Patriots vs. Buccaneers: Thoughts and Observations

Ryan Mallett had his best night as a professional football player.

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.


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18 Responses to “Patriots vs. Buccaneers: Thoughts and Observations”

  1. Rob says:

    Why? Is he even on the roster.

  2. Rich says:

    Mike (or whoever can answer this), it seems like everyone is assuming that Leon Washington is going to make the roster. Does he have any value other than a kick returner? And if not wouldnt it just be better to have Vereen be the return man and not have to waste a roster spot? Thanks

  3. Bob Snowdon says:

    Tired of hearing radio shows panic about the back-up QB. Mallett has developed & after he settled in against Tampa he was fine (not great, but fine). I was impressed with his 2 minute drive in the 1st half. If not for Vareen dropping a catchable ball it would have eaten up the clock & probably lead to a score. Was it a good pass…no. but it was catchable. I haven’t read or heard anyone mention that drive. After the way he had settled in I was really disappointed to see TT enter the game to start 2nd half. Mallett is obviously the back-up & needs the reps. Tebow has shown he is clearly not an NFL QB. Nice guy, bad QB!

  4. stas peterson says:

    Patriot fans have been dismissive of Ryan Mallett, even now. They see the GOAT Brady play and then compare an inexperienced Ryan Mallett run a Brady tailored Offense and say he can’t cut it.

    Certainly, he doesn’t have Brady’s accuracy in the short passing game. Newsflash, no one else does either.

    The thing that dropped him from a First Round selection were not physical, athletic questions. No one could creditably complain about his rare athletic talents at QB. The questions about Mallett have rested on mostly anonymous, uncorroborated assertions about his lack of maturity and mental acuity.

    I assert that 90% of QB play is done between the ears. But I trust BB’s judgement.

    After Belichick conducted a multi-hour 1 on 1 discussion and quiz, he not only proclaimed him a true student of the game and that Ryan possessed a high football IQ, he proved its veracity, when he drafted him. The son-of-a-coach, Mallett can breakdown film and is good at interpreting what he sees, according to to Belichick.

    Ryan Mallett is dedicated, and proven coachable, and there is effort being directed at improving his perceived weaknesses. His footwork and gross accuracy has improved. The sailing passes have largely disappeared. He is trying to develop a “touch” for the short dump off pass, an abilty that is still a work-in-progress, but nevertheless, it IS a work-in-progress.

    The final proof I needed, was his un-noted selection as one of the Ten pre-season dedicated athletes that Belichick annually selects. That proves his dedication and willingness to work to get better. I fully believe that the sky is the limit for Mallett, and what is more, BB knows it.

    I am confident, that Malletts draft selection may eventually rank with other BB coups like the 6th round selection for unheralded Tom Brady, and the 21st pick for Vince Wilfork, the 6th pick for Richard Seymour and the 11th pick for Jerod Mayo.

    Ryan Mallett sits as a backup to Brady uncomplaining, as he should; but I believe he could likely start for half of the NFL teams right now.

  5. acm says:

    Here is an observation: Timmy T was money all game long … so happy they managed to beat everyone to securing his services.

  6. rte says:

    could Sudfeld be used in the same manner as Marques Colston? Colston was a tight end who became a wideout.

  7. JMC says:

    I thought the improved play of Mallet was the top story of this (preseason) game-

    • steve earle says:

      Agree that Mallett did well after he settled in. Not sure it’s the big story but it is encouraging. Makes me think if pressed into starting he would do.

      • JMC says:

        I think your right- and why it’s a story- Mallet’s not a bust- at least to where he should be in his development- Valuable chip if proves true- Does Tebow have to officially retire to become a scout?

        • steve earle says:

          Agree, Mallett isn’t a bust at least to this point and if his development continues he could become a valued starter. At worst he looks to be going to be at least a quality back-up. My quastion is, is this the final year of his contract and if so what are the chances he heads to another team?
          Tebow can’t make it as an NFL QB and may end up north of the boarder unless he changes position. Even then it will take awhile. I could see him as a H-back being of some value.What do you think? As for a scout I haven’t even thought of that but I know of no rule that requires him to retire for that.

  8. Jack says:

    This was a great review of the game. I’ve read all the breakdowns I could find, and this one stands out. Also the spelling / grammar checker working tonight 😉 Keep up the good work, Mike!

    I’m also thinking Logan Ryan is a keeper. I went to a couple of the practices, and he had a pick 6 last Wednesday as well. He’s improving, and is in position most of the time. He has a little trouble looking back (getting his head around), which is a pet peeve of mine. But, sometimes it’s better to go for the strip than turn around, which is a technique that I’ve come to see as being legitimate. I’m keeping my eye on that. I was initially as depressed about this pick as I as about the Tavon Wilson one, but after reading up on him, I thought maybe it was legitimate.

    It’s sad about Tavon Wilson. He seems kinda lost out there. He doesn’t have outstanding physical tools, but they’re adequate to be an NFL player. He needs to pull his mental game together, somehow. In any case, he was drafted way too high.

    Great observation on Bequette not being noticeable. I thought he was a great pick, but time has proven me wrong. I don’t think he makes the squad.

    It’s nice to see Collins get into the mix. He seemed to be in the middle of a number of plays last night. It’s really exciting to see all the talent in this years rookie class. Sudfield has unbelievable hands – better than Hernandez, imo. Thompkins, Boyce and Dobson all look like they can contribute as well. Then there’s Collins and Ryan. That’s at least 6 keepers. Maybe the DE from Rutgers makes the squad too, forgot his name.

    Agree on Kelly. It seems he can bring pressure on the inside, which is something the Pats have lacked forever. Also, great observations on Chandler Jones. How exciting is it to have a superstar in the making at DE? He looks poised to wreak havoc on the NFL for years to come.

    Mallet – he threw a perfect pass to Sudfeld. If he can ever iron out the short pass, he’ll be a legit NFL QB. He may be already. He moved the chains on consecutive drives. There’s nothing like a QB that can move the chains for you.

    Which bring me to Tim Tebow. I love the guy. He’s so nice to the fans after the practice – smiling, pleasant, and seems really charismatic. But. I’m starting to wonder. Even during his streak at Denver, he wasn’t doing a ton to move the chains. He did avoid turnovers, and good things seemed to happen for Denver when he took over. You can’t deny that.

    But when you compare him to a Brady or a Mallet – he doesn’t move the chains. You have to make the most of your opportunities, and he’s been given 4 valuable pre-season quarters to do that, but really hasn’t been much more than a 3-and-out machine. You can always hold out hope and make excuses – for example, they never let him throw on first down, so the other team is always ready for the pass. But, there’s a reason why they don’t throw on first with him – they don’t trust his ability. Not Denver, and not the Patriots. He’s Josh’s boy, so I’m thinking they will give him another few quarters to work with. If he doesn’t show real improvement, though, he will not make this team.

  9. Kyle says:

    I was really happy with the play of Brandon Spikes tonight. He was in the back field whenever he blitzed, and looked to be more explosive than ever. Maybe his off-season training regiment really helped him out.

    • JMC says:

      Talented- but consistency is the key- I don’t see him resigning even if he does play 16 + games-

      • steve earle says:

        I hope that his off season program is going to make that differance in consistency. Not a prediction, just a hope, and he did have a good game the other night. If he does become that steady ILB we all hope for chances would be Bill would try to keep him around I would think but we do seem to have flexability at the LB’s now.

  10. steve says:

    Thoughts on Mallett….

    I’m not referring to this article, but to all observations on any backup QB that takes snaps in preseason games. If anyone recalls, Cassel was horrible in preseason the year Brady went down and he ended up playing solid football for us and the rest is history (he got traded, we blew the pick, he sucked in KC and is now living large).

    Point being…

    You can NOT judge somebody by preseason snaps when they are coming off the bench and mostly playing with a few starters, or not the complete set of starters, and not in a real game. It’s like judging a baseball player off a pinch hitting opportunity during spring training…it doesn’t really matter. Mallett has the tools…I think if he started a few games in the regular season (if that were possible, and I hope it never happens here) he could be pretty good.

    These guys are not robots…they need to break a sweat…get into the game, play with the first team, when it counts, find a rhythm, find THEIR game.

    Much too much is being made of this guy and how he plays during practice and during a few series during practice/preseason games. He showed some nice plays tonight…I think he could play on a team…start for somebody.

    • steve earle says:

      Very good points about back-ups in pre-season. I’m begining to think Mallett may be the best we can hope for this year and that’s not at all a bad thing.

  11. CoachLarry says:

    Would you take: Amendola for Welker, Kelly for Love, STUDFELD for Hernandez, with a sprinkle of Thompkins and Blount on offense back in January?

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