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Scouting Report: What you have to know about Patriots-Cardinals 09.10.16 at 1:43 pm ET
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Sunday will mark Jimmy Garoppolo's first start as a professional. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Sunday will mark Jimmy Garoppolo’s first start as a professional. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Here’s everything you need to know when it comes to Sunday’s regular-season opener for the Patriots and Cardinals in Arizona:

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN THE BALL

When it comes to the ground game, New England is coming off a woeful finish to 2015 that saw them finish with just 87.8 rushing yards per contest, 30th in the league. Injuries to LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis left the Patriots relying on Steven Jackson and James White down the stretch and into the playoffs; in hindsight, it was easy to see why the offense stalled the way it did in Denver. Lewis is still on the shelf (look for White to at least try and replicate Lewis’ impact), but the majority of work will fall to Blount. The 29-year-old, still a 6-foot-1, 245-pound bulldozer, is what he is at this stage of his career — a big back who should be trusted to carry the ball 15-22 times a game and hit that 4 yards per carry average fairly consistently. From this viewpoint, he’s still without peer when it comes to the four-minute offense. We’ve referenced this before, but it still bears repeating; per Football Outsiders, Blount rushed 87 times for 406 yards (4.7 yards per carry) when the score margin was greater than 15 points and 78 times for 297 yards (3.9 yards per carry) when the score was closer. If the Pats get into a similar situation on Sunday, it’s all Blount down the stretch.

On the other side of the ball, for a team that plays so much dime/sub, Arizona has help up relatively well against the run: The Cardinals were sixth against the run last year (91.3 rushing yards per game) and ninth when it came to yards per carry allowed (3.9). But good teams have found a way to exploit their occasionally suspect run defense. In the last 10 games of the 2015 season — including the playoffs — the Cardinals allowed 100 or more yards rushing five times, and in a sixth game they allowed 99 yards on the ground. In their last three games (one regular-season contest and two playoff games), Arizona allowed an average of 144 rushing yards per game, including 152 in the NFC title game against the Panthers. We’re not saying the Patriots have a shot at 150 on Sunday night. Just that Blount could get a surprisingly high number of carries on some power runs with fullback James Develin and a two-tight end set with Martellus Bennett and Clay Harbor or AJ Derby. That’s all.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS THE BALL

And now, we step into the great unknown with Jimmy Garoppolo. Well, maybe not the great unknown, but with Garoppolo getting the start for these first four games, we’ll finally get a sense of where he is in his overall development. The kid had his positives and negatives over the summer, looking like he took a step back in Week Three after two good games to open the preseason. Regardless, based on what we’ve seen to this point, expect the Patriots to lean on short and intermediate routes with the likes of Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and Bennett. While he could speed things up a bit, Garoppolo will likely try and play it conservatively with checkdowns to backs, tight ends and quick outs to receivers. The bottom line? Garoppolo needs to get the ball out quickly and efficiently for a few reasons, including the fact that the offensive line remains in a statement of flux and the Patriots can’t afford to let pressure be an issue.

Chances are good that a large part of that pressure will come from old friend Chandler Jones, who has already impressed his mates to the point where they believe a 20-sack season is in reach. (It’s worth noting that when it comes to sacks, Jones’ most productive month is September.) Jones will be looking to cut down on cover time for the Arizona coverage defenders, some of the best in the league. Cornerback Patrick Peterson, safety Tyrann Mathieu and hybrid Deone Bucannon are some of the best in the league at what they do. The biggest opportunity in the passing game for the Patriots might come when Garoppolo tries to target Brandon Williams, a converted college running back expected to start at cornerback opposite Peterson. The 23-year-old Williams has yet to take a regular-season snap in the NFL.

One more thing, as it relates to Garoppolo. We have really no way of measuring this, but it certainly looked like the Patriots ran more plays this summer (in training camp and preseason) designed to get him on the run; rollouts, bootlegs, whatever, where they have him use his legs and (maybe) try and minimize some sketchy offensive line play at the same time. They got him on the run and created some movable pocket situations. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was impressed with Garoppolo’s speed. It’s something to watch for Sunday.

WHEN THE CARDINALS RUN THE BALL

The 6-foot-1, 224-pound David Johnson might be the most multidimensional threat the Patriots face all season long. The 24-year-old out of Northern Iowa is coming off a rookie year where he rushed for 125 carries for 581 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns, and figures to move into the every-down role this year, supplanting veteran Chris Johnson. (The older Johnson led urge Cardinals in rushing last season with 196 carries for 814 yards and three touchdowns.) The Patriots were ninth against the run last year, having yielded an average of 98.8 rushing yards per game, and were 11th in yards per carry allowed at 4.0.

WHEN THE CARDINALS PASS THE BALL

Arizona will feature one of the deepest passing attacks the Patriots will face all season. The Cardinals were one of just two teams last season to have three players finish the year with 800 or more receiving yards (New Orleans was the other). According to Football Outsiders, for eight straight years Arizona has ranked either first or second in the league in the percentage of plays with four or more wide receivers. Veteran quarterback Carson Palmer likes to chuck it, whether it’s to Larry Fitzgerald (career-best 109 catches for 1,215 yards and nine touchdowns last year), John Brown (65 catches for 1,003 yards seven touchdowns last year) or Michael Floyd (52 catches for 849 yards and six touchdowns in 2015). And then, there’s Johnson (36 catches, 457 yards 4 TDs last year). As for the Patriots, if you have a combination of Malcolm Butler (with help) on Fitzgerald and Jamie Collins eyeing Johnson out of the backfield, that puts some added pressure on the likes of Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones and one of your safeties when it comes to coverage. If the preseason is any indication, the New England secondary is up to the challenge — the Patriots were tied for second in the league in interceptions in the preseason with seven.

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Read More: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson, David Johnson
5 things you have to know about the Cardinals: Arizona looks to take next step toward greatness in 2016 09.05.16 at 12:24 pm ET
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Arizona's Carson Palmer is at the controls of one of the best offenses in the NFC. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Carson Palmer led the Cardinals to the NFC title game last season. (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Five things you have to know about the Cardinals, who will host the Patriots in the regular-season opener for both teams Sunday night in Arizona.

1. When everyone is healthy, their passing game is really deep.

The Cardinals were one of just two teams last season to have three players finish the year with 800 or more receiving yards (New Orleans was the other). According to Football Outsiders, for eight straight years Arizona has ranked either first or second in the league in the percentage of plays with four or more wide receivers. Bottom line? Carson Palmer is going to test the depth of the New England secondary right out of the gate. Palmer was in the top five of most major passing categories last year, including total passing yards (4,671, fourth), touchdowns (35, tied for second), yards per game (292, fifth) and passer rating (104.6, third). He’s a big, strong pocket presence.

”Carson’s definitely willing to stand in there and deliver the ball under pressure and wait until the last second to get rid of it,” Bill Belichick said of the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Palmer on Monday. “He’s a big, strong guy. He’s big for a quarterback and has a good frame. I’m not saying any quarterback wants to get hit a lot, but there’s some guys that can absorb more of those than others. He’s not as big as (Ben) Roethlisberger, but he’s a big quarterback.”

Everyone knows about the greatness of Larry Fitzgerald, and the undoubted first-ballot Hall of Famer still is Arizona’s first option in the passing game. He’s coming off one of the finest years of his career (career-best 109 catches for 1,215 yards and nine touchdowns) and undoubtedly will face Malcolm Butler for much of the evening. John Brown and Michael Floyd are as good as there is as No. 2 and 3 options. Brown is a 5-foot-11, 195-pound scooter who had 65 catches for 1,003 yards seven touchdowns last year, while Floyd’s size (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) makes him an intriguing target for Palmer. He had 52 catches for 849 yards and six touchdowns in 2015.

The backs also are utilized as part of the passing game, with David Johnson working as a multidimensional threat. The 6-foot-1, 224-pounder had a dynamite rookie campaign in 2015, finishing with 36 catches for 457 yards and four touchdowns in the passing game.

2. Speaking of David Johnson, he’ll be one of the best multidimensional running backs the Patriots will face this season.

As we’ve already said, Johnson was the best option out of the backfield for one of the best passing teams in the league last year, but he also can bring it when it comes to running the ball, with 125 carries for 581 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns. He was second on the team to Chris Johnson, who ended up with 196 carries for 814 yards and three touchdowns, but if the preseason is any indication, David is likely to get more carries than Chris in 2016.

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Read More: 5 things you have to know about, Cardinals, Carson Palmer, Chandler Catanzaro
WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 4: Cardinals move into top 3 behind Patriots, Packers 09.29.15 at 11:01 pm ET
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Chris Johnson and the Cardinals are riding high in the NFC. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Chris Johnson and the Cardinals are riding high in the NFC. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The top five teams all won in Week 3, but the Cardinals and Broncos swapped places in light of Arizona’€™s dominant performance vs. the 49ers. Everyone expected the Patriots to roll over the Jaguars, and they delivered. We’re only three weeks into the season but the hype machine is rolling through Boston, with many fans anticipating another undefeated regular season. Bill Belichick and the Patriots head into the early bye with almost no injuries, and in Week 5 they will head to Dallas to face a Cowboys team that has lost its starting quarterback and best wide receiver. The Patriots hype won’€™t be slowing down anytime soon.

The Steelers drop seven spots with the loss of Ben Roethlisberger. Mike Tomlin better hope Michael Vick has been reading the playbook, as he’ll be expected to get the ball to Antonio Brown for the next four to six weeks. Brandon Marshall is pretty much solely responsible for the Jets dropping nine spots after his ill-advised lateral attempt gift-wrapped a turnover for Chip Kelly’s floundering Eagles. Another AFC East team dropped six spots as the Dolphins continue to wait for Ryan Tannehill to progress into a franchise QB. (More on him later.)

The only team I really wanted to move up this week was the Falcons. Coach Dan Quinn made substantial adjustments at halftime, and after allowing 28 points to the Cowboys in the first half, Atlanta allowed none in the second. Bills QB Tyrod Taylor continues to impress with his mobility in the pocket. He just looks comfortable back there, and Rex Ryan‘s defense bounced back after getting throttled by Brady and the Pats in Week 2 to beat the Dolphins. The Colts (begrudgingly) get moved up three spots after a narrow victory over the Titans.

1. (1 last week) Patriots (3-0) — A thrashing of the Jaguars keeps the Patriots on top. After the bye, they play the injury-plagued Cowboys followed by the Colts, Jets, Dolphins, Redskins, Giants and Bills at home before their first real test in Denver against the Broncos. It’s not too early to think about Tom Brady being in the MVP conversation, which is great for the employees at 345 Park Ave.

2. (2) Packers (3-0) — Aaron Rodgers obliterated a (usually) good Chiefs defense. I think last year’s meltdown in the NFC championship game will galvanize the Pack for the entire 2015 season. Cheeseheads should be booking hotels in San Francisco as soon as possible.

3. (4) Cardinals (3-0) — Chris Johnson‘s resurgence with Arizona is a bit of a surprise. His 2,000-yard seasons likely are behind him, but he looks better than he ever did with the Jets. Larry Fitzgerald is staving off Father Time for another season. He’€™s got 333 receiving yards and five touchdowns in three games.

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Read More: aaron rodgers, Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, Brandon Marshall
Bill Belichick knows Rex Ryan and Jets want to run it down their throats 12.16.14 at 4:21 pm ET
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Geno Smith and the Jets passing game have struggled this season. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Geno Smith and the Jets passing game have struggled this season. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Ground and pound. Three simple words that defined the brash and power New York Jets when they were successful under Rex Ryan.

With a 3-11 record, gone is the cockiness but the desire to find different ways to run the ball is still priority No. 1 with Ryan’s Jets. Whether it’s Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson, Jeremy Kerley or even the newly acquired Percy Harvin, the Jets are trying to compensate for the lack of a passing attack from Geno Smith. But Smith, along with Ivory, Johnson, Kerley and Harvin, is a definite threat to run.

“Well they use a lot of guys. They have a lot of good runners: Ivory probably runs as hard as any player we’€™ve played against recently. Johnson has a lot of skill; Smith hurt us running in the first game. He’€™s a good runner, he’€™s a very athletic guy, can scramble in the passing game,” Belichick said. “They ran a bunch of reverses, Kerley, obviously Harvin. They use a lot of people in their running game to make you defend from sideline to sideline, as well as the inside power-type games and some read-option plays.”

Harvin has 31 carries for 201 yards (6.5 yards/attempt) and a touchdown this season, 21 of those coming with the Jets after he was acquired from Seattle. Ivory leads the Jets with 739 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Johnson has 613 yards and a 4.5 yards/carry average with a touchdown. If there’s a way the Patriots could be in trouble Sunday at MetLife, it starts with the Jets getting their running game up to speed.

“They have a very extensive and diverse running game,” Belichick said. “This will probably be the most volume of running game schemes and run game issues that they create that we’€™ve had in quite a while, certainly all year.

With Smith struggling as a passer, the Jets have turned back to their “Wildcat” to try and take some pressure off the signal caller, sometimes taking Smith off the field altogether.

“I think the Wildcat is, like a lot of things, defensively you just have to be ready for it every week. Wildcat, unbalanced line, empty formation, all those different type of things, if a team has shown them, they’€™ve shown them,” Belichick said. “But if they haven’€™t shown them, there’€™s always a possibility that they could put something like that together as a game plan thing. We always have to be ready for those type of things.
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Read More: Bill Belichick, Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson, CJ2K
Fantasy Football: Week 1 starts, sits 09.05.14 at 2:02 pm ET
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WEEI_FantasyFootball_2014_hdr

Well, it’€™s officially Week 1 and it’€™s time for our first batch of starts and sits. For our newer readers, I do my best to avoid the obvious choices. These are not rankings. Rather, they are takes on specific matchups that make players more or less desirable than they would normally be. Is there a player you want our take on that isn’€™t mentioned? No problem. For rankings on all the major players, go to Rotobahn and check out our full Week 1 lineup rankings.

This Sunday features the first regular-season airing of the Fantasy Football Hour with my co-host Jim Hackett. We’€™ll be discussing this article and other Week 1 roster options that will help you to submit your most potent weekly fantasy roster. Tune in to WEEI 93.7-FM at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday game days to check it out. If you’€™re not an early riser, go to WEEI.com and enjoy it on your own schedule. I’ll be back in this space on Tuesday with our first waiver wire of the year.

QUARTERBACKS

Start

Carson Palmer, Cardinals vs. Chargers

He’€™s got a nice home matchup, so it’€™s a good week to use him. He should be ready to roll in his second year as the starter in HC Bruce Arians’€™ offense. If Andre Ellington’s new foot injury proves serious, Palmer will be throwing most of the game.

Derek Carr, Raiders at Jets

He’€™s far from ideal, but if you are a Cam Newton owner (like me), looking for insurance, you could do worse than the strong-armed Carr vs. a battered Jets secondary.

Geno Smith, Jets vs. Raiders

It’€™s a great home matchup, so if you need a cheap option in a deep league, Smith can help.

Sit

Robert Griffin III, Washington at Texans

If you happen to have another strong option, then this is a week to consider benching Griffin, who will be running a new offense while facing JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney … and the chaos they create.

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Read More: Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson, Derek Carr, Eric Decker
5 things we learned at combine Sunday 02.23.14 at 11:22 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS –€“ Five things we learned at the combine Sunday:

1. Quarterback Bake Bortles can take advantage of an opportunity

Johnny Manziel didn’€™t throw (but did look really fast in the 40, as well as the 3-cone), and Teddy Bridgewater didn’€™t throw or run, and so Bortles was in the spotlight during the throwing drills and he looked impressive, making a variety of impressive connections to a variety of targets on several different routes throughout the session. We still believe that Jadeveon Clowney is the consensus top pick (even though there were some eyebrows raised after he only hit 21 reps in the bench press, a number that was topped by several smaller skill position players), but Bortles certainly made his case to be the first quarterback selected.

2. BC’€™s Andre Williams helped himself

With a relatively nondescript group of running backs this year, the former Eagle had a chance to make a name for himself when it came to the on-field drills, and the power back (5-foot-11, 230 pounds) had a good outing. He ran a 4.54 and 4.56 in 40 (good times for a bigger back), and had a 38.0 on the vertical jump (fourth in his position group), and went 10-foot-9 on the broad jump (third in his position group). Last year was the first time in 50 years a running back was not selected in the first round, and while the same fate likely awaits Williams and the rest of the backs this year, the BC product is certainly doing his part — he may have gone from a third-day pick to a second-day selection with his work on Sunday. (The best performance for a relatively unknown back went to Kent State’s Dri Archer, who had the best time of the day in the 40 with a 4.26. That just barely missed the 4.24 record set by running back Chris Johnson in 2008, the mark the NFL says is the best 40 by anyone, ever.)

3. The Patriots may not be in the market for an elite-level receiver, but there were several prospects who showed something in the 3-cone drill

New England craves pass catchers who can put up great 3-cone times — the drills showcases footwork, agility and the ability to quickly change direction as opposed to simple straight-line speed. In the past, several of the guys they’€™ve gone after have popped as collegians in the 3-cone in their Pro Day or at the combine, a group that includes Julian Edelman, Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Chad Jackson and Josh Boyce all excelled in the drill as collegians. This year, 19 different receivers cracked the 7-second barrier, traditionally considered the barometer for a great time in the drill. (In the previously mentioned group, only Welker topped seven seconds.) On Sunday, Top 10 3-cone times for receivers were Louisville‘€™s Damian Copeland (6.53), Baylor’€™s Tevin Reese (6.63), Saginaw Valley State’€™s Jeff Janis (6.64), Tulane’€™s Ryan Grant (6.68), Alabama’€™s Kevin Norwood (6.68), LSU’s Odell Beckham (6.69), South Carolina’€™s Bruce Ellington (6.69), Murray State’€™s Walt Powell (6.7), Fresno State’€™s Isaiah Burse (6.74) and Oregon State’€™s Brandin Cooks (6.76). History tells us that one of these guys has a good chance of landing in Foxboro, either as a draft pick or undrafted free agent.

4. Louis Nix III, Dee Ford and Adam Muema made things interesting in the media workroom

Nix, a defensive lineman out of Notre Dame, had been billed as a terrific quote, and he didn’t disappoint in his session with reporters. Asked about his recent weight loss, he said, “My thighs got a little smaller. I just feel sexier, man.”€ Asked about his occasionally troublesome knee, he smiled and replied, “œIt’€™s fantastic. How’€™s your knee?”€ And he admitted to being star-struck when he met Seattle coach Pete Carroll. Meanwhile, Muema, a running back from San Diego State, left the combine without taking part in any drills, saying God told him to. (And apparently, if Muema followed God’€™s wishes, he’€™d be taken by the Seahawks. “€œ[God] told me to sit down, be quiet, and enjoy the peace,”€ he said.) And Ford, a defensive lineman out of Auburn, took a shot at Clowney, saying the South Carolina lineman “plays like a blind dog in a meat market.”

5. Cooks, Beckham and Sammy Watkins are REALLY fast

In addition to his 3-cone time, the 5-10, 189-pound Cooks was the fastest receiver tested with a blazing 4.33 in the 40, while the 6-foot, 194-pound Beckham was close behind him with a 4.46. (For what it’€™s worth, Beckham showed a nice dependability in the receiving drills, and is a guy who will get a bit of a post-combine bump because of his work on Sunday.) The 6-foot-1, 211-pound Watkins had an amazing burst, and finished with a 4.43 40 that should also give him a bit of a post-combine bump.

Read More: 2014 combine, Adam Muema, Andre Williams, Blake Bortles
WEEI NFL Power Rankings, Week 17: Seahawks still No. 1 despite loss 12.24.13 at 8:48 am ET
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The Seahawks stumbled but didn’t fall in the WEEI NFL Power Rankings. Despite suffering a setback in Week 16, Seattle stands pat because of its overall dominance. The 49ers, Panthers, Broncos and Patriots, who all have secured playoff spots, round out the top five.

As we head into the last week of the season, division titles and playoff spots still are up for grabs. Four teams are fighting for one spot in the AFC: the Chargers (11), Ravens (13), Dolphins (15) and Steelers (17). The NFC is wide open, with three divisions and a wild card spot on the line. The Eagles (12) will look to become the 11th consecutive team in the NFL to finish in last place and then go on to win the division the very next year, and it will take a win over the Cowboys (19) on Sunday to accomplish that feat. Philadelphia’s odds of winning the NFC East improved dramatically on Monday after it was reported that Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will be sidelined due to a back problem.

The conclusion of the 2013 regular season promises to be a wild one. Be sure to check in next week after all is decided for the playoff edition of the Power Rankings.

1. (1) Seahawks (12-3) — The NFC took notice that the Seahawks are vulnerable in Seattle. They lost at home for the first time in two years. Penalties and a struggling passing attack hurt Pete Carroll‘s team Sunday. 

 2. (2) 49ers (11-4) — They’ve clinched and now have won five straight. The Niners are the type of seasoned, well-balanced team that is capable of going into Seattle and winning if the situation were to arise.

3. (3) Panthers (11-4) — The Panthers have the tools to reach the Super Bowl. Cam Newton has proven this year that the big moment doesn’t negatively affect him. Carolina’s defense forces turnovers, rushes the passer well and allows the fewest points per game in the league.

 4. (4) Broncos (11-3) — Much is being made about the loss of Von Miller, but the Broncos won their first six games this season when the Pro Bowl linebacker was suspended. If Denver doesn’t reach the Super Bowl, it won’t be because Miller is out.

5. (6) Patriots (11-4) — You can’t count this team out as long as Tom Brady is behind center and Bill Belichick is on the sideline. They’ve proven that this year more than ever.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Bills, Chris Johnson, NFL Power Rankings
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