NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
Tom Brady saw his first action of the pre-season and 155 days after agreeing to terms with the Patriots, Darrelle Revis was on the field playing in a Patriots uniform. After a somewhat sloppy and non-entertaining pre-season game vs. Washington, the Patriots had plenty to improve upon and took the field Friday night looking to do just that.
These are the games where players distinguish themselves and players either continue to build on early camp momentum or fizzle out. Who stood out and who struggled vs. the Eagles?
- The Patriots first team offense came out and looked much crisper than a week ago. Aside from one mis-communication between Tom Brady and fresh-off the street TE Steve Maneri, the offense moved the ball at will. Brady and Edelman looked in mid-season form. The highlight of the night came on a beautiful back-shoulder throw to Kenbrell Thompkins who made a nice adjustment in tight coverage for six points.
- Speaking of the back-shoulder throw, it’s a route that wasn’t used nearly enough over the last season or two. The route when executed correctly is nearly unstoppable and when you have a QB as accurate as Tom Brady, it should be a staple of the offense. Thompkins doesn’t create much separation but his size and “squirreliness” makes him a prime target on those types of throws.
- Jimmy Garoppolo built on the positive momentum he established last week with another impressive performance. He looked comfortable in the pocket, kept his eyes down the field, and completed some difficult throws. His quick release stands out in comparison to other NFL QBs and he can get rid of it quickly when the rush is bearing down. His 25 yard pass to Brandon LaFell with the pass rush in his face was a thing of beauty. It’s still early, but I’m very impressed with everything I’ve seen from Garoppolo in two games. He has some traits that can’t be taught and that bodes well for his future development.
- After listening to talk radio bash him all day, Ryan Mallett had a nice bounce back performance. He played the entire second half and finished 7/11 – 92 yards – 1 Pass TD/1 Rush TD. Mallett showed off nice pocket mobility and was able to complete a number of downfield passes. He always makes the “wow” throw, but tonight I was encouraged by his touch on shorter routes. He took velocity off a number of throws and was much more accurate in the short-intermediate area.
- Brandon LaFell continued his upward trajectory tonight and looks poised to be a key offensive contributor. I’m optimistic he can become the 3rd-4th offensive weapon and provide Tom Brady with much needed size. LaFell caught a TD from Jimmy Garoppolo and had a 25 yard gain earlier in the game. LaFell’s inside-outside versatility when combined with his size adds a dimension that was missing from the passing game last year.
- The Patriots offensive line carved up the Eagles defensive line all week in practices and that trend continued tonight. The dominance started from the very first play of the game when Nate Solder and Logan Mankins got a great surge off the line allowing Stevan Ridley to pick up 9 yards. The Patriots finished with 250 net yards rushing despite rotating offensive linemen in/out on almost every play. From top to bottom the entire offensive line played much better and I look forward to watching this unit closely when I re-watch the game tomorrow. Only 9 roster spots are available for Offensive Linemen and there will be some difficult decision to be made in the coming weeks.
- Strong Safety continues to be a revolving door with no clear leader in the clubhouse. What I touched on earlier in the week showed up again tonight. Each player in the Safety “mix”made positive plays, but were also exploited for some of their shortcomings. Chung brought a physical edge, but was beat in coverage. Harmon had an interception, but missed a few tackles (one led to a TD). Nate Ebner had an interception and a big hit, but also got beat multiple time. From this perspective it looks like a rotation will have to be used once the season begins. Rookie Jemea Thomas got his first action of the pre-season and had a nice pass breakup in the endzone.
- Roy Finch is a dynamic and exciting little player. Every time he touches the ball something good happens. He looks like he’s moving at a different speed and is very tough to bring down in the open field. His ability to stop/go, change direction, and accelerate adds a different skill-set to the backfield. Finch caught the ball really well tonight (one fastball from Ryan Mallett) and created yards after the catch. The fact he can return kicks and split out of the backfield to play receiver bodes well for his chances. At this point he has to be in the mix for a roster spot. If he doesn’t make it he will definitely be on the practice squad.
- Scott O’Brien’s special teams units were a mess all night long. The punting unit had two botched punts and Stephen Gostkowski missed a fairly easy field goal. Neither Allen or Gostkowski have had any competition in camp, maybe that changes this week. Danny Aiken solidified his grasp on the long snapper job tonight after Tyler Ott gave up a punt block. After a night like tonight, the Special Teams units have long, difficult week of practice ahead of them.
- Malcolm Butler continues to make impact defensive plays. He forced two fumbles tonight, recovered one of them, and was a willing tackler on the perimeter. Butler was far from perfect. He looked a little slow to recognize his zone assignments and was beat a couple times, but it’s clear he’s an NFL caliber corner. For the amount of snaps he played it was another impressive night. It looks like the West Alabama product has played his way onto the roster and I’d be surprised if he got released.
- Many of the second-third team defenders had rough nights. It’s difficult to pinpoint any one player without watching the game over, but at first glance Chris White had a tough night. He was exploited in coverage and really offers nothing outside of Special Teams. Once Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich left the field the defensive line failed to generate any pass rush and the defense had difficulty covering the Tight Ends all night long.
- Brian Tyms had another nice night. He made an impressive TD catch elevating over the defender and found a way to get his feet in bounds. Tyms would be a great story, but until he gets reps with Tom Brady and does this vs. top tier talent it’s tough to get too excited.
- Jonas Gray had a sneaky good night. It came vs. the scrubs, but he has some good moves and burst for a big, thick runner.
- The game was almost unwatchable with all the flags thrown. After each positive play I had to pause, look around, and wait for 10 seconds to make sure there wasn’t a penalty on the play. It was difficult to watch and if it continues into the regular season it will water down a great product.
- I’ll watch the film tomorrow and tweet out some breakdowns. Keep an eye out for those tweets tomorrow afternoon.