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Hogan, Running Game, Keys to a Good Start for Garoppolo

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
September 7, 2016 at 6:49 am ET

Hogan, Running Game, Keys to a Good Start for Garoppolo(PHOTO: Brian Fluharty - USA TODAY Sports)

🕑 Read Time: 4 minutes

Jimmy G. Will Have His Feet Put to the Fire in his 1st Start

The Patriots will enter the 2016 season without Tom Brady as the starting QB for the first time since 2001. The team is navigating in uncharted waters and QB Jimmy Garoppolo is starting in his first NFL game. They’re facing the Arizona Cardinals on the road, a team that many are picking to represent the NFC in the next Super Bowl. So how do the Patriots put Garoppolo in a position to win?

Nobody blitzed more than the Cardinals did in 2015. They have a deep and talented defensive line but had trouble getting QB pressure without dialing up the blitz. They think they’ve added the necessary pieces in trading for the Patriots’ Chandler Jones and drafting Robert Nkemdiche. Their LB/S Deone Bucannon is their A-gap blitzer and he’s a disruptor up the middle.

Defensive coordinator James Bettcher is no doubt going to try to dial up the pressure early and often on Garoppolo. It is his first NFL start and they’ll try to overload him at every opportunity. Plus, their defensive sparkplug is back, the Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu. So how will Josh McDaniels and the Patriots offense cope without Brady who is among the best at recognizing and defeating the blitz? And in doing so, putting Jimmy G. and the offense in the best position to succeed?

Tight Ends Will Be Key: Garoppolo will have to lean on his bookend tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett on Sunday night. And it starts in the trenches. Arizona will expect the Pats to chip Jones while in the passing game but one area that’s always been a trouble spot for him was his run defense.


He’s going to be aggressive and coming hard after Jimmy G. and McDaniels has to use that against him. Both Bennett and Gronk are excellent run blockers. With both of them as well as FB James Develin in the backfield, look for the Patriots to try to run the ball, something they were unable to do down the stretch a year ago right at the Cardinals. And specifically Jones. It won’t be an easy task since they were the #6 team against the run a year ago.

The running game will open up the passing game utilizing the tight ends against the Linebackers and Safeties. Gronkowski is a smart as well as a physical presence on the field, he and Brady were always able to sense where the open the spots will be. He’ll have to quickly get on the same page as Garoppolo. One of his tight ends will probably be his check down and they’ll stay in to block on occasion as well.

Limit the Playbook …Initially: Garoppolo has been preparing for this moment for the past couple of years, but let’s face it, his head is going to be swimming given that it is opening night and the Pats are on the road in Arizona.

So rather than expect him to do all of the things that Brady does, McDaniels can make it easier by limiting the playbook and simplifying things for him until he finds a comfort level. And that goes not just for Sunday night but moving forward as well.

By now after all of the training camp practices and preseason games, the coaches have a good feel for what he does best and where he struggles. So look for them to put Garoppolo in the best position to succeed by focusing on what HE does best rather than what Brady does in a given situation. Given that he missed all of the spring and summer, I don’t expect Danny Amendola to be a big part of the offense in Week 1.

Find his Go-to Guy…Hogan: Brady has had enormous success with Gronkowski and Julian Edelman over the past several years and the three of them at times appear to be of one mind on the field. And you can bet that the Cardinals know that as well. They’ll focus on stopping Gronk and Edelman drawing plenty of attention from either Patrick Peterson or Mathieu, it may be a great time for Chris Hogan to be targeted.

The newcomer to New England had a good summer, he was banged up for a while but has shown that put the time in and is well versed in the offense. While not as quick in the short area as Edelman, Hogan has more size and straight line speed.  We saw that in the preseason with he and Brady connecting on a 33-yard touchdown strike. And starting with a clean slate here in New England, Garoppolo could be looking to find his own comfort level guy in the offense.

Hogan comes back and makes a nice catch in front of Biggers

Hogan may be the guy that Garoppolo finds his comfort level with. With Edelman and Gronkowski being the main focus of the Arizona defense, they can’t double everyone. So winning the 1-on-1 matchups will be key for Hogan. McDaniels may use him in the manner that he usually reserves Edelman for Brady. Give Jimmy G. the easy, short throws that will allow him to find a rhythm and a comfort level in the pocket.

It isn’t going to be easy but if the Patriots defense can keep it close, they will have a puncher’s chance of putting Garoppolo and the offense in the position for a win.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

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About Steve Balestrieri

A former US Army Special Forces NCO and Officer, Steve has been following the Patriots since their days at Fenway Park. Steve has worked in the film industry and wrote as an Military Editor at, as a reporter for the Millbury Daily Voice, Millbury-Sutton Chronicle, and the Grafton News. He's also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Tags: Arizona Cardinals Bill Belichick Chandler Jones Chris Hogan Danny Amendola Dion Lewis Jimmy Garoppolo Julian Edelman Martellus Bennett New England Patriots NFL Patrick Peterson Patriots Rob Gronkowski Tom Brady Tyrann Mathieu

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