W2W4: New England Patriots at Arizona Cardinals

New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is ready for the Arizona Cardinals. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is ready for the Arizona Cardinals. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports /
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Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson is poised for a breakout season. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

Arizona Rushing Offense vs New England Rush Defense

The Arizona Cardinals–as a complement to their vertical passing attack–have a solid duo at running back in running backs David Johnson and Chris Johnson. David Johnson is the darling of the fantasy football set as he wowed in his rookie season averaging 4.6 yards per carry and catching 36 passes for 457 yards. He is expected to expand his role in 2016.

Behind him is veteran Chris Johnson who bounced back with a strong 2015 season gaining 814 yards before fracturing his tibia and missing the final five games of the season. He should be back at full strength and gives the Cardinals two excellent running backs to pound away. With both running backs sharing carries there are usually fresh legs late in the game when they need to run out the clock.

Former New England Patriots tight end Darren Fells is one of the best run blocking tight ends in the NFL and is an understated part of the the running game’s success in Arizona. Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard will have to deal with him on the outside of the defense when Arizona runs. Fells’ ability to seal the edge plays a key role in springing big runs.

In the trenches the battle will feature veteran guards Evan Mathis (with Denver last year after years of success in Philadelphia) and former 49ers guard Mike Iupati. They should be locked up with New England defensive tackles Alan Branch and Malcolm Brown when the Cardinals are trying to run the ball. Those individual battles will go a long way towards determining whether the Patriots can slow the Arizona rushing attack.

New England also has linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower in the middle of the field filling gaps and locking up the ball carriers. Safety Patrick Chung will also be playing a key role in run support and the Patriots will have to lock up the running backs and prevent yards after contact (a problem at times in the preseason) in order to keep the Cardinals from controlling the clock and the game with the ground attack.

Last year (including the playoffs) the Cardinals were just 4-4 when rushing for 115 yards or less as a team in a game. When rushing for over 115 yards as a team in a game they were 10-0. The running game for Arizona gets the opposing safeties up near the line of scrimmage and sets up big plays in their vertical passing attack. Keeping the Cardinals in second and third and long situations takes them out of their comfort zone and limits big scoring plays.

Stopping the run is a must for the Patriots against the Cardinals.