Television and radio personalities bantered all summer about how Jimmy Garoppolo would fare in his four game stretch. Most discussion was centered around what the Patriots record would be in Week 5. Some said 2-2, 3-1, 4-0, and even winless.
The Patriots went to Arizona and absolutely shocked the Cardinals. Their tremendous defensive effort allowed them to exit Week 1 victorious. Jimmy G executed despite having a decimated offensive line and no Rob Gronkowski, who is out again for the home opener. It certainly feels like New England carries momentum entering Week 2 against Miami.
1. Freeny, Mingo have Big Shoes to Fill
With LB Dont'a Hightower out of practice all week, workload for Barkevious Mingo could increase Sunday. https://t.co/hqDC57ACy7
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) September 16, 2016
One of the most important players on the Patriots defense is already out with an injury after week one. Dont’a Hightower leads a strong group of linebackers and has blossomed into one of the best in the NFL. There isn’t much information other than the fact he suffered a knee injury. The fact he is listed as Doubtful instead of Out on the injury report is extremely encouraging in the long term.
The loss of Hightower is huge no matter how anyone spins it. He is vital. The Patriots have attained a strong core of backups to fill his role. Jonathan Freeny will likely see his workload increase after appearing for 35.6 percent of snaps this past week. He signed a two year, $4.1 million dollar contract this past offseason. Barkevious Mingo was acquired via trade and hasn’t seen much of the field yet. He is a previous Browns first round pick that struggled through multiple coaching changes in his first few seasons. An athletic freak that possesses the ability to play at defensive and and outside linebacker. We’ll probably see the first heavy dose of Mingo this week against Miami.
2. Can Fluctuating Offensive Line Perform Again?
Bill Barnwell: Patriots right tackle quandry = Marcus Cannon or bust https://t.co/qPsgWweSzY
— Pats Pulpit (@patspulpit) September 14, 2016
Everyone’s favorite position to rip on in the past year and deservedly so. Don’t get me wrong: much of the struggle they have endured has been due to injury. Losing due to injury is no excuse in the NFL and Dave DeGuglielmo found that out the hard way. Dante Scarnecchia returned after DeGuglielmo’s firing as the presumed savior of the trenches.
Unfortunately for the Patriots much of last season’s injury issues are returning in 2016. It’s been well reported that RT Sebastian Vollmer will be out for the season. LT Nate Solder is dealing with a hamstring injury and could be out again this week. The biggest concern now is backup LT Marcus Cannon’s addition to the injury report with a bad knee. RT Cam Fleming got the job done in place of Vollmer but isn’t a long term answer for the Patriots. If Cannon is out it likely means offensive tackle La’Adrian Waddle will start against Miami.
Add all of this on top of an already young offensive line interior group and there’s reason for concern. LG Joe Thuney has been the best all season but is still a rookie. Center David Andrews and RG Shaq Mason are both in their sophomore seasons. Mason is also injured and played with a large club on his hand this past week. He saw limited snaps and rookie Ted Karras started in his place for much of the game. Guard Jonathan Cooper could finally make his Patriots debut if healthy enough.
It’s really a crapshoot guessing who will be starting on the offensive line this Sunday. If Solder can play it would be a huge boost of confidence for the offense as a whole.
If both Solder and Cannon miss this game, the Pats would have two backup tackles, potentially two starting rookie guards, and a second year center starting on the offensive line.
3. Can Patriots Maintain Consistency in Ground Game?
Sneaky-important #Patriots takeaway from last nite? Pats have a running game. It's early & it's not perfect, but night & day from late 2015.
— Matt Chatham (@chatham58) September 12, 2016
It was really surprising to see how well the Patriots ran the ball with this offensive line group. It was largely due a fantastic offensive game plan developed by Josh McDaniels. The big guys up front had a ton of help from James Develin and Martellus Bennett. They didn’t overwhelm the Cardinals with long bursts of yardage but managed to control the ball and possession throughout the game. This is vital to playing winning football. The average fan might not understand why LeGarrette Blount is plowing straight ahead for three yards, but the consistency he’s supplied the Patriots has been outstanding. It’s laughable that certain members of the media poo-poo the effectiveness of Blount. I’m looking at you Felger and Mazz.
Incredibly tough spot for Jimmy G tonight – no Gronk, no running game, no decent 3rd down back, brand-new o-line, Cards D, NBC game. Jesus.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) September 11, 2016
Simmons’s tweet is straight up disrespectful. The Patriots running game is so misunderstood by the majority of people. James White and Brandon Bolden were forced into taking large roles in the offense during 2015. The experience they gained this past season is absolutely vital this upcoming season. Without Dion Lewis for the foreseeable future, White is the Patriots passing down back.
White came out and looked absolutely outstanding catching the ball and moving in space. He delivered for the Patriots. Just another backup coming in and delivering for Bill Belichick. Bolden saw limited time with the ball during week one. This is just fine since he produces on special teams. What this group needs most is consistency. Hopefully Blount and White can bruise and dance their way to victory every week.
4. Time is Now for Martellus Bennett
Martellus Bennett wearing a NASA hat says he's a fan & after watching 'The Martian' he's "trying to science the f*** out of this game plan."
— Ryan Hannable (@RyanHannable) September 14, 2016
Julian Edelman was his normal superhuman self against the Cardinals. Chris Hogan also opened up his Patriots career with a bang. Martellus Bennett was quiet in terms of production but did a fantastic job assisting the offensive line in the ground game. Marty is a guy who has come right out and admitted he’s not here to put up fantasy numbers. He just wants to go out and win football games.
Sunday against the Dolphins would be a very proper time for the big man to break out, especially with Gronk out of the lineup. If the Patriots get the running game going they could get the play action game going against the Fins. Martellus Bennett scores his first NFL touchdown this week and has his first great Patriots performance.
5. Don’t Hand Points Away This Week
Bill Belichick’s teams pride themselves on keeping the ball and not handing it over to the other team. The large majority of opponent scoring came from bad Patriots turnovers this past week. It was certainly the weakest facet of their effort in Arizona.
So let’s not overanalyze this, it should go without saying: Go out and win the turnover battle. Do that, and you almost certainly beat the Dolphins.