The Patriots fell to the Giants 20-17 for their final preseason game, and with the preseason is officially over, focus across the NFL is now shifting to the regular season. Before we shift our focus that way as well, let’s take a last look back at the final preseason game by recapping the “5 to Watch” I provided yesterday.
1. How long, if at all, will the starters play? Both the offensive and defensive starting units played to series last night with mixed results. The defense gave up a quick 6 to the Giants’ starting offense the opening series of the game and then stopped the offense on the following series. The defense was helped by a botched flee flicker attempt on their second series. The Patriot offense scored a touchdown on their opening drive but then Tom Brady threw an INT on a deep attempt to Randy Moss on their second series. I think the offense has the potential to be great this year but the defense still has plenty of question marks.
2. Corner back bounce-back. The starting tandem of Darius Butler and Devin McCourty had a decent couple of series, with McCourty seeing most of the action. He had tight coverage on the speedy Hakeem Nicks, though he did give up a first down on a 12-yard completion to Nicks. McCourty finished the game with 3 tackles (mostly in run support) and a pass defensed while Butler had 1 tackle.
3. Wherefore art thou, Maroney-io? Laurence Maroney saw his first significant action of the preseason last night, but he did not start. Maroney came on the field in the second quarter on the Pats’ third offensive series with the back-ups. He had a decent but unspectacular night, running for 32 yards on 9 carries (3.6 YPC) behind a poor offensive line. One play in particular he was hit in the backfield just after he received the hand-off from Brian Hoyer. Despite not seeing much action, and never playing with the starting unit this preseason, Maroney’s spirits still seemed to be up. When asked if he was frustrated, he responded, “Not really. I am a team player. I always tell you guys from year in and year out, whether I get all the carries, no carries or 10 carries, I just want to win. I just want to be part of a winning team. We definitely have a lot of great backs. I feel like any of our backs, if on a different team, maybe could start. Whenever they call my number, I’m going to be ready.” The question is, will he start this season? How often will he be called upon to carry the ball?
4. Underneath coverage. The defense’s coverage of underneath routes and middle/seam plays still leaves a lot to be desired. The Giants picked apart the defense mostly through these types of routes. The coverage by the middle linebackers, namely Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes, must improve if the team hopes to be able to stop people this season. The Pats also need better play out of their nickel and dime corners. At first glance it appeared that the safeties were mostly playing two-deep zones and didn’t have any man-to-man coverage responsibilities. That is certainly going to change once the team does some actual game-planning during the regular season, which should help the team in covering those underneath and middle routes.
5. The final push for a roster spot. No players really made a big splash to lock up a roster spot. WR Darnell Jenkins had the most impressive night, catching 5 balls for 93 yards and a TD. He took one short pass from Brian Hoyer 66 yards, showing some blazing speed. Unfortunately for him, there’s a ton of depth at WR and he likely will not make the 53-man roster, though he is certainly a target for the practice squad. As for looking at special teams to see who will round out the back end of the roster, Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com has a break-down of the starting punting and kick-off units. At first glance, it appears that S Sergio Brown, who played on all 4 special teams units, and OLB Marques Murrell and WR Sam Aiken, who played on 3, are safe, though you never really can tell. OLB Rob Ninkovich also likely has a spot locked down for his special teams play and ability to contribute on defense.