Patriots-Cardinals Film Review: New England Won Pass Rushing Battle

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What’s more impressive, Jimmy Garoppolo throwing for 264 yards without the aid of Rob Gronkowski, Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Dion Lewis and Jonathan Cooper, or the New England Patriots’ defense holding the Arizona Cardinals to just 344 total yards without forcing any turnovers?

Just kidding. It’s definitely the former, but the latter also is pretty staggering.

The Patriots came close to picking off Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer a number of times Sunday night. Cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Justin Coleman each got their hands on the ball twice, and Logan Ryan cut off Larry Fitzgerald for a near-pick on another pass breakup. Palmer also had a pass fall right between Duron Harmon and Devin McCourty when he threw an errant ball as linebacker Dont’a Hightower and Chris Long brought pressure.

And that’s something the Patriots did well all game: bringing the heat on Palmer. Long and fellow edge rusher Jabaal Sheard each finished the game with four pressures apiece, while Hightower had three, Trey Flowers and Patrick Chung had two and Vincent Valentine, Anthony Johnson, Jamie Collins and Logan Ryan had one each. That’s 19 total pressures, while the Patriots ‘offensive line, featuring Cameron Fleming at left tackle, Joe Thuney at left guard, David Andrews at center, Ted Karras and Shaq Mason at right guard and Marcus Cannon at right tackle, let up just 10. Tight end Martellus Bennett stayed in frequently and helped keep Garoppolo upright for most of the game.

Garoppolo was sacked twice, and Cannon let up both. Garoppolo’s pocket presence drew mixed reviews. Overall, Garoppolo’s ability to sense pressure was solid for his first NFL start, but it could use some improvement in his next three games.

— On the first sack, Cannon didn’t get outside quickly enough as Markus Golden beat him off the right shoulder. Joe Thuney also was beat and shoved back inside, giving Garoppolo nowhere to go as Golden was coming from behind. Garoppolo fumbled, and former Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones scooped up the ball.

— Cannon, cheating outside, was beat by an inside move by Jones in the fourth quarter. Cannon was spotted limping slightly after the play, and that wasn’t just caused by hurt feelings. Cannon’s ankle was rolled up by Brandon Bolden in the second quarter, which could be the cause for some of the right tackle’s issues in the game. Andrews also was beat inside on this play.

— The Patriots’ secondary had just as much to do with the team’s first defensive sack as the defensive line. The defensive backs and linebackers had close coverage down the field as the Cardinals kept in a running back to block. Rookie defensive tackle Vincent Valentine actually fell down and had time to get back up before making the sack. That’s good coverage.

— The Patriots’ second sack was the result of some confusion and a nice stack and shed by Long. Flowers lined up in an interior rushing role but dropped back in coveage, so the Patriots rushed just three defenders. If Long didn’t get to Palmer, defensive tackle Anthony Johnson would have, since both Cardinals blockers came off of him. Sheard also drew a facemask penalty on the play.

— Collins committed to the rush on the Patriots’ third sack once David Johnson retreated the backfield toward Chung. Pressure by Long and Hightower forced Palmer into Collins.

The Patriots are just getting started in generating pressure. Three sacks in the first game actually puts the Patriots behind their 2015 pace, when they had 49 sacks in 16 games. This is the Patriots without Rob Ninkovich at left defensive end and with Barkevious Mingo exclusively playing special teams.

Palmer had talented pass rushers coming from all angles, and it will only get more difficult for opposing quarterbacks.

Some other takeaways from our film review:

— Fleming, surprisingly, was more solid as a pass blocker than run defender. LeGarrette Blount was solid despite losing a fumble, but the Patriots’ run blocking needs help. There frequently was no push and no hole for Blount.

— Sheard and defensive tackle Alan Branch stood out positively in the run game. Sheard made two nice run stuffs, while Sheard dragged down Johnson from behind for a 2-yard loss. Sheard also just missed Johnson on a carry by the goal line on third-and-1 in the second quarter. Branch also was pushed out on Johnson’s 45-yard run. Valentine, Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon missed tackles on the big play.

— The Patriots wisely picked on rookie cornerback Brandon Williams. That was one of our keys to the game Saturday. Our other keys: The Patriots’ nickel cornerback had to play well, they had to limit David Johnson, they couldn’t let Jones go wild, and Garoppolo had to avoid mistakes. Justin Coleman didn’t allow a single reception, so we’ll get a check for that one. Johnson’s 45-yard run game him over 100 total yards on the game, so they didn’t limit him. Jones had a fumble recovery and sack but was invisible otherwise, and Garoppolo fumbled once but didn’t throw any interceptions.

Thumbnail photo via Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY Sports Images

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