Cardinals vs. Patriots Take 2: Where Did Things Go Wrong for Tom Brady, Offense?
So after watching for a second time, let's take an all-encompassing look at what went down.
The Real Storyline
You can say a lot of things about the Patriots' offensive performance (or lack thereof) against the Cardinals, but the one all-encompassing statement is this: The Patriots' offense struggled to move the ball in key situations.
The question now is why?
Was it because they couldn't adjust the offense in-game without tight end Aaron Hernandez, who left with an injury? Was it because of the play-calling by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels? Was it because the offensive line couldn't protect quarterback Tom Brady?
Likely, it was a combination of all three, but there's something else at work here: The Patriots have undergone a great deal of turnover on offense, yet it has mostly gone unnoticed. Just look at the starting lineups between Week 1 of 2011 and Week 2 of 2012. There were a lot of key components missing, and Hernandez left so early that he was hardly a "starter" in this situation.
This was a letdown across the board on offense, and everyone has to get better quickly, with a big game against the Baltimore Ravens this coming Sunday. But with so many moving parts, how quickly can the Patriots get back on track, especially against a tough defensive opponent like the Ravens?
What Went Right
The defense held up their end of the bargain. They gave up 10 points on two drives that totaled four yards in seven plays. That's because one drive started at the 2-yard line after a blocked punt, and the other moved only two yards after Brady's game-opening interception.
The Cardinals only had three drives last longer than five plays. The Patriots held them to 4-for-14 (28.6 percent) on third-down tries. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was held to just one catch for four yards on five targets.
Even though they only logged one sack of quarterback Kevin Kolb, it's safe to say the Patriots' defense executed the game plan well enough to get the job done—were it any other day for the Patriots' offense, they would be the object of praise instead of the offense being the subject of scrutiny.
What Went Wrong
We'll get to specific plays in a minute, but the overall theme of the day was offensive miscues, specifically on the line.
With guard Dan Connolly out, the Cardinals were wise to take advantage of Donald Thomas, the Patriots' second-stringer at the position. He was victimized on multiple plays, and Brady had pressure in his face for a good majority of the day.
The Cardinals ran some blitzes at the right side of the Patriots' line, but were even able to get to Brady with a four-man rush.
All it took was a nice move between defensive end Calais Campbell, who crashed right tackle Marcus Cannon, and linebacker Quentin Groves, who took on a confused Thomas, who was gang-blocking Campbell.
The Patriots ran a lot of screens to try to counter this, but when they were forced to try anything down the field, they struggled.
They just couldn't sustain drives, converting only five of their 15 third downs. Brady put up one of the five worst passer ratings he's had since 2010.
The pressure in his face played some part in those struggles, but it just looks like the offense isn't in sync yet. There are a lot of new pieces to this unit on the line and at the skill positions, and it may take more time than was originally expected.
Losing Hernandez certainly didn't help the game plan. And it looked like Wes Welker wasn't even part of it until Hernandez went down.
The Game Changer
Well, there are a number of plays to pick from here.
You could go with the interception to start the game, a pass that was tipped by defensive lineman Darnell Dockett, with cornerback Patrick Peterson making a fantastic play on the ball.
You could point to the blocked punt, and Bill Belichick's eerie foreshadowing that the Cardinals excel at making big plays on special teams.
You could even point to a number of less obvious plays, including a drop by Wes Welker on third down and a dropped interception by safety Patrick Chung.
But the most obvious game-changer came just moments after the Patriots' defense delivered what would have been a game-changing fumble—that, of course, being kicker Stephen Gostkowski's kick that sailed wide left with :01 on the clock.
The sheer volume of these plays is enough to say with certainty that the Patriots didn't deserve to win on Sunday.
A bad challenge on a catch by tight end Rob Housler wasn't the least of the coaching woes. There was a lot of questionable play-calling from offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, including an utter unwillingness to go into the no-huddle on the rare occasions when it looked like the offense was finally getting in rhythm.
The decision to leave Welker out of the game plan continues to boggle my mind.
He pulled in five receptions for 95 yards when he finally became a part of the offense on Sunday, but that only happened when Hernandez went down—and if he hadn't gone down, we'd likely be talking about Welker as a complete non-factor.
He should become a bigger part of the offense in the coming weeks if Hernandez misses extended time, but should we really even be having this discussion? He has been one of the most reliable targets for Brady over the years.
There have been some drops over the past three games—the Super Bowl drop, a drop against the Titans, and a drop on third down against the Cardinals—but on a day when nothing seemed to be working for the offense, going to the guy who has 562 receptions in the past six seasons seems like a no-brainer.
The Big Picture
The defense is on the rise. The offense needs to build off this performance going forward.
The question is whether the shake-ups across the board are too much for the offense to overcome.
Coming off a loss, going on the road against a hungry Ravens team in prime time, the Patriots are in a tough spot. How they respond will be a huge barometer for the mental makeup of this team.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.
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