Patriots Defense, STs Bail Out Woeful Offense
“Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.”
(Al Pacino/Michael Corleone in The Godfather Trilogy)
The Patriots seemed dead and buried after last Sunday’s loss in Houston and facing an even better offense with Kyler Murray and the Cardinals, they kept alive that sliver of hope for this team in 2020…And it IS a sliver. But after 20 years of crazy success, I can’t help but think they’re not ready to “go gentle into that good night” just yet.
The Patriots were ultimately successful on Sunday, they kept the Cardinals from scoring and held them to just 17 points, helped in part by two 3rd down penalties that kept a long drive going. The defense also had a tremendous goalline stand at the end of the first half that turned the tide of the game.
The Special Teams finally got some production out of the kick return game and two long returns (one should have been a touchdown), sparked scoring drives on a day that the offense was totally out of sync and being dominated.
I think we’ve all heard the “They can’t continue to win like this” mantra since the game ended and while it is true, but an ugly win is always better than a pretty loss.
So, here are our grades this week for the Patriots-Cardinals game.
No surprise here. Cam Newton had a singularly awful day. After throwing for 365 yards against the Texans, he threw for just 84 yards going 9-18 with 0 TDs and 2 INTs. He was slow on his reads and releases, his accuracy, because of the timing issues was way off and the team couldn’t get anything going.
The first interception was on just the third play of the game. Newton was facing a 3rd and 6 from the Patriots’ 29-yard line. He held on to the ball too long against a Cardinals blitz and was hit hard as he attempted a pass to N’Keal Harry. The ball went straight up into the air and was intercepted.
The second interception was worse. He stared down Damiere Byrd late in the fourth quarter and threw the ball inside on an out route and was easily picked off by Dre Kirkpatrick who returned the ball 13 yards to the Patriots 47 with four and a half minutes to go in the game, seemingly setting up Arizona for the win. Ugly.
Running Backs: B-
The running game, or lack thereof, wasn’t the problem with the backs, but the lack of passing game and the pressure that the Cardinals were bringing. Overall, the Patriots ran for 110 yards with Newton accounting for 46, including that huge 3rd and 13 conversion at the end of the game that got 14 yards with 15 more tacked on due to a helmet-to-helmet personal foul.
But Damien Harris (14 carries for 47 yards) and James White (5 carries for 18 yards) averaged only 3.4 yards per carry. While the Cardinals haven’t been a good rush defense, their total lack of respect for the Patriots passing game, played out more and more as the game wore on. After Harris broke a few runs off in the 2nd half, he got hit with an eight-yard loss on a run blitz to skew his numbers a bit.
But James White, who has not been utilized as much this season, came through when needed once again. With Rex Burkhead on IR, White converted two short runs into touchdowns, giving the team a huge boost.
Wide Receivers: D
Jakobi Meyers had five catches for 52 yards which wasn’t bad considering the lack of passing in the game overall. Damiere Byrd had only 33 yards after a big game a week ago. Harry was pretty much invisible and a total non-factor. It was surprising that the team didn’t target Donte Moncrief more in the passing game.
Tight Ends: D
The blitzing of the Cardinals, which is becoming a trend for Patriots opponents could be well served by having the tight ends targeted in the passing game. If it sounds like a broken record, it is. Ryan Izzo isn’t contributing or producing in the passing game. Whether that is a talent issue or one with the QB is moot at this point, they need more from both.
Offensive Line: C
The offensive line was playing with two backup tackles in Jermaine Elluemunor and Justin Herron and actually protected in the passing game fairly well. While Newton was sacked three times, on two of them, he held the ball far too long and those were coverage sacks. On the other, Arizona had a free blitzer, which is something the unit isn’t reacting well to. Again, it goes the question, is it a problem with the calls at the line or the communication?
The run blocking wasn’t great, but again, Arizona was crashing the line attempting to throw the running game off, and they succeeded.
Defensive Line: A-
Adam Butler was outstanding on Sunday, he was able to penetrate, disrupt plays behind the line of scrimmage and had a tremendous statistical afternoon. Butler registered a sack, three QB hits, and two tackles for loss. But his biggest play was arguably the batted pass that the Patriots intercepted. He followed that up by being part of the wall that stuffed a Cardinals’ 3rd and 1 attempt that resulted in a missed field goal.
With Byron Cowart and Carl Davis out, Lawrence Guy was absolutely huge inside. On the Patriots’ huge goalline stand at the end of the first half, Guy was double-teamed but pushed both offensive linemen backward. Kenyan Drake had nowhere to go but back inside where he was stuffed by Ja’Whaun Bentley. Akeem Spence played very well also as the defensive line had another solid day
Bentley had a very big day for the Patriots linebackers on Sunday. We already mentioned the goalline stand, but on the 3rd and 1 before the missed field goal, Bentley was also part of the wall of Patriots defenders that stopped the Cardinals.
The key to the game from a defensive perspective was to take away the running of Kyler Murray who has 10 rushing touchdowns and is a huge threat inside the red zone and bring pressure on him in the passing game, forcing him to get rid of the ball to his check down receivers while taking away the big play. That was all accomplished.
Nice to see youngsters Josh Uche and Chase Winovich combine for a sack. The uber-athletic Uche chased Murray into Winovich for the sack. Uche showed some great agility on sticking with Murray and hounding him out of the pocket. Winovich had a pretty strong game overall. Terez Hall and Bentley led the way with 20 tackles (7 and 13 respectively).
The Patriots’ secondary was plagued by penalties that kept drives alive but overall held the Cardinals to just 170 yards passing and 17 points. The television crew was insinuating that Stephon Gilmore was holding on every play but he was part of the effort to take away DeAndre Hopkins…and they did. Hopkins had just five catches for 55 yards, roughly the same output as Meyers. In eight career games against New England, Hopkins has never scored a TD or gone over 80 yards receiving.
Andy Isabella was credited with a 19-yard catch, but that was a glorified Jet sweep. Dan Arnold had a 17-yard reception, Hopkins had a 16-yarder…that was it for chunk plays. Christian Kirk was held to 19 yards on three catches. And most importantly, they held Murray in check for only 31 yards rushing, which the secondary players helped by coming up and setting the edges in run support.
The only thing knocking down the grade here is the potential game-turning penalties.
Special Teams: A
Joe Cardona, Jake Bailey, and Nick Folk have been outstanding in the past several weeks. Bailey nailed a 59-yard punt that was downed at the three. Folk hit the GW 50-yard field goal that was never in doubt.
But Donte Moncrief and Gunner Olszewski (finally), gave the Patriots some production in the return game. Moncrief’s 53-yard return set up the first touchdown. And Olszewski’s should have been an 82-yard punt return touchdown. An awful penalty call on Anfernee Jennings wiped that out. But we aren’t faulting him or the unit for that…this is exactly what we called for in our keys last week, when we said, “Make STs Special Again.”
The Patriots coaching staff had a great game plan to take away the best things that Arizona does, have Kyler Murray be a factor running the ball, and taking away DeAndre Hopkins. They succeeded on both of those factors. They were able to pressure Murray and influence the passing game.
The offensive game plan and execution was another story. But in order to win, they had to limit Arizona’s offense and they did just that.
We’re on to Los Angeles and back to back games against the Chargers and the Rams.
Posted Under: Patriots Report Card
Tags: Arizona Cardinals Bill Belichick Cam Newton DeAndre Hopkins James White Kenyan Drake Kyler Murray New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Stephon Gilmore