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Inside the matchup: Cardinals at Patriots

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  September 15, 2012 07:33 PM

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We are very happy to have Alen Dumonjic, an x's and o's football junkie who blogs for The Score, back for another season to give us his insight on the intricacies of the game.

Inside the Cardinals offense

Head coach Ken Whisenhunt has given the play calling duties to offensive coordinator Mike Miller this season, but the Cardinals still run the offense implemented by Whisenhunt when he was hired in 2007. The offense features several personnel groupings and concepts that attack the middle of the field.

The Cardinals offense often uses 11 (1 tailback, 1 tight end), 12 (1 tailback, 2 tight ends) and 21 (2 backs, 1 tight end) personnel packages. They look to attack the middle of the field with Hi-Lo concepts and crossing routes from various formations.

One common formation in Week 1 was “Trips,” which has three pass catchers to one side with one, usually star receiver Larry Fitzgerald, alone on the backside of the play. The majority of their pass plays are 3 and 5 step drops from the quarterback.

In the running game, they struggled against the Seahawks because of the offensive line’s lack of push. But they still have talent at the running back position that could potentially cause problems.

While running back Chris Wells might get more pub, second-year runner Ryan Williams is more dynamic as he keeps his feet churning and possesses good balance to go with vision. The Cardinals will use a variety of run concepts including power, zone stretches and counters.

As noted, the line struggled run blocking and had some struggles in pass protection as well -- an area that they also had significant issues with in the preseason. D’Anthony Batiste (left tackle) and Bobby Massie (right tackle) have been forced into action due to injuries and overall poor play. They are still learning how to play with proper technique and are considered liabilities because of their issues with speed rushers and previously mentioned poor technique. The Cardinals will likely look to help them, as they did in week 1 with 2 tight end formations and split-offset sets that featured one tailback and one tight end to each side of Kolb in shotgun.

Inside the Cardinals defense

Defensive coordinator Ray Horton is one of the league’s best at devising gameplans and dialing up blitzes, which he learned from legendary Steelers defensive guru Dick LeBeau. He leads a very strong and aggressive defense that is one of the league’s best.

Horton employs a base 3-4 defense that is anchored by two stalwarts, defensive linemen Darnell Dockett and Calias Campbell, who have good size, are able to anchor against the run and do a good job of collapsing the pocket from the 3 man front.

With the 3-4 front, Horton will utilize Okie (both guards uncovered), Under (strong side guard uncovered) and Over (weak side guard uncovered) shifts. He will also turn to other fronts, such as a 2 man front featuring the aforementioned two defensive linemen.

Along with his multiple fronts, the Cardinals defensive coordinator does a good job of utilizing Fire Zone (5 man rush) and man blitzes (Cover 1 on the back end).

When it comes to defensive coverages, Horton does not shy away from throwing as many looks as possible at the offense. Unlike the Titans, Horton uses a variety of coverages and disguises them before the snap with constantly moving defensive backs. The coverages used include Cover 0 (man with no safety help), Cover 1 (man with one deep zone safety), Cover 2 (5 under, 2 deep zone), Cover 2 Man (2 deep, man under), Cover 3 (4 under, 3 deep), Cover 4 (Quarters) and what some call Cover 6, which is a blend of Cover 2 and Cover 4.

What to watch for

ILBs Daryl Washington and Reggie Walker: Washington and Walker are two different kind of players but both should be watched closely in this game. Washington is a very athletic player that can run very well and drop back in coverage with fluidity while Walker, who plays less snaps as a rotational defender, is not as athletic but is more aggressive against the run. Washington can be washed out in the run game because of his lack of physicality, which dates back to his days at TCU, and Walker is quick to get after the run so getting hands on him should be a priority.

QB Tom Brady vs. Cardinals Blitz: The Cardinals don’t hold back when it comes to blitzing. Horton will bring the house at times and that means Tom Brady has to find his hot reads, which are pass catchers who have broken off their route early and quickly got open for the catch.

DE/OLB Chandler Jones vs. LT D’Anthony Batiste : Batiste had a decent at best first week but still had issues that need to be ironed out and can be taken advantage of. He left his chest exposed to the bulrush at times while also lacking a firm base and simply playing with soft hands. All of these things could potentially be problematic when he faces the lengthy and strong Chandler Jones, who has showed us that he can administer a powerful bullrush.

Cardinals discipline : The Cardinals defense is a very aggressive and because of this, they sometimes will get undisciplined in run support as well as in coverage where the safeties sometimes can be caught out of position. There may be an opportunity or two for the Patriots to throw the deep ball down the seam for a big play.

QB Kevin Kolb: Last week I noted that Titans quarterback Jake Locker will give the Patriots opportunities at creating turnovers because of his gunslinger mentality. It’s a similar case this week with Kevin Kolb, who takes over for the injured John Skelton. While Kolb isn’t a gunslinger like Locker is, he does make questionable throws that will give the Patriots chances to make plays on the ball.

CB/PR Patrick Peterson: The Cardinals will play Peterson in man coverage and also let him return punts for good reason: he is simply a playmaker. He can turn the game around on the defensive side of the ball or on special teams.

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For more interesting football reading, checkout Alen's blog posts at The Score, and The Sideline View. Follow Alen on Twitter at @Dumonjic_Alen, or send him feedback via email.

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