FOXBOROUGH -- The Patriots' loss to the Arizona Cardinals highlighted a number of evolving issues with this team, from Wes Welker's role and the offensive line's struggles to the team's offensive execution, and Ras-I Dowling's place on the defense.
Let's get right to it.
1) The offensive line had a tough time -- Nate Solder appeared to fix any problems from last week against the Titans in a solid effort. But the Patriots' interior linemen were having a difficult day dealing with the likes of Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell. Campbell had 10 tackles and two sacks, manhandling guards Donald Thomas and Logan Mankins at times. Cardinals lineman Sam Acho also got loose for a 10-yard sack and had a tackle for a loss. Afterward, Thomas was obviously not happy with his performance.
"I mean, the game plan was to control those guys up front," Thomas said. "They got a good line. We just had to execute really better. They played well today. I can't take anything from them.
"At the end of the day, we just didn't execute well enough to win the game ... I'm my hardest critic. So you know, I look at all the plays I had. I'm gonna go back and take a look at them. Since I've been playing football I've never been satisfied with the way I've played. I'm certainly not satisfied today. I'll go back and just try to get better each week."
2) With Aaron Hernandez's injury, Wes Welker filled the vacuum -- Welker was looking at another down day after Julian Edelman started and Welker stood on the sideline in the team's base offense. It wasn't until Aaron Hernandez went down with a right ankle injury that Welker's snaps picked up. He ended up being targeted 11 times, catching five passes for 95 yards. He took the franchise lead in receptions. When Tom Brady needed a huge pickup, he was looking in Welker's and Rob Gronkowski's direction. It's safe to say that Hernandez would've picked up some of those plays. It's also safe to say that Edelman, who had a terrific offseason, deserves some increased playing time. But it's befuddling that Welker was initially minimized.
"Aaron is in there almost every play, so [the offense] changes quite a bit," Welker said. "You have to go to a different attack and go out there and play the way we need to and execute the way we need to and today just wasn't enough."
3) The Patriots had trouble getting their hurry-up offense going -- Again, when the Patriots go to their hurry-up offense, they have good rhythm and tend to pick up yards in chunks. But Sunday's offensive blunders stemmed from an inability to stay in a hurry-up offense, either because of penalties or disruptive plays. The Patriots were penalized eight times Sunday for 60 yards. But what's more, when the team did get going in the third quarter in its hurry-up offense, it had running plays for losses. Both Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead were hit in the backfield. They have to do a better job.
"We just didn't come out firing," said Welker. "We didn't have a great week of practice and coach made a point of that, that we needed to almost play some catch-up. We really didn't do things necessary to come away with a win, especially early. We have to start faster than that and come out and play from ahead and do things the way we need to."
4) What's up with Ras-I Dowling? -- As players come back from injury, others will have their roles shifted. That can't be any more apparent than it is with Ras-I Dowling, who didn't play one snap Sunday, wasn't listed on the injury report, and wasn't one of the team's eight inactive players. Last week, he was the Patriots' third cornerback off the bench as Sterling Moore was nursing a knee injury. Moore returned today, playing in the team's nickel and dime packages as the team's right cornerback, with Kyle Arrington shifting inside to the star and Tavon Wilson playing a hybrid safety and linebacker. There's no telling if this could change going forward.
5) Another solid day for the youngsters -- Stevan Ridley had another good game (18 carries, 71 yards) and rookies Chandler Jones (five tackles, tackle for a loss, quarterback hit), Dont'a Hightower (five tackles, tackle for a loss), and Wilson (fumble recovery) are all doing a good job. Jones in particular was a bright spot for the Patriots defense. He was chasing Kevin Kolb around quite a bit. You can tell that, given a few seconds, he can snuff out any quarterback.