The Boston Globe breaks down the X’s and O’s for the Patriots home opener and offers a prediction for who will win:
When: 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: Gillette Stadium
When the Patriots run:
Stevan Ridley turned in his most impressive performance as a pro last week. The 5-foot-11-inch, 220-pounder has a nice blend of size, speed, and strength. More important, he runs with great energy and confidence. Ridley knows he’s the No. 1 back, and he’s playing with swagger. He is a decisive runner and will burst through openings. He has nice leg drive and is always pushing forward. Shane Vereen returned to practice this week but the oft-injured sophomore may find it hard to crack a rotation that includes rookie Brandon Bolden (he has shown excellent vision and instincts) and Danny Woodhead (great quickness, vision, and receiving skills).
New England’s new-look offensive line was solid in Week 1 (Dante Scarnecchia is a genius, no?). Ryan Wendell stepped in at center and was quick off the ball. Versatile Dan Connolly was agile and mobile, and Logan Mankins was up to his usual tricks (i.e. being ornery and tossing defenders around like rag dolls).
Arizona has a good interior presence in tackles Darnell Dockett and Dan Williams. Dockett has the explosiveness to shoot gaps and the power to hold up blockers and keep them off the linebackers. Williams moves well for a big man and can be tough to move. Inside linebackers Daryl Washington (smart, with impressive closing speed) and Paris Lenon (11-year veteran can still lower the boom) are consistent. Outside linebackers Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield lack range.
Rushing yards per game:
New England offense: 162.0 (Third)
Arizona defense: 115.0 (20th)
When the Patriots pass
Tom Brady was efficient but not spectacular on Opening Day. Of course, he didn’t have to be spectacular because New England found the balance that every team strives for. As expected, Brady leaned heavily on his twin terrors: tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Gronkowski’s size and strength make him nearly unstoppable. He also may have the softest hands of any tight end in league history. Hernandez’s athleticism and versatility make him nearly unstoppable, too. He is an absolute bull after the catch.
Brandon Lloyd had a very quiet five catches, but he flashed his tremendous body control and hands on a second-quarter 27-yard catch. Contrary to reports, Wes Welker was not in WITSEC against the Titans. The slot machine with the quick feet and strong hands barely played in the preseason. He won’t be suppressed for long. Brady will need Welker vs. Arizona because he will be under the gun from massive defensive end Calais Campbell (6-8, 300).
Campbell has long, beefy arms and is equally adept at batting down passes, collapsing pockets, and wrapping up the man with the ball. Look for Gronkowski to help Nate Solder keep Campbell out of Brady’s comfort zone. Arizona has an exceptional secondary led by cornerback Patrick Peterson, who is already among game’s elite in his second season. Peterson is quick and fluid and is rarely out of position. Veteran safeties Adrian Wilson (aggressive and rangy) and Kerry Rhodes (smart and rangy) provide excellent support.
Passing yards per game:
New England offense: 228.0 (20th)
Arizona defense: 139.0 (Third)
When the Cardinals run
Arizona has a nifty stable of backs in Ryan Williams, Beanie Wells, and third-down specialist LaRod Stephens-Howling. Unfortunately, they’ll have a hard time finding much running room because their blockers are substandard and New England’s front seven is quick, smart, and physical. Williams is just getting back up to speed after a patella injury last season as a rookie. At 5-9, 207, he is instinctive and tough. He has good vision and will lower his shoulder and finish his runs with authority. He’ll take a beating, but he’ll give one, too. Wells has excellent size (6-2, 229) and a good first step. He’ll break his share of tackles, but he lacks top-end speed and can sometimes appear uninterested. Stephens-Howling (5-7, 185) has quick feet and excellent vision. He often slides through creases undetected but lacks breakaway speed and bulk.
Arizona’s interior three will struggle. Center Lyle Sendlein is quick and smart but lacks strength and can be overwhelmed by bigger tackles (look for Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love to make mincemeat out of him). Left guard Daryn Colledge shows surprising athleticism for a 6-4, 308-pound man. He has a good initial burst and will drive defenders back. Right guard Adam Snyder (6-6, 325) has great size but lacks pop. With New England’s big bodies clogging the running lanes, linebackers Jerod Mayo (he’s everywhere), Brandon Spikes (he keeps getting better), and Dont’a Hightower (he already looks like a veteran) will pile up numbers and bodies.
Rushing yards per game:
Arizona offense: 43.0 (28th)
New England defense: 20.0 (Second)
When the Cardinals pass
Larry Fitzgerald is the best receiver in the NFL; trying to find a weakness in his game is like trying to find a dumb guy at MIT. Fitzgerald is listed as 6 feet 3 inches, but you’ll swear he’s 6-8. He has tremendous hands, body control, and speed. He runs precise routes and catches everything around him. He can play the short game or the deep game. He lines up everywhere and must be accounted for (preferably with multiple bodies) on every snap.
Rookie Michael Floyd (6-3, 225) is still learning the ropes but will eventually be a perfect running mate for Fitzgerald. Floyd is big, has good hands, and plays with confidence. Once he gets comfortable, this will be the league’s best duo. Andre Roberts (agile and quick) and Early Doucet (a good route runner) will contribute. Tight ends Jeff King (hands of stone) and Todd Heap (athletic but always banged up) won’t be much of a factor.
Kevin Kolb gets the start at quarterback. He has good size (6-3, 218) and a strong arm but he’s inconsistent and rarely looks comfortable. Tackles D’Anthony Batiste (there’s a reason he’s a career backup) and rookie Bobby Massie (this 6-6, 316-pounder will be a beast someday soon) will struggle to keep New England ends Chandler Jones, Jermaine Cunningham, and Rob Ninkovich out of Kolb’s mug.
Passing yards per game:
Arizona offense: 210.0 (22d)
New England defense: 264.0 (18th)
Cardinals’ key player: Kevin Kolb
A big strong guy with an above-average arm, Kolb has been given several chances to seize starting jobs in the NFL and hasn’t been able to get over the hump. He seems to do his best work coming on in relief. He gets another shot Sunday.
How he beats you: With quickness and accuracy. Kolb sets up quickly and gets rid of the ball in a flash. When he gets into a rhythm, he can shred defenses with short and intermediate passes. The 6-foot-3-inch, 218-pounder is more mobile than he looks.
How to shut him down: By pressuring him. Kolb is easily rattled, and when he gets hit early, he has a tendency to forget about going through his progressions and concentrates more on just flinging the ball downfield.
Cardinals’ keys to victory:
1. Ground forces: Ryan Williams, Beanie Wells, and LaRod Stephens-Howling have to get something going in the running game to take the heat off Kevin Kolb and Larry Fitzgerald.
2. Outside forces: Defensive end Calais Campbell, along with outside linebackers Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield, has to come off the edge and make Tom Brady uncomfortable.
3. Special forces: Arizona has exceptional return men in Stephens-Howling and Patrick Peterson. It’s imperative for them to make some hay and win the field position battle.
Patriots’ keys to victory:
1. Hello, Larry: Larry Fitzgerald is one of the most destructive forces in NFL history. New England’s corners need to mug the big receiver at the line and the safeties have to deliver some body blows.
2. Balance sheet: Adding a solid, productive running game to a passing attack led by Tom Brady will keep coordinators up till the wee hours. A repeat of Week 1 would be nice.
3. Max protect: The offensive line turned in a big effort last week. The job of keeping Brady (and his picture-perfect nose) from getting damaged gets harder (hello, Calais Campbell).
Patriots 38, Cardinals 17