Against all the odds of "Russell-Mania" and poor preseason play, the Arizona Cardinals proved that the preseason is as meaningless as ever. During their five exhibition games they couldn't seem to tackle a moving target, and playing pass coverage seemed like a lost concept. However, when the season kicked off for real against the Seahawks, Arizona looked like they did towards the end of 2011.
Defensively, they played at a high level as they only allowed 254 yards of total offense. Getting after the quarterback was child's play considering they sacked rookie Russell Wilson three times, hit him eight more times and hurried him 17 times. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell controlled the line of scrimmage. According to Pro Football Focus, not one Seahawks player on the offensive line graded out positively.
After third quarter struggles on offense, Kevin Kolb subbed in for the injured John Skelton and saved the day in the fourth. Those late game heroics helped Kolb lock down the starting job in Week 2 as Skelton will sit out with a low ankle sprain. With another strong performance against the Patriots, No. 4 could lock down the starting job at quarterback.
By using all-22 film from NFL Game Rewind, let's devise a gameplan that will help Arizona take down Tom Brady and the Patriots.
When the Cardinals Are on Offense
Playing in front of their home crowd in Nashville, TN, the Titans couldn't make much headway as they were blown out 34-13. New England's defense stopped running back Chris Johnson dead in his tracks as he finished with four yards on 11 carries. His longest run of the game was five yards. Is the Patriot's run defense that good, or is Johnson that bad?
It's a little bit of both. Johnson lacked explosiveness and his vision has seemed non-existent over the past couple seasons. When looking over their game film it's clear that their are holes to be had; things could get interesting if another running back gets a shot in Tennessee's backfield.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals didn't fair too well running the ball either. In all fairness, the Seahawks run defense is top five in the league, but that doesn't excuse the fact their running backs only ran the ball 17 times. When your offensive line was pass blocking as poorly as Arizona's was, it's important to take some pressure off the quarterback by establishing the run game.
This is something they will need to do in Week 2. New England proved their offseason upgrades have helped propel their pass rush and secondary, so limiting attempts of their front seven to tee off on Kolb will be crucial.
On Beanie Wells' nine-yard run, this was the size of the hole he received. Arizona didn't see many holes this size during the game as this was the longest run by a Cardinals running back. But there is hope, and when looking at the all-22 film it's apparent that there are signs of life. What's even more impressive about this hole is that it came open against an eight-man front. Something they were used to seeing as Seattle dared them to throw it deep.
Aside from being successful in the run game, Kolb will need to make sure he does exactly what he did in the above clip; get rid of the ball quickly. Offensive coordinator Mike Miller can continue to help out by making sure the receivers are running short patterns that develop quickly.
The quick passing attack and the run game will be Arizona's only calling cards on offense if they want to start the season 2-0.
When the Cardinals Are on Defense
Stopping Tom Brady seems almost impossible. His high level of play and knowledge of the game makes gameplanning against him a nightmare. It would be wise of Arizona not to follow the method of the Titans as they gave up almost 400 yards of total offense. Bill Belichick has officially handed over backfield duties to Stevan Ridley and he didn't squander his opportunity as the lead back. On 21 carries he picked up 125 yards rushing.
New England ran a total of 67 offensive plays against Tennessee, which averaged out to 5.8 yards per play. If the Cardinals want to win, they are going to have to make sure those digits drop by about a yard per play. Dockett and Campbell will need to have a repeat performance on the defensive line. Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer will be No. 90's primary focus.
Connolly's struggles from Week 1 looked a lot like J.R. Sweezy's, who was Dockett's first victim of the season. When running behind Connolly the Patriots only averaged 3.7 yards per carry, a very manageable figure compared to their team total of 4.6 yards per carry. If Dockett pursues the ball and handles the line of scrimmage the way he did against the Seahawks, they will have a legitimate shot at slowing down Brady.
This is an example of the way he dictated the line of scrimmage. Arizona is in a 2-4-5 look with Dockett lined up over the right guard. When the ball is snapped Leon Washington is trying to make his way between the left guard and left tackle, but watch as No. 90 stands up Sweezy and uses his leverage to stop the ball carrier while he is fending off the offensive lineman.
Here is a delayed blitz play from Sunday's game that I think could prove to be very effective. When Brady can see that you're blitzing him, he will tear you apart. Picking apart pressure has never been a problem for him. Sure, the Jets pressure packages from a couple years ago gave him some fits, yet in the grand scheme of things he typically burns the blitz.
Arizona needs to time their blitzes accordingly and disguise them well. Paris Lenon and Daryl Washington both did a great job of blitzing the A-gap in Week 1, so it wouldn't surprise me to see the Cardinals go after that gap again. The Patriots offensive line has had their fair share of struggles throughout the preseason. Not to mention the Titans did register 15 pressures against them.
If the pass rush can get home and control the line of scrimmage like they did against Seattle, a win is not out of the question for the Arizona Cardinals.
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