebrated throughout Foxboro this week as someone who could eventually be the best of all time -- he’s certainly one of the best pass-catchers the Patriots have faced over the last decade. As our scout says, look for New England to try and double up on Fitzgerald. (For what it’s worth, the Patriots rarely play man, preferring instead to deploy their corners on either one side or another. That would likely mean New England would offer guaranteed safety help over the top on whatever side Fitzgerald was located.) If New England is able to bottle up Fitzgerald, Kolb will look for receivers Early Doucet and Andre Roberts or veteran tight end Todd Heap. Make Kolb look to his other options, and he starts to get jumpy. Then, the Patriots will have won a major schematic battle.