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A house of Cards? Patriots think not; Thu. notes

Posted Sep 13, 2012

The Arizona Cardinals present a difficult challenge to the men in the trenches. Plus, other news and notes from Thursday at Gillette Stadium.

New England made it look easy last week in Nashville.

Shut down one of the NFL’s few 2,000-yard backs ever? No problem.

So, shutting down Arizona’s Beanie Wells, Ryan Williams, and LaRod Stephens-Howling shouldn’t be much of a task this Sunday in Foxborough, right?

“That’s a work in progress,” insisted d-tackle/co-captain Vince Wilfork. “That’s something we put a lot of time and effort in, and it showed up for us last week. Hopefully, we can continue to do it. They have three good backs that can run the ball, then they have a fullback [North Attleboro native Anthony Sherman] they like to put in certain situations. We’ve just got to be consistent, keep stringing them together.”

Already on what looks like their second starting quarterback just two weeks into the regular season, the Cardinals’ backfield could be a vulnerability when they visit Gillette Stadium for the Patriots’ home opener. Kevin Kolb is likely to take over for John Skelton, who injured an ankle last week against Seattle.

But to hear New England’s players, they’re not buying into that notion.

“They have a lot of running backs that are fast and strong, starting with Beanie Wells. Williams has great feet, and we’re not sure who’s going to play quarterback, but both of them are strong players,” insisted linebacker/co-captain Jerod Mayo. “Obviously, you have [Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry] Fitzgerald and the rest of those guys outside, and [tight end] Todd Heap, who’s been doing it a long time.

“[Kolb] has starter skills. He can make all the throws, he can run around, throw on the run. He’s a dangerous player. Anytime you have to prepare for two quarterbacks, it’s pretty challenging.”   
On the other side of the ball, Arizona’s defensive front – they typically play a 3-4 – is what most concerns the New England o-line. Ends Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell received plenty of praise today inside the Patriots locker room for their size and speed.

“They have big guys that move very well – an athletic front. They can pass rush, they play good against the run. They’re a complete defense,” declared left guard Logan Mankins.

“[Dockett]’s probably one of the top defensive tackles in the league. He’s a leader out there for their d-line,” added interior lineman Donald Thomas. “He gets those guys going. He’s been playing for a long time. He’s a good player. He’s not one of those big, 330 guys. He’s fast, he can move, he’s strong. He has a good combination of size and speed. I think that’s what makes him such an elite player.”

Against the Titans, the Patriots also dominated on the ground from an offensive standpoint, with Stevan Ridley gaining 125 yards on the afternoon.

How will they duplicate that effort this week against Arizona?

“Mixing up the play calls, blocking the right guys, using proper technique. It all goes hand in hand,” Mankins suggested.

“If you’re technique isn’t right and hands aren’t right, speed will kill you,” echoed Thomas. “That’s the hardest thing for us against those quick, fast guys. You can try to cover them up, but if you don’t use good footwork and hand placement, you’ll never get them.

“Across the board, all of them have talent. They’re very good. We have to do a great job with our technique and handle their pass rush. They get after the running backs, too. They move very well. We have to be able to control them and let the rest of the guys [on offense] make some plays.

Patriots players on both sides of the ball agree on this point as well: Arizona, which has won eight of their last 10 (dating back to last season, including overtime games), isn’t a team that’s going to roll over for anyone.

“They have a hard-nosed football team. Every down counts. Every second counts,” Wilfork observed.

“They do a lot of things well. They’re coached very well. They play hard, 60 minutes, overtime… they play very, very hard. It’s going to be a challenge for us. We have to do a real good job this week of communicating defensively and playing good, sound football.”

“They’re going to come play for 60 minutes, and then some,” continued Thomas. “You have to be ready to match them. They’re a good football team. Got a lot of heart. Absolutley.”

“Oh yeah, you’re right about the heart. They’re always in the game,” Mankins concluded. “They’re going to play the entire game. They’re not going to give up. They keep fighting till the end. That says a lot about them, that they play for 60 minutes.”

Guarded situation

Thomas was a popular guy for media to talk with Thursday before practice because, at the time, it was unclear if right guard Dan Connolly would be available this week. Connolly suffered a head injury against Tennessee late in the game and missed practice Wednesday.

Thomas was mum when asked if he had been informed of the team’s plans for him this Sunday.

“You just never know what can happen week to week and you have to be ready to go,” said Thomas. “We all understand that, and we all know who can play multiple positions, so we have to be able to play them.”

Connolly did return to practice Thursday, as it turned out, but Thomas could still wind up playing a role against the Cardinals.

For more details about today’s Patriots practice, please visit the PFW blog.