NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
After delivering a scare to the entire region of New England, Tom Brady was back on the Gillette Stadium field for the Patriots second preseason game. Brady, as expected was in mid-season form and showed no signs of a knee injury. Now that training camp is over and open roster spots dwindling multiple players needed impressive performances to play their way onto the competitive Patriots roster. Which players stood out and whose bubble burst against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
Final Score: New England 25 Tampa Bay 21
1) Tom Brady was on top of his game, putting to bed any reservations about a possible knee injury. The first two series were reminiscent of the Pre-2007 Patriots on offense with the mixing of personnel groupings, formations and spreading the football around to multiple targets. On the first drive alone they utilized five different personnel groups:
10 – 1 RB 4 WR
11 – 1 RB 1 TE 3 WR
12 – 1 RB 2 TE 2 WR
20 – 2 RB 3 WR (Rare for the Patriots)
21 – 2 RB 1 TE 2 WR
Brady finished the game 11-12 for 107 yards and 1 touchdown. His lone incompletion came on the final pass he threw. By all indications the offense and Brady are right on track to hit the ground running week one.
2) Danny Amendola showed exactly why the Patriots feel he can adequately replace Wes Welker. Amendola and Brady were in sync connecting for 4 catches for 47 yards and a 26 yard touchdown on the first drive alone. The chemistry and communication the two have shown to this point is really encouraging. Amendola looks eerily similar to Wes Welker on the field, even down to his mannerisms after the catch. From this perspective Amendola is faster than Wes Welker and gets open a little bit faster. His 26 yard touchdown was evidence of a dimension that Amendola can add to the passing game. As long as he stays healthy for all 16 games, he will catch at least 100 balls and make everyone forget about Wes Welker.
3) Ryan Mallett had his best night as a professional football player. After a shaky start in which he missed open receivers, under threw the ball and looked uncomfortable in the pocket, Mallett settled down to lead an impressive touchdown drive. The second time Mallett took the field he looked at ease and released the ball with confidence. His arm strength continues to be his best asset and he needed all of it on his threaded TD pass to Zach Sudfeld. There is no question Mallett can make all the throws, he just needs to be a lot more consistent when he has receivers open.
Again, from my perspective Ryan Mallett has a tough time when he is asked to make a touch throw. He tries to “gear down” his arm so much that it results in him aiming the ball, thinking, and breaking his throwing mechanics. When he is in rhythm, moves around, and is asked to throw the ball over 10 yards down field — he can rip it. Overall, it was a positive performance by Mallett and his stock arrow is pointing upward.
4) It was interesting to see the Patriots open up with 2 Running Backs in the backfield. In the past the Patriots haven’t utilized two backs on the same play much, but that may change this year. With the offensive weapons turning over it makes sense to get their best play-makers on the field together. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are polar opposites as running backs. By having both on the field at the same time it forces the defense to respect the run (up the middle or off-tackle) and the pass out of the backfield. Having a RB tandem such as Ridley and Vereen gives the Patriots the versatility to vary their formations and positional groupings in a new way.
5) Zach Sudfeld showed off his receiving skills in a big way tonight. Sudfeld made a pair of incredible catches, both of which resulted in points. His large catch radius and concentration allowed Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett to get him the ball in tight coverage. He possesses a similar skill-set to Rob Gronkowski. At 6’7″ he is one of the biggest players on the field and his movement ability makes him a tough cover by linebackers, especially in the middle of the field. While he’s nowhere as dynamic as Aaron Hernandez and not nearly as physical as Gronkowski, he provides a viable replacement/compliment to those two big pieces of the offense. Based on what we’ve seen so far it’s hard to fathom how he went undrafted — even with the injury concerns.
6) Chandler Jones was the best defensive player on the field tonight. He dominated the Tampa Bay OL getting into the backfield at will and disrupting just about every Josh Freeman pass. Jones was credited with only 1 sack, but was in on another and had a 4 yard TFL. Jones who came into camp looking a bit bigger in the upperhalf, looks poised for a breakout season. The Patriots don’t have many players that can rush the passer and win 1 on 1. His improvement will go a long way to determining how good this defense can be. It should also be noted that his ability to play 5-Tech will allow the Patriots to play some more 3-4 than last year.
7) Before I continue handing our the praise (never want to get accused of being too optimistic) here is a run down of players I thought struggled tonight at first glance.
Tavon Wilson – Dreadful performance. Picked on time and again in coverage. Late to react when he was the deep safety and couldn’t get to the ball quick enough. In the red zone he committed a holding penalty on fourth down and was victimized for a touchdown when he was in man coverage. His overall performance this preseason has been very discouraging. For a second round pick, he should be showing more improvement than he has. It’s an ominous sign that Duron Harmon has passed him on the depth chart. All in all, he is likely to be on the team as he is a core special teams player that contributes on all 4 units, but he should be impacting the defense and he’s not.
Tim Tebow – An absolutely dreadful night. Looked terrible on every pass attempt, threw a horrendous interception and did nothing to move the offense in the second half. For the first time this preseason, I am thinking his roster spot is in doubt.
Will Svitek – Svitek struggled on the first drive playing RG, a position that isn’t natural to him. His run blocking left a lot to be desired, as he was beaten across his face a number of times. He looked better in pass protection and when he moved back to his natural position LT.
Jake Bequette – Makes zero impact when he is on the field. Struggles to get off blocks and generates little pressure. If your not focused on him, you don’t know he’s on the field.
Marquice Cole – Good special teams player, but he really struggles to cover anyone. When he is singled up he gets picked on left and right. He made a nice play at the goal line tonight in zone coverage, but was beaten way way too much.
8) Another impressive performance by Jamie Collins tonight. At this point in a rookie’s season all the coaching staff is asking for is to see continued improvement. I thought Collins was much improved tonight. He looked more natural and instinctive in coverage, looking on to crossers and not giving them any room to run after the catch. Collins was in on a number of tackles and showed the ability to wrap up and stop the ball-carrier in their tracks. His athleticism and speed to roam the middle of the field is a skill that the Patriots have lacked for years. I have to say I wasn’t sure how Collins would fare in his transition to LB, and I must say he has surpassed all expectations to this point.
9) It’s still very early but, the 2013 draft class is looking like one of the best in Bill Belichick’s tenure. I have already touched on Jamie Collins and the receivers have been talked about at length, so it’s easy to overlook a guy like Logan Ryan. His pick six tonight might change that. For me it’s not about his touchdown or his interception, I am merely encouraged by the steady improvement he has shown week to week. Ryan has played more snaps than any other player, because of injuries in the secondary and it’s clear the reps are helping him. There have definitely been mental mistakes and blown coverages, but his technique has improved since college and his recognition have always been decent.
It’s important to remember that CB is probably the hardest position to play coming from college to the NFL. The rules are different, the level of intensity is different and the athleticism of opposing WRs is different. For any DB there will be growing pains, but the development curve of Ryan is where it needs to be.
10) In the battle of punters Zoltan Mesko took the lead from Ryan Allen and probably secured his roster spot tonight. Mesko is quicker to get punts off and consistently has better hang time. Ryan Allen will be an NFL punter, but it’s unlikely to happen this year with the Patriots.
11) My sleeper to now make the roster is fullback James Develin. He saw plenty of time with the 1st team offense, received two carries in short yardage situations and with the running game more prominent, he may be needed.
12) The first team defense recorded four sacks tonight and dominated the Buccaneers first team offense. For this time of year, the Patriots were more aggressive sending blitzers and attacking the line of scrimmage. With the full unit intact from last season I expect the Defense to hit the ground running by executing more complex coverage schemes, more blitzes and playing an overall more aggressive style.
The Patriots first three games will come against Kevin Kolb/EJ Manuel, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman. It should give the defense an opportunity to get off to a great start and force some turnovers.
13) Tommy Kelly is such an upgrade over Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick. His quickness and strength allow him to push the pocket and essentially collapse the middle of the field. If he can provide 75% of what he did during his prime it will be a major major factor in the defensive success.
14) The kick return and kick coverage units still have a long way to go. As does kicker Stephen Gostkowski who missed another long field goal tonight.
15) Josh Boyce, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Zach Sudfeld all caught passes tonight. If these four continue this trajectory all season this offense will be just as good as last season. And I haven’t even mentioned the possible addition of Rob Gronkowski after a couple weeks. If this keeps up people look back at this WR/TE draft class and wonder how the Patriots were able to upgrade/rebuild their offense in one fell swoop.
16) I’m still a little concerned about the depth of the cornerback position. If one of the top four goes down it will create a pretty clear hole in the defense. It’s for this reason that Ras-I Dowling is still in the picture. If he can some way stay healthy and make an impact on the field, it will make this defense so much better and deeper.
I will have a new roster projection out this weekend and I am anticipating a few changes since my last version.