After dropping Pete Carroll's Seahawks in Week 1, I never thought Arizona would go on the road and beat up on Bill Belichick's Patriots. There was no question that the Cardinals would play them tough, as I'm on record in saying they have a top-10 defense. I echoed those feelings even before the season started.
As we saw on Sunday, top-tier defenses can't always be measured by total yards allowed. The Cards defense allowed almost 400 yards of total offense, yet they came up big and put together stops when they needed them the most.
Yesterday, Tom Brady and the Patriots offense only converted 30 percent of their third-down attempts, 16 percent lower than their season average of 46 percent in 2011. Despite being on the field for more plays than any other defense, Arizona's defense had the best third-down percentage in the league last year at 31 percent.
And Sunday's 10 third-down stops proved to be a game-changer, especially late in the second half. Pressuring and sacking No. 12 is something defenses live for, so the 10 combined quarterback sacks and hits definitely go down as a win for defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
So, you may be wondering, just how did Horton's defense shut down Brady? With the help of NFL game rewind, I spent a majority of the morning keying in on the Cardinals defensive attack.
Disrupted Throwing Lanes
Even though Arizona finished the game with a high number of quarterback sacks and hits, it doesn't mean it was assuming things would happen like that. Expecting to sack Brady would be foolish, but what it did do was make his life as hard as possible. And when you have two defensive linemen that have long arms, it's wise to tell them to disrupt the throwing lanes.
After a monster game in Week 1, Darnell Dockett appeared ready to dominate again in Week 2, as he made his presence felt on New England's very first play of the game.
On this play, Dockett was lined up in the left side A-gap. His primary matchup was right guard Donald Thomas. Thomas was subbing in for the injured starter, Dan Connolly. No. 64 had a strong block on Dockett, so strong that No. 90 knew he was being stood up.
So what did he do to counter the good block? He put up his big mitts and popped the ball up into the air, which led to Patrick Peterson intercepting the ball one-handed. Not quite the way Brady and the Patriots offense envisioned their first play of the game.
As the game went on, Dockett continued to make his presence felt.
In the screenshot above, you can see he was looking for that tipped ball one more time. His alignment on this play led him to right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. From the start, he did a really nice job of keeping Dockett in front of him, yet No. 90's quick feet and strength allowed him to work back to the inside. The inside moved altered Brady's pass and led to an errant throw out of bounds.
It was imperative that Arizona needed better performances from its edge-rushers. According to Pro Football Focus, Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield didn't bring the pressure their position warranted and finished with a couple of the worst pass rushing grades from Week 1.
Acho knew he didn't play well, but he wasn't going to let last week's misfortunes carry over to Week 2.
The Cardinals' first hit on Brady didn't come until the second quarter; however, it couldn't have come at a more opportune time. New England's offense had just picked up a couple of first downs and was driving down the field with ease.
The sack led to a false start on the following play, and by drive's end, Brady was sacked once more, and the Patriots' potential scoring drive faltered.
Quentin Groves was the recipient of the second sack on the drive. Groves is a player who both rushes the passer with his hand in the ground and standing up. On this variety, he is lined up in the C-gap rushing from the left end position.
Horton's play called for a designed for an inside stunt, meaning Groves would come over top of Dockett and work his way to the inside. By doing this, it confuses the blockers' ability to quickly pick up the inside rusher.
A truly great design that takes advantage of the substitute right guard. As the game went on, 3-4 end Calais Campbell added two more sacks.
When the all-22 film is released later on this week, I will take an even deeper look at the coverages and schemes Arizona was running to limit the big pass plays. But for now, the most evident thing that jumped out was the way Brady was flushed inside the pocket.
Very few teams harass No. 12 the way the Cardinals defense did. If Arizona's offense would have shown consistent signs of life, this game wouldn't have even been close. Sure, Hernandez leaving with an injury altered things on offense for New England, but plays can't develop without proper protection.
Counting on four rushers and not blitzing Brady proved to be the perfect defensive plan of attack.