1. Brady Sharp As Ever
Brady appeared to be in mid-season form tonight, as he led the Patriots to touchdowns on both drives he appeared in. The first touchdown drive did not feature a pass from Brady, but he showed us what the Patriots passing offense is capable of, in his second, and final series of the night. Brady marched his team on a 10 play, 80 yard drive that was capped by a 13 yard touchdown pass to running back Shane Vereen. Brady completed four passes to Kenbrell Thompkins, one to Aaron Dobson, one to Danny Amendola, and of course his final throw of the night went to Vereen for the touchdown. Brady dissected this Eagle defense, knowing where to go with the football, and then delivering it with his trademark accuracy. This opening game of the preseason went about as well as Brady could have hoped for, and now, I am sure he is already focused on the next week of practice to keep improving with his new teammates.
2. Thompkins Stands Out Among Rookie Receivers
Throughout training camp, most of the buzz has been surrounding the Pats incoming crop of rookie receivers. Standing out among these three players had been second round pick Aaron Dobson. Dobson had a decent game tonight, finishing with two catches for 35 yards, but undrafted free agent Kenbrell Thompkins stole the the show in my opinion. As I mentioned above, Thompkins caught four balls on the second drive of the night, and while those were his only receptions of the night, I was extremely impressed with what I saw. I thought Thompkins brought a solid outside presence to the offense, and he made a couple key “possession” catches on the outside. His first reception of the night was a slick back shoulder catch on a key third and four early in the game. Thompkins knew how to work the sidelines, and he showed that he and Brady had developed a nice little rhythm throughout camp. The third and final rookie receiver, Josh Boyce, did not show up on the box score as he was only targeted one time throughout the game.
3. Pass Defense Struggles
It is worth noting before I begin talking about the Pats pass defense, that they were without the services of cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, and safety Devin McCourty. Both of these guys are key pieces on this defense, and they will definitely help this group when they return.
With this being said, I was disappointed with how the Patriots pass defense performed tonight. Granted it is a preseason game, and they were missing a couple of key guys, but as a unit they struggled quite a bit. Aqib Talib was beat early by Desean Jackson on a 47 yard bomb from Michael Vick that gave the Eagles their first score of the contest. Talib was just flat out beat by Jackson on the play, and never had a shot at breaking up the completion. Talib covering Jackson is a really bad matchup for the Patriots because Talib is not built to cover guys like him. Jackson is one of the fastest guys in NFL, and Talib is built to cover bigger, more physical receivers. Another problem that surfaced was the linebackers. This was a problem in 2012, and it was a problem again tonight. The Pats backers were beat multiple times by Eagles tight ends and running backs across the middle of the field, and that is something that will have to be fixed heading into the regular season. Not to pick on him, but I was very disappointed in Dont’a Hightower tonight. He was beat a couple times in the passing game, especially on third down (although the man that beat him, Bryce Brown, is a very underrated back in this league), and those third down plays are the ones that resonate with us.
4. Pats Struggle With Read Option
When it was announced that Chip Kelly would be the next head coach in Philadelphia, we all knew that he would bring some of his college offense with him. The Patriots saw a lot of that tonight in the form of the read-option, and they didn’t handle it very well. The Pats linebackers were frequently caught flat footed, and what ensued was either a solid gain from a running back, or one of the Eagles quarterbacks completing a pass down the field. This is something that New England will have to work on, because they will face a number of teams that run an offense similar to this, in the regular season. The Eagles finished the game with 131 yards on the ground, and a good amount of that can be attributed to an effective read-option. The edge guys have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders when it comes to stopping the read-option, so that means guys like Rob Ninkovich, Jamie Collins, and Chandler Jones will have to step up.
5. LeGarrette Blount Shines
Easily the biggest surprise of the game was the emergence of LeGarrette Blount. He finished with 11 carries for 101 yards and two touchdowns. Blount showed his trademark power, and leaping ability, but he also showed us that he is much more athletic than we thought. His 51 yard touchdown run in the second quarter was extremely unexpected, but it was something that I am sure the Patriots will welcome. Blount showed good vision on that play, with a pretty huge cut to the weak side and then back again as he “sprinted” away for the score. If Blount keeps up this kind of play throughout the preseason, I am positive that he will not only make the team, but have a significant impact on the squad in the coming months.