Patriots fans should be feeling confident after the team’s second preseason game of the summer.
While the second- and third-team offense and defense showed their limitations, the first-teamers were having no problem moving the ball and stopping Tampa Bay, respectively. The Patriots’ offense mixed the run and pass seamlessly in the first quarter, and that was without their full starting offensive line.
The Patriots’ defense was getting into the backfield on almost every play as Josh Freeman got beat for three sacks and Mike Glennon took another. Not only was New England’s front seven getting into the backfield, the defensive backs were having no problem blanketing Vincent Jackson and the Bucs’ receivers. Jackson had a huge day in Tuesday’s joint practice, but he was invisible out on the field Friday night.
Check out the top five takeaways from Friday night’s preseason action below.
1. Patriots’ first-team pass rush terrorizes Josh Freeman: Chandler Jones, Brandon Spikes and Rob Ninkovich couldn’t stay out of the Buccaneers’ backfield in the first quarter. Ninkovich came away with two sacks while Jones and Spikes each picked up one. Jones and Marcus Benard were in on one of Ninkovich’s sacks, while Spikes was also in on the other.
Jones looks like he’s beefed up this offseason, which he said came in his upper body. It doesn’t look like it’s slowed him down at all out on the field. He was having no problem beating tight ends and tackles with his quickness. He got into the backfield quick with a spin move for a tackle for loss.
Spikes was blitzing up on the middle on quite a few plays. Since the Patriots have been using Benard at defensive tackle, it might be a good move to blitz Spikes up the middle a lot in nickel packages. That adds some extra punch in the middle of the field in sub packages if the offense decides to run the ball. Spikes has shown a tendency to get into the backfield quickly from that spot and can blow up running backs that are trying to prevent him from hitting their quarterback.
The Patriots had a tough time pressuring Michael Vick in their first preseason game, but the first-team front seven was firing on all cylinders in this one. Jones should have no problem putting up double-digit sack numbers if he stays healthy.
2. Patriots’ depth on defensive line struggles against Buccaneers’ reserves: Once the first-teamers came out of the game, it got ugly quick along the Patriots’ defensive line. Justin Francis was invisible for most of the game, Michael Buchanan lacks power, so he finds himself three yards past the quarterback on most snaps, Marcus Forston and Cory Grissom had flashes, but were mostly ineffective, Marcus Benard didn’t have his strongest game and Jake Bequette couldn’t get anything going from five-tech or seven-tech defensive end.
It’s still unclear what the Patriots will do in nickel packages at defensive tackle. Vince Wilfork will likely take one spot, but Benard hasn’t been working out at the three-technique spot. He’s having trouble getting off blocks from the inside and if the offense runs at him, he gets pushed back with ease. Francis hasn’t flashed at the position either, and while Forston looks good if he can cheat the snap count, he can’t get a push otherwise.
Jermaine Cunningham has been out with an injury for a few weeks now, but if he gets healthy, he’ll likely still get a shot at that third-down inside role. No one else is flashing at the position.
3. Tom Brady doesn’t let knee tweak affect his game: Brady was nothing short of amazing in his first game back since giving New Englanders a scare on Wednesday afternoon. Brady had his knee brace back on, but there were no signs of wear on his left knee and Bill Belichick said the team is far past the injury at this point.
Brady’s only incompletion on the night probably could have been caught by Danny Amendola, but the slot receiver got tied up in the middle of the field. Otherwise, Brady and Amendola were on the same page to the tune of 71 yards on six catches.
As long as Amendola stays healthy, he could be even more productive than Welker in this offense. Amendola has been extremely impressive all summer.
Brady’s first two preseason performances couldn’t have gone better. He appears to be on the same page as Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, Zach Sudfeld and Shane Vereen. Vereen and Amendola were competing for second-best in the Patriots’ offense behind Brady. Vereen had four receptions for 46 yards and four carries for 29 yards. Get used to those kind of games from the third-down back.
4. Tim Tebow doesn’t look like NFL quarterback: As good as Brady was, Tebow was just as bad. The third-stringer completed just 1-of-7 passes for -1 yards and an interception. It was the kind of showing that really makes one wonder what he’s doing on an NFL roster. Tebow was overthrowing and underthrowing receivers and running backs all night.
To say Tebow wasn’t on the same page as his receivers would be a severe understatement. His receivers were reading War and Peace while Tebow was on Page 1 of a Goosebumps book.
It’s unfortunate, too. Tebow came out to cheers from the crowd and looked legitimately good on Wednesday afternoon in practice after Brady had gone down with the knee injury. By the end of the game, though, Tebow was coming off the field to boos. If there was a positive to come away from Tebow’s performance, he looked good running the ball. But he always does.
5. Jamie Collins has coming-out party: It was a solid day overall for the Patriots’ linebackers, but Collins and Spikes were the stars of the show. Collins was playing outside and inside linebacker and was making plays in both roles. He completely blew up the backfield on one play, giving Bucs’ running back Michael Smith a german suplex. His best two plays, though, came on the goal line when he prevented David Douglas and Derek Hagans from getting into the end zone on consecutive snaps.
Collins’ versatility and athleticism are what got him drafted in the second round and while he may not contribute heavily in 2013, due to Spikes, Dont’a Hightower and Jerod Mayo playing in front of him, Collins will find a role this season in some capacity. He’s a strong pass rusher and coverage guy and he really showed off his tackling and run stopping ability against Tampa Bay.