Aug 9, 2012; Foxboro, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Ryan Mallett (15) prepares to make a pass against the New Orleans Saints during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE

New England Patriots Ryan Mallett player to watch


Not only should close eyes be kept on Philadelphia Eagles rookie backup quarterback Nick Foles, but New England Patriots second-year backup quarterback Ryan Mallett is also a player to watch carefully in tonight’s Monday Night Football preseason clash between the Eagles and Patriots at 8:00 p.m.

It’s easy to write off Mallett’s first preseason game this season against the New Orleans Saints as simply being “terrible” due to his underwhelming 8-19 line that included an interception to Marquis Johnson. He looked uncomfortable under pressure and almost robotic in the pocket. Mallett overthrew his receivers by several occasions, including some brutal throws that completely missed the target.

He finished the day with an average of just 4.7 yards per attempt, but there were some pluses to take out of the game. Mallett showed off his rocket arm and pure throwing ability on a few occasions, showing that he can make difficult throws with precision at times. While he did show flashes, the key for Mallett is becoming more consistent as he develops. In all honesty, his first game against the Saints was discouraging but it wasn’t as bad as the stats indicated. I mean, it was bad, but it isn’t something to be freaking out about.

Still, Ryan Mallett does need to become a more consistent passer. Flashes are nice, but it would be much better to see the former Arkansas star build on those flashes and put together a consistent game. With Tom Brady likely limited, Mallett is going to receive a lot of playing time against a Philadelphia Eagles team that will be playing all their available starters- with the probable exception of Nnamdi Asomugha- into the third quarter.

He’s going to have time to impress against high-level competition, and it would be great for him to cut down on those overthrows. He’s not going to look more comfortable in the pocket overnight, but more experience will definitely give Mallett a better feel for the game.

The offensive line in front of him is going to go up against the deepest and most talented defensive line in the NFL. It’s a reason why the Patriots will be getting Brady out of there as fast as possible, because Marcus Cannon and Nate Solder didn’t exactly instill confidence with their play last time out. Solder will be going up against a tough pass rushing duo in Trent Cole and Brandon Graham at DE, while Cannon can consider himself lucky that he doesn’t have to play against Jason Babin (injured).

The tackles will have their hands full, so be sure to watch for those two; specifically Solder. I want to see how he holds up against one of the best DEs in the game against both the pass and run in Cole, as well as an explosive, young pass rusher in Graham. Solder is a good run blocker, but he obviously has some kinks to work out in pass protection as he develops into a quality pass blocker down the road.

The Patriots have their own talented young pass rusher in Chandler Jones, who looks far more polished than originally thought. With King Dunlap expected to receive heavy playing time at left tackle, Jones should be able to feast on a player who is worse than the guy he beat up in his debut; Pro Bowl tackle Jermon Bushrod. Jones is a fun player to watch, and we’ll see if the first-round pick-up can steal the show again.

Throughout the day, I have been profiling players who have a big game ahead of them tonight against the Eagles; including players for the opposition. You can check out the game preview and a piece on safety Nate Ebner.

You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.

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