New England Rushing Offense vs Arizona Rush Defense
Watching local sports television (i.e. watching videos on social media) and listening to local sports radio, the “experts” have repeatedly emphasized how the Patriots need to protect Garoppolo by running the football against the Cardinals. These “experts” could not be more off-base. The Patriots are built to throw the football and regardless of who is at quarterback the Patriots need to get the ball in the hands of their play-makers if they want to beat Arizona on the road at night on opening weekend.
Just to appease the “experts”, here is a rundown of the Patriots rushing attack in 2008 when they played all but one quarter without Tom Brady: Sammy Morris–727 yards rushing; Kevin Faulk–507 yards rushing; LaMont Jordan–363 yards rushing; BenJarvus Green-Ellis–275 yards rushing; and Laurence Maroney–93 yards rushing (all stats from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted). People, that is not a dangerous group and the eleven wins were more a result of their two 1,000 yard receivers (Randy Moss and Wes Welker).
The Patriots will run the ball if only to slow the Arizona blitzes and hopefully to get a key block to spring a big play. Left guard Joe Thuney, center David Andrews and right guard Jonathan Cooper (assuming he starts against his former team as he is questionable with a foot injury and did not travel with the team to Arizona on Friday) will be tasked with battling in the trenches with the big bodies for Arizona in defensive tackles Corey Peters, Rodney Gunter and Frostee Rucker (if healthy enough to play–he is on the injury report with a neck injury). These players do not just eat space–they devour running backs. The Cardinals were sixth in the NFL against the run in 2015 and allowed less than 4.0 yards per rushing attempt on the season.
The Patriots will lean on running back LeGarrette Blount again when they try to run the football and with the return of fullback James Develin (who missed all of 2015 with a broken leg), the Patriots should have a little extra toughness for when they want to run between the tackles. Provided he is not starting with Solder out, New England can also bring in right tackle Cameron Fleming as a tight end in big packages to help seal defenders off and make space for Blount.
Arizona throws waves of athletic players into gaps in the running game with linebacker/safety hybrid Deone Bucannon and linebacker Kevin Minter key contributors in their slowing opposing running games. Safety DJ Swearinger can come up and help and Patrick Peterson is a complete cornerback who is not just excellent in coverage but comes up and contributes with closing speed and sure tackling in the running game.
New England will not lose the game if they cannot run the ball, but being able to stay out of negative plays and breaking off a big play in the running game could be advantageous. Running the ball into the strength of the Cardinals’ defense is not the way to try to win the game for the Patriots.
Next: Arizona Passing Offense vs New England Pass Defense