NEPD Editor: Doug Kyed
I’ve been waiting six months to be able to write this column again and let me tell you, it was a joy to watch a Patriots game again.
Even though it was a lowly preseason game, I’ve watched every snap three or four times now and I feel like I’ve fully dissected the action. There were good and bad things to take away from the 7-6 win, but today I’ll concentrate on all the good things.
My six keys to victory after the jump.
2012 FIRST ROUND PICKS
There’s a reason everyone wanted to talk about Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower after Thursday night’s game. They were two of the best players out on the field. Jones looked even better than he did as a college player and seems to be not only stronger, but more comfortable on his feet as well. Jones was the star of the show overpowering Pro Bowler Jermon Bushrod on multiple occasions and drawing two holding calls in the process.
Hightower, not to be outdone by Jones, looked great in his own right. Hightower played all three linebacker positions and looked mostly comfortable. He had a great two play stretch in the second quarter where he absolutely blew up Cadet on one carry and had a nice blitz up the middle on the next where he put some pressure on Sean Canfield. Hightower should be a huge help in both the run game and generating pressure up the middle. Thursday night is just a preview of what’s to come.
It’s safe to say that everyone had their doubts about the Patriots running game entering this season. Earlier in the offseason I was compiling a list of the worst RB stables in the league and the Patriots were definitely in the bottom ten just due to lack of experience. Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden put some of our doubts to rest as they ran for 4.7 yards per carry behind a shaky offensive line.
Vereen looked the best of the bunch, even though he had apparently fallen behind Bolden on the depth chart. Vereen ran for 64 yards on eleven carries and while it was against the Saints 2nd and 3rd teamers, it was also behind the Patriots 2nd and 3rd offensive line.
I love Eric Kettani’s story, but if the choice is no fullback or Kettani, I’ll take no fullback.
The Patriots secondary really impressed only allowing 188 yards through the air. Second year player Ras-I Dowling didn’t get a great shot against the Saints starters, but he looked impressive throughout the second half not allowing a reception and drawing just two targets.
Sterling Moore played across from Dowling throughout the second half and got some first team reps and had his ups and downs. Moore allowed two receptions on five targets, but drew a huge pass interference penalty.
Devin McCourty looked better than he has at practice, shadowing his man very well throughout the first half and allowing just one reception on three targets.
Overall, here’s how the Patriots defense charted against the pass:
Hightower – 2-4
McCourty – 1-3
Mayo – 2-3
Moore – 2-5
Carpenter – 0-1
Chung – 1-3 INT
Gregory – 0-1 INT
Arrington – 2-2
Rivera – 4-5
Harrison – 1-1
Wilson – 1-1
Dowling – 0-2
Tarpinian – 3-4
Lavarias – 0-1
Cole – 2-2
Martin – 0-1
I thought Mike Rivera struggled out there in coverage. If he hopes to make the team he’ll need to flash some better skills in man.
Side story: I saw Ross Ventrone at the movies last night (The Campaign), it’s not really my style to approach athletes in public, but I also felt like it would be a disservice to not go up and tell him how awesome he is. I may be his biggest fan after all. I told him I love his tweets and how psyched I was to see him play cornerback on Thursday night and he seemed really psyched that I came up to him. Best part? I saw later on twitter that he was there with Gronk and I didn’t even notice. Like I said, Ventrone was probably the only Patriots player that I would have gone up to and talked to.
The depth overall on this team is really amazing. In the fourth quarter, we were still seeing quality players like Justin Francis, Trevor Scott, Jake Bequette, Marcus Forston, Marcus Harrison, Ras-I Dowling, Sterling Moore, Tavon Wilson, Will Allen, Jeff Tarpinian, etc. on defense. Those are essentially third stringers at that point and I would have no problem having those guys playing in actual games. Even the beleaguered offensive line had quality players like Nick McDonald and Derek Dennis still out there.
The only position that really got tiresome to watch out there was WR. Because Deion Branch was out and Stallworth, Edelman and Gaffney got opportunities in the first half, we had to watch Jesse Holley and Britt Davis for about 30 minutes too long.
Other than the aforementioned pass interference call on Sterling Moore and a couple costly holding penalties by Nate Solder, the Pats did a pretty good job of limiting mistakes, especially penalties. The Pats coughed up the ball twice, once on a brutal sack on Tom Brady and another on an interception thrown by Ryan Mallett. It’s the first game of the season, and mistakes are bound to happen, but I was expecting a much sloppier game by the Patriots in their first outing.
QUALITY UDFA PICKUPS
I said on twitter last night that I like some of the Pats UDFAs more than late round picks Jeremy Ebert and Nate Ebner. Bolden looked good out there and has done the same at practice. Francis looked spotty at times on the field, but still flashed some nice athleticism and strength for his size. Forston might have been the most impressive UDFA Thursday night. He gets off the snap incredibly fast and used that to his advantage getting behind the line of scrimmage. If Forston can stay healthy, he could be a great player in the NFL. Derek Dennis also impressed me. We had just seen him get cut on Hard Knocks on Tuesday night and it was my first time seeing the rookie offensive lineman. He impressed me though, and looked better than fellow UDFAs Jeremiah Warren and Darrion Weems.