Patriots vs Saints: The Aftermath

Patriots Preseason Saints

Tom Brady was running for his life early and often. (Photo: US Presswire)

NEPD Staff Writer: Matthew Jones

The New England Patriots concluded their first preseason game tonight via a 7-6 win over the New Orleans Saints; here are some observations from New England’s first exhibition game of 2012.

Tom Brady looked sharp in his first action of the season, throwing accurate passes to all levels of the field despite his uneventful stat line. Coach Belichick left him in the game for most of the first quarter, pulling Brady with just over one minute left. Brian Hoyer made a brief cameo (4/6 passing, 18 yards) before being replaced with Ryan Mallett; the second-year player struggled with his accuracy throughout the first half of the game. Mallett was yanked in the second half for Brian Hoyer, who connected with Britt Davis for a touchdown pass. Mallett re-entered late in the game and continued to struggle with his ball placement throughout the game.

As expected, Stevan Ridley started for the Patriots at running back, while Dan Koppen made the start at center over Ryan Wendell. Nick McDonald also saw action in the game, playing across the offensive line.

New England opened the game in a five-wide set, with Ridley moving in motion to wide receiver. Ridley was used extensively in the passing game as a receiver both split out wide and out of the backfield. Ridley looked explosive as a runner and should end up as the opening-week starter at the position.

Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen were lined up deep as New England’s starting kick return duo. Vereen looked smooth in the second half and received quite a few carries; on the first drive of the half, Vereen received seven carries and compiled 63 yards. Vereen was featured as a receiver as well.

Brandon Bolden entered the game and broke a nice run at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Bolden saw much more action than Danny Woodhead, although that may be a case of New England giving a veteran some rest during the preseason.

Brandon Lloyd dropped his initial target by Tom Brady down the seam on an excellent throw from Tom Brady. Johnny Patrick broke up a deep pass intended for Lloyd when Brady looked for Lloyd again. Britt Davis was able to get open on what probably should have been a pass interference call; Davis caught a touchdown from Hoyer in the third quarter as well. Jesse Holley dropped a well-placed pass from Hoyer in the third. Davis left the game in the middle of the fourth quarter with an apparent shoulder injury.

On the offensive line, Nate Solder really struggled in pass protection; Will Smith beat him around the edge on one early snap, forcing Brady to throw the ball away. Smith beat Solder around the edge again and blindsided Brady on the next snap, forcing a fumble. New Orleans came away from the following drive with a field goal thanks to their starting field position. Marcus Cannon was called for a false start in the first quarter of the game, and a holding call on Solder negated Brandon Lloyd’s first grab. Donald Thomas was able to pull and make an impressive block on a screen pass.

New England opened the game in a four-man front, with both Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower making starts at right end and linebacker, respectively. Steve Gregory was the starter at free safety. On the second play of the game, Chandler Jones rushed the passer from a two-point stance and beat Jermaine Bushrod to hurry Drew Brees and force an incompletion.

Hightower struggled with his run fits early on but improved as the game continued; Jones had more success in that facet of the game, even forcing a hold on one snap. Jones almost got to Chase Daniel on the next play, and drew another holding call. A few plays later, Jones tackled Daniel after Daniel scrambled for a few yards; his success against an established tackle is encouraging considering the departures of Mark Anderson and Andre Carter via free agency.

Kyle Love shed a double-team to stuff one of New Orleans’ running plays early on.

Jermaine Cunningham saw the field at left end before Trevor Scott; the latter appeared with Justin Francis in the second half. Cunningham was the most explosive of the three players, although Scott rushed effectively on some plays as well and recorded a strip-sack during the final two minutes of the game.

Dane Fletcher injured his left knee while covering a punt on special teams and was helped off of the field by two trainers; NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Fletcher tore his ACL, which will likely land him on injured reserve. New England’s depth at linebacker will be tested; Bobby Carpenter subsequently saw an extensive snap count and did an adequate job. Fletcher’s injury will likely lead to an extra roster spot for a linebacker such as Niko Koutouvides or Jeff Tarpinian; both players saw second-half action.

Jerod Mayo deflected a pass from Chase Daniel into the air which was intercepted by free safety Steve Gregory. Patrick Chung intercepted an overthrown pass in the second quarter.

Courtney Roby burned Sterling Moore in coverage down the outside seam on an impressive throw from Chase Daniel; Moore almost came away with a third-quarter interception. Later, Moore was flagged for pass interference on a throw deep downfield; the penalty ended up costing New England 46 yards.

Ras-I Dowling made a tackle in the third quarter and followed it up with a pass breakup; Dowling lined up on the right side on the third quarter while Sterling Moore handled responsibilities at left cornerback.

Marquice Cole was called for an illegal block in the back on the team’s opening punt return; Cole must avoid costly penalties if he wants to make the roster as a special-teams contributor.

Nate Ebner was in on special teams and also saw some time as a safety in the 4th quarter.

Marcus Forston made some impressive plays late in the game, showing some initial quickness.

Three Up: Chandler Jones, Devin McCourty, Shane Vereen

Three Down: Patriots Offensive Line, Ryan Mallett, Fletcher’s injury

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9 Responses to “Patriots vs Saints: The Aftermath”

  1. Tim Q says:

    This made me very very worried about the pats o-line. They sucked. Hope they get better quick

  2. Scottchop says:

    just wondering with Moore seeming to struggle , any reason why Leigh Bodden isnt getting a look? they liked him enough to give him a multi year deal not that long ago and should be healthy now i would think

    • Dan says:

      Is this a joke? Amazing how fans think. I’ll try to answer this one for kicks: He was cut for a reason and he was never that good to begin with, he had the ball thrown to him directly the season before last which nice, but your grandmother could have made those interceptions.

    • td says:

      I think BB got really p.o.’d that Bodden came in out of shape and got injured out of the gate after signing a new contract.

    • Descendency says:

      Word on the street is that he asked to be cut (and was granted it) because he was a bench player. I think there was more to it than that, but I get the impression that he isn’t wanted in NE right now.

    • MaineMan says:

      Bodden was 8th among CBs in QB-rating against in 2009 (PFF) and second only to Asomugha among RCBs. Not every good CB can actually make the switch to playing the right side effectively, so a top-notch RCB is a fairly rare thing. Bodden also didn’t require a lot of safety help over the top which was a good thing since LCB was (being kind) fairly shaky that season. He was also excellent in run-D.

      But almost all of Bodden’s career success came playing zone (same as McCourty). In 2011, coming off an IR season, Bodden failed in the new emphasis on press-man coverage (even worse than McCourty did) which may have been due, at least in part, to a serious back injury that even Bodden didn’t know he had at the time he was cut.

      Bodden will be 31 this September and effectively out of football since early 2010. Seems to me that, if he was healthy enough to play, even marginally, we’d have heard about some team giving him a look by now. Even if he was in tip-top form, there’s no guarantee that he’d be significantly more effective in the current coverage schemes than any of the guys now on the roster.

  3. Ken W says:

    I would like to see Vereen in with the first team to see what he can do, looked explosive.

    Looks like Hightower and Jones are off to a good start. Jones uses his length well and showed he can be a major force.

    If the Pats D can just be average then they will be fine.

    • Dan says:

      Vereen will be out there with the first unit soon enough…pre-season or regular season…he’s a talent and you’ll get your wish.

      Jones was impressive, but I did expect more from Hightower, and not just making plays, because it’s his first pre-season game…first pro game, but I didn’t like the way he moved & played on many snaps. He has been talked up in a big way from practices and I just didn’t see the instincts and movement I was hoping to see.
      But, it’s very early and I’m sure he’ll see the film.
      Solder was terrible, again not just the bad plays, but the technique issues and the lack of confidence. It’s making me wonder if we not only need Vollmer to come back to play RT, but to go back and play LT and give Solder more time to develop. And, Waters better be coming back and Mankins best be ready to go in the first few games. We’ll be weak at center (or average, again) so we need strength werever we can get it, and that means with the guards because tackle looks tough. They may need to pick up a true blocking TE to help Solder, you don’t want to have to use Gronk…you want him catching first downs & TD’s. But, he’ll have to help also…

      • Dan says:

        I’m not saying that after one preseason game he’s going to jump to the top of depth chart, but he’ll just get his touches with the first unit. I see him as the 2nd option now, but could be #1 soon enough.

        It’s going to really depend on his ability to pass block also…if he doesn’t do it he’ll be on the sidelines more often than not.

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