NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
We can finally stop talking about who the Patriots lost in the off-season or whose sitting in an Attleboro jail cell and start talking about actual games. The Patriots first preseason game marked the official end to a turbulent off-season and the start of a new hope filled season.
Even though the stars and starters were limited to a few series, there was still plenty to learn in the season’s first game. With so many new faces at key positions these games may lack intensity, but not importance.
Here is my collection of observations, thoughts and conclusions from tonight’s game.
Final Score: Patriots 31 Eagles 22
Thoughts and Observations:
1. Tom Brady played the first two series and put on an absolute clinic. After devastating the Eagles secondary in 7 on 7 all week in practice, he went 7-8 for 65 yards and a beautiful touchdown pass to Shane Vereen. The biggest question entering the game was chemistry among Brady and all his new receivers. Based on the limited exposure it appears the passing offense is on track for the start of the season.
2. The running game was even more impressive than the passing game, gashing the Eagles vulnerable run defense at will from the get go. The offensive line was able to open gaping holes and marched down the field 80 yards for a touchdown without even throwing the ball. I liked the variety of situational runs they were able to get during the game. Both Ridley and Blount converted on 3rd and short situations, which is something the team prides themselves on. Ridley’s lack of breakaway speed was put on display on the first play of the game. Ridley should have taken it to the house, but failed to kick it into another gear. He was caught from behind on a run that Shane Vereen takes to the end zone. While the passing game goes through some growing pains early in the season, it’s a good sign that the run game is already clicking on all cylinders.
3. Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins flashed early while working with the first team offense. Both players made contested catches down the field, something that no Patriots receiver could do last season. Thompkins had four receptions on the touchdown drive and was utilized on some of the same routes Aaron Hernandez used to run. His sight adjustment with Tom Brady, which resulted in a quick pass at the line, is a great sign. The fact that the two can already make audibles and adjustments at the line is encouraging. Thompkins converted a big third down in which he found the sticks and caught a back-shoulder throw. I’ve seen the comparison made to Chad Johnson and after watching him in this game I’d say they look eerily similar on the field.
4. Dobson, like Thompkins, had his moments in this game. His ability to catch the ball in tight coverage is his best asset and it showed on his first reception. Dobson doesn’t get the separation of Thompkins and Boyce, but is more physical. Dobson had a bad drop in the red zone and failed to shake coverage on a couple of occasions where it looked like he could have had a big play. Dobson played most of the game and was targeted on a number of vertical passes. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Patriots choose to get him the ball, because he lacks the type of route running ability that Boyce has.
5. LeGarrette Blount would have taken home MVP honors if it was handed out today. Blount, who is in a position battle with Brandon Bolden, definitely separated himself today. Blount is a bit of an anomaly as a runner. He has a big hulking frame, yet he is more of a finesse runner. His reverse field 51 yard touchdown was fun to watch, but probably wouldn’t have worked in a real game. His ability to make defenders miss in the open field isn’t what you’d expect from a RB that big. Aside from his long TD run, he impressed on a few more runs with his lateral agility and ability to get off tackle. At this point in time, Brandon Bolden should be worrying.
6. Ryan Mallett was OK tonight. As has been the case throughout his career Mallett seemed to leave plays out on the field. While I thought he made a few really nice throws, the rollout to Sudfeld was picture perfect, his incomplete pass to Josh Boyce in the endzone is tough to forget. If Mallett is going to elevate his game to the next level those are the types of throws he needs to make. Mallett ended the night 9-18 while playing behind the second string line. Next week I’d really like to see Mallett get reps behind the first string offensive line. On a couple plays Mallett had no shot to make something happen, although he hung in the pocket nicely. Overall, it wasn’t a bad performance, but it left me wanting more from him.
7. Jamie Collins received a lot of hype coming into the game and he flashed his versatile skill-set tonight. Collins came into the game with the “twos” and was used in a number of different ways from his OLB position. Collins rushed the QB more often than he did during training camp practices. He was used as a “B-gap” blitzer and also rushed out of his slot coverage position. As the season progresses I think we’ll see Collins used in blitz packages as well as the main sub-package LB. While I was impressed with his athleticism and versatility, it looked like Collins was thinking a little too much. He was a split second slow recognizing things and getting his jump off the snap. I’m sure the game was moving fast for him and his timing will get better as the season goes on. As for his downfield coverage, it’s still and area that needs plenty of work.
8. Let’s get this over with. Tim Tebow didn’t win any fans tonight with his “Pro-Style” Quarterbacking. He was late to get rid of the ball and threw some bad incompletions. If there was one big thing to take away from Tebow tonight, it’s the offense that was run when he was in the game. We saw the Patriots run some read option, pistol and inverted wish-bone formations. Tebow was pretty effective while running the read option and marched them down the field. During camp we saw the Patriots spend plenty of time practicing the read option with Tebow. It’s pretty clear that if Tebow has to QB this team for an extended period, the offense will be altered to highlight Tebow’s strengths. I still think it’s likely he makes the team.