Patriots-Saints Takeaways: Pass Rushers Primed For Disruptive Season

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Aug 12, 2016

It might be a long year for quarterbacks and offensive linemen facing the New England Patriots.

The Patriots’ pass rush looked deep and dangerous in Thursday night’s preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints, and they didn’t even have starter Rob Ninkovich on the field. Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long and Shea McClellin impressed early, and Trey Flowers, Rufus Johnson and Geneo Grissom kept the heat coming all game.

It will be fascinating to see how all of the Patriots’ pass rushers are deployed this season, but Sheard, Ninkovich, Long, McClellin and Flowers all deserve regular pass-rushing snaps. Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins are among the best blitzing linebackers in the NFL, so pressure on opposing quartebacks could come from all angles.

See how the Patriots specifically fared in the passing game in their 34-22 win at Gillette Stadium.

PASS RUSH
Rufus Johnson: six hurries
Trey Flowers: sack, QB hit, two hurries, forced holding
Geneo Grissom: sack, three hurries
Jabaal Sheard: QB hit, three hurries
Chris Long: three hurries, forced holding
Shea McClellin: three hurries
Vincent Valentine: two hurries
Joe Vellano: QB hit
Dont’a Hightower: hurry
Terrance Knighton: hurry
Ramon Humber: hurry

— Johnson led the way with six total pressures, but Flowers’ plays had a greater impact. He made a highly athletic play on a strip-sack/fumble recovery for a touchdown, when he rushed from the inside, maintained his balance while slipping to the outside of the guard, then dove for the sack while also reaching outside for the football. Flowers could be used in a number of different roles this season, rushing both off the edge and from the inside. He had success in both spots. His key will be staying healthy.

— McClellin and Long, both of whom received increased opportunities with Rob Ninkovich out, had positive contributions. McClellin played both at defensive end and linebacker.

— Valentine proved to be disruptive as he played late in the game.

PASS PROTECTION
Shaq Mason: QB hit, three hurries
Nate Solder: 1 1/2 sacks, hurry
Marcus Cannon: QB hit, two hurries
Ted Karras: QB hit, hurry
LaAdrian Waddle: two hurries
David Andrews: 1/2 sack
Joey Iosefa: QB hit
Chris Barker: hurry
Joe Thuney: hurry

— Thuney was extremely impressive in his NFL preseason debut, allowing only one hurry. It would be surprising at this point if he didn’t begin the season as the starting left guard.

— On top of having a 44-yard touchdown run, Tyler Gaffney was solid in pass protection.

— Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming were among Patriots offensive linemen not to be charged with a pressure.

— Andrews, Stork, Karras and Josh Kline all played center.

— It will be interesting to see who starts at right guard in Week 2 of preseason. It could be Mason, Kline or Jonathan Cooper, if he can return from his foot injury.

PASS COVERAGE
Justin Coleman: 2-2, 62 yards
Jonathan Jones: 5-7, 40 yards, two PBUs
Kamu Grugier-Hill: 3-4, 34 yards
Ramon Humber: 4-5, 30 yards
E.J. Biggers: 1-2, 28 yards
V’Angelo Bentley: 2-2, 17 yards
Patrick Chung: 1-1, 11 yards
Cyrus Jones: 1-1, 9 yards
Shea McClellin: 1-1, 7 yards
Cedric Thompson: 1-2, 6 yards
Kevin Snyder: 1-1, 6 yards
Chris Long: 1-1, 4 yards
Cre’von LeBlanc: 1-4, 4 yards, INT, PBU
Darryl Roberts: 0-1, defensive pass interference
Malcolm Butler: 0-1
Trey Flowers: 0-1
Elandon Roberts: 0-1
Jamie Collins: 0-1, INT

— Coleman was beat deep twice. He was having an up-and-down, though ultimately solid, training camp. If Coleman continues to give up big plays, Cyrus Jones could take over the No. 3 cornerback spot.

— Cre’von LeBlanc had the best game among cornerbacks fighting for the fifth roster spot.

— Jonathan Jones appeared to get banged up on the drive in which he allowed the touchdown.

— Chung caused a deflection on Collins’ pick-six interception.

PASSING GAME
— I didn’t charge the Patriots with any drops. Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell and tight end A.J. Derby specifically stood out. Mitchell, who suffered a dislocated elbow, does a nice job catching the ball away from his body. Derby’s playing strength on contested grabs catches the eye.

— Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett both made throws they probably would like to take back, but overall, it was a solid preseason opener based on where both QBs are in their careers. Garoppolo, a third-year pro, avoided mistakes, and Brissett, a rookie, didn’t seem to let some near-interceptions linger in his head.

Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images

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