Before the Patriots and the Jaguars took the field Thursday night to kick off the preseason, I passed along five key items that I would be watching throughout the game. So, how did they play out during the game? Some answers were evident whereas it looks like more preseason and practice are needed to account for others. Without any further ado, let’s take it away.
1. What defensive fronts do the Patriots line up in? The Patriots lined up predominantly in a 4-3 front with some 3-4 mixed in. In at least one instance, the Pats lined up in a 4-3 with Jermaine Cunningham at defensive end and after a motion by the Jags, he stood up to show more of a 3-4 front. However, he rushed the QB even though he made an adjustment. This hearkens back to Belichick’s comments about things staying the same though alignments could change. Responsibilities are responsibilities no matter what front they line up in. After a shaky start, the 4-3 tightened up and looked good, albeit with backups.
2. Competition on the defensive line. Most of the veteran players did not play during the game, but the younger guys did get a chance to show what they can do. Kyle Love, Darryl Richard, and Kade Weston held their own at defensive tackle, and pressure up the middle often allowed the pressure coming off the edge to be effective. Cunningham had a sack and veteran pick-up Mark Anderson showed his speed and ability to rush the pass as well. Without much of the other veterans playing, guys like Vince Wilfork, Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Ellis, and Andre Carter, it’s tough to get a good feel for the depth chart on the d-line at the moment.
3. Brian Hoyer vs. Ryan Mallett. Both quarterbacks had good nights, and their numbers were fairly equal. Hoyer went 15 of 21 for 171 yards and a touchdown while Mallett went 12 of 19 for 164 yards and a touchdown. Hoyer’s QB rating was 111.4 while Mallett’s QB rating was 108.2. Hoyer’s got a quicker release and more experience, so he’s got the advantage now for the top spot behind Tom Brady.
4. Is there a problem at safety? There weren’t any noticeable miscues with the safety play Thursday night, though there was a twist: Brandon Meriweather lined up at strong safety while Pat Chung lined up at free safety, a reversal of their usual roles. Chung did drop what would have been the easiest interception of his career, and Meriweather whiffed on a special teams tackle (and took a couple of tries to bring down a ball carrier), but nobody else really stood out either. It will be interesting to see what the Patriots do when (if?) James Sanders returns to the lineup.
5. Special teams. Kick-off coverage looked shaky from some of the more veteran players, but Matthew Slater, Tracy White, and rookie Malcolm Williams made some nice stops. Stephen Gostkowski seems to be back in tip-top shape after converting both of his field goals of 40+ yards, but long snapper Matt Katula snapped the ball over holder Zoltan Mesko’s head on an extra point. It was definitely and up-and-down night for special teams, and Bill Belichick will likely make that a point of emphasis this week in practice.