The Patriots’ first-team offense was in the game just long enough to see they’ll probably be a force to be reckoned with once again this season. And the No. 1s on defense were also in the game just long enough to see there’s still some work to be done on that unit.
Frankly, it was tough to gauge the reserves on offense with Tim Tebow at the helm. When passes are hitting the ground more often than they’re hitting receivers, it’s tough to take much away. But the running game was impressive all the way around. The second-team defense had their ups and downs as well.
It was just the first preseason game, but there were positives and negatives to go around all over the 90-man roster. Check out our five takeaways from the Patriots’ first preseason game against the Eagles below.
1. Patriots rookie wide receivers as good as advertised: Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce all had their moments on Friday night. And while Thompkins looked best out of the group, Dobson and Boyce looked ready to contribute as well.
Thompkins showed off his game-ready chemistry with Brady in the team’s second drive. He caught four passes for 23 yards and was getting open even with defenders draped on him. Dobson showed off his deep speed and Boyce, despite not catching a pass, displayed his sharp cuts in his route running. At this point, it appears the offense won’t skip a beat in replacing Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch at wide recevier. Danny Amendola looked great, as well, playing Wes Welker‘s role.
2. Running backs to be heavily involved in pass game: Shane Vereen took two snaps out wide with the first-team offense, and he showed his impressive skills and the deception he can bring to an offense on a 13-yard touchdown pass. The Eagles were stuck with Mychal Kendricks out covering him and the Patriots exploited the mismatch for six points. Vereen was targeted four times, Brandon Bolden twice and Leon Washington and Stevan Ridley once each.
For the Patriots to replace Aaron Hernandez, it will need to come at multiple positions and they’re still going to need to exploit matchups. They’ll need to be able to run when the defense comes out in nickel and pass when they’re out in base That means splitting out guys like Vereen and Zach Sudfeld, or bringing Michael Hoomanawanui in to play fullback.
3. Tight ends still major part of offense: With Hernandez gone, there was some thought that the Patriots would go away from the 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) we saw so often last season. That was not the case on Friday night, when some combination of Zach Sudfeld, Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui were out for most of the game. There were two- and three-tight end sets being run, and while they weren’t being targeted often, they were helping out big time in the run game.
The Patriots’ quarterbacks only targeted the four players five times. Fells got the ball thrown his way three times, while Sudfeld got two targets.
The tight ends were instrumental, though, in catapulting the running backs to 248 yards on 31 carries. It was Sudfeld who was out in front of Blount on his video game-esque carry. And Ballard was getting a push as the inline tight end early on in the first-team offense.
4. Patriots get push from middle of defense: It was almost shocking to see Tommy Kelly get after the passer so quickly up the middle of the defense. Those kind of plays did not exist last season with Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick clogging up the middle of the defense.
Marcus Benard, all 260 pounds of him, was getting some opportunities with the first and second units at defensive tackle as well on third down. Benard was also playing on the edge at defensive end and even as a coverage linebacker. While it was nice to see him get some opportunities to flash his versatility, he’s best as an edge rusher. He was getting swallowed whole at defensive tackle when the Eagles were running at him.
5. Patriots defenders still getting beat deep: It’s probably just a product of today’s NFL, but it was very familiar seeing Aqib Talib and Logan Ryan getting beat deep. Talib was beat for a touchdown by DeSean Jackson on the Eagles’ first drive, while Ryan was burned by Jason Avant. It makes you wonder where the safeties were, though.
On Talib’s play, Steve Gregory and Adrian Wilson were on the field. The play was over on Gregory’s side of the field and the TV cameras didn’t do a great job of showing where Gregory was on the play. He probably should have been helping out, though.
On Ryan’s play, Tavon Wilson was the culprit. Luckily, there should be a cure to this problem. Ryan should be limited to playing zone or in the slot and Talib will have McCourty helping out over the top. McCourty really excels at taking the top off the defense.
McCourty’s former teammate, Duron Harmon, had himself a nice game as a rookie, playing free safety. Harmon was just on time for a couple plays and didn’t appear to make any mistakes on first glance. If the Patriots want to play two safeties deep, McCourty and Harmon are their best options at this point.