NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
The New England Patriots defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 31-22 in what represented an impressive performance by many of New England’s top players, in particular the Patriots’ offensive personnel, which combined for 442 total yards, including an astounding 248 rushing yards. Read on for some of the most significant occurrences in tonight’s game.
New England’s running backs impressed on the first possession, attempting carries on all six plays the Patriots ran. Stevan Ridley began the game with a long run on a cutback to the right side, where Will Svitek was starting at guard; subsequently, LeGarrette Blount made an appearance, running the ball a few times before relinquishing his spot to Ridley, who converted for a touchdown. Shane Vereen, a second-round pick in 2011, was not in the running back rotation early, but did catch a touchdown pass down the left sideline during the first quarter (see below); Vereen worked his way onto the field at running back during the Patriots’ third drive of the game. Blount re-entered the game in the second quarter, scoring on a 51-yard touchdown run which required him to cut back across the entire field twice, first from left to right and finally from right to left before flipping into the end zone; later, he leapt over a defender en route to a first down before finding the end zone once again. That Blount received carries before Brandon Bolden, and that Blount’s touches were more effective than Bolden’s should give him an early advantage in the competition for the team’s fourth running back spot.
Rookie wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson made an immediate impact, contributing to a touchdown drive on New England’s second possession of the game. Thompkins caught Brady’s second completion, converting a first down; Dobson caught the third ball, making a catch in double coverage for a big gain. Following that, Brady targeted Thompkins for two more completions, a crossing route and a screen, before Shane Vereen reeled in Brady’s first touchdown pass on a go route down the left sideline. On Mallett’s third drive of the game, Dobson separated himself via a quick comeback route and converted a first down; unfortunately, he dropped his next target. Zach Sudfeld made his presence known on the same drive by catching a short pass and gaining a handful of yards after the catch en route to another first down.
Ryan Mallett entered the game after the first two offensive drives, beginning at his own one-yard line and missing Aaron Dobson, who was running a slant route, on his first attempt of the game; Shane Vereen just missed a swing pass on Mallett’s second attempt, an accurate throw. On his second drive, however, Mallett looked more comfortable, hitting Daniel Fells on a shallow cross for a completion on his first attempt before hitting Fells again to convert a first down; Mallett targeted Fells once again soon afterwards for another first down, which concluded the game’s first quarter. However, Mallett overthrew rookie fourth-round pick Josh Boyce on what would have been a touchdown to begin the second quarter.
Tim Tebow took over for Mallett late in the second quarter after the latter left the game with what appeared to be a minor head injury; Tebow missed a wide-open Aaron Dobson on his first attempt of the game, bouncing the ball a few yards short of its intended target. He recovered on the next snap, however, throwing a more accurate pass down the seam to Zach Sudfeld, although the undrafted tight end was unable to come down with the catch. The difference between the two throws may have had something to do with the fact that Sudfeld was Tebow’s first read, whereas on the Dobson throw, the former Florida Gators star was forced to go through multiple progressions; unfortunately, Tebow also appeared to struggle processing information when asked to make additional reads. He impressed early in the third quarter on a designed quarterback draw, but took two bad sacks early during his appearance, the latter of which was particularly egregious because Aaron Dobson had been able to uncover himself downfield. Although New England has evidently committed some time to developing packages which take advantage of Tebow’s mobility, it may be unrealistic to expect him to end up on the final roster based on tonight’s performance.
Schematically, what New England did on defense was significant, as the team displayed a willingness to embrace the three-down concepts which have characterized the majority of Belichick’s tenure with the Patriots. Defensive ends Chandler Jones and Justin Francis were both asked to occupy the right end spot, which freed outside linebackers Dont’a Hightower and rookie Jamie Collins to rush the passer from two-point stances. Early in the game, Rob Ninkovich also took snaps out of a two-point stance, while Michael Buchanan saw the field in that capacity beginning in the second quarter. However, the Patriots’ defensive schemes differed from the norm in that the team frequently presented looks featuring an additional member of the secondary rather than a fourth linebacker. Collins, New England’s first overall pick in April’s draft, looked particularly athletic but came up just short on a few rushes, the most notable of which was a botched rush against quarterback Nick Foles in which Collins had a clear path but came up empty, allowing Foles to convert a first down with his legs.
One concern which presented itself almost immediately was a lack of effective pass coverage from New England’s secondary. Aqib Talib was burned for a 47-yard touchdown by DeSean Jackson, with Steve Gregory trailing in coverage; later, Talib allowed another 19-yard completion to Riley Cooper. Preceding Jackson’s touchdown catch, rookie third-round pick Logan Ryan permitted Jason Avant to make a 22-yard catch down the seam; Ryan later dropped an easy interception on an errant throw from rookie quarterback Matt Barkley. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, also reprimanded Ryan on the sidelines after a twelve-yard touchdown catch by former New England receiver Greg Salas; Ryan was burned by Salas once again in the closing seconds of the game. On the bright side, fellow third-round pick Duron Harmon, a teammate of Ryan’s at Rutgers, was in position to make two hard hits on wide receivers running sideline routes.