September 12, 2016

THERE ARE SOME MONDAYS WHEN IT MUST JUST BE AWESOME TO BE BILL:

NFL Week 1 Recap: The Patriots Just Won't Die (Robert Mays, 9/12/16, The Ringer)

Especially with New England's patchwork offensive line, the Cardinals came into Week 1 holding two distinct advantages: Their solid front four would face another reworked Patriots line featuring second-tier options like Cameron Fleming, Ted Karras, and Marcus Cannon, and cornerback Patrick Peterson would likely smother whichever receiver the Pats were willing to sacrifice to his side. McDaniels responded by taking both matchups out of the equation. New England's receivers ran routes that were specifically designed to exploit the man coverage that Arizona loves, and a majority of the Patriots' plays were aimed at rookie cornerback Brandon Williams.

By giving his QB quick throws dictated almost entirely by the coverage, McDaniels both simplified Garoppolo's approach and made any offensive line deficiencies irrelevant. Wideout Julian Edelman's ability to win early on routes when singled up on cornerbacks is remarkable, and with tight end Rob Gronkowski nursing a left hamstring injury back in Boston, Edelman was the focal point of New England's passing game. He caught all seven of his targets for 66 yards, and made three grabs for first downs on the Patriots' opening drive of the game. His value to this offense will probably never get its due given the planet-destroying potency of Brady and Gronk, but it was on full display.

Having a steady weapon like Edelman was crucial in getting Garoppolo acclimated, but in his first meaningful action, the 24-year-old quarterback did more than simply lean on the Pats' no. 1 receiver. Williams was caught staring into the backfield on the 37-yard touchdown that Garoppolo threw to Chris Hogan on New England's opening drive, but the ball placement and decision to take a shot against single coverage would have been on point either way.

For most of the game, Garoppolo embodied the "Do what we tell you to do, and it'll work out just fine" ethos that defines Belichick's Patriots. But as Arizona made second-half adjustments, the quarterback showed off enough improv ability to make it clear that New England will remain in good hands even when things don't go perfectly according to plan in these next three weeks without Brady.

Arizona's choice to play more zone in the second half meant that Garoppolo had fewer instant decisions, but he was still up to the task when it mattered. His subtle mobility is the one advantage Garoppolo has over his two-time MVP predecessor, and it will serve him well playing behind New England's line for the rest of the month. It also led to his defining play of the night, a 32-yard strike that Garoppolo delivered to Danny Amendola on a third-and-15 after dodging the rush and moving up and out of the pocket. That fourth-quarter drive culminated with a Stephen Gostkowski field goal that put the Patriots ahead by two points. Despite Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald's predictable, late-game heroics, that lead would prove to be enough.

The lesson here is twofold: First, Las Vegas should never list the Pats as 9.5-point underdogs, even if Belichick benches Garoppolo and starts himself at quarterback. Second, New England is well positioned not only to survive in Brady's four-game absence, but to cruise in the AFC East. The Jets, Bills, and Dolphins all lost Sunday.

They were a better team with Matt Cassell--because of the increased mobility at QB--too.  If they win these 4, they'll be 15-5 without Brady.



Posted by at September 12, 2016 4:49 PM

  

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