The New England Patriots opened the preseason against the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday night after spending most of the week holding joint practices with Chip Kelly’s squad. There was a little controversy during the practice week with talk of the Patriots “bullying” the Eagles with cornerback Brandon Boykin speaking out to the media. With that silliness put to rest, it was time to get on the field and get a good look at the 2013 New England Patriots. With that, it is still preseason, and the first team offense and defense had limited snaps, but they both looked very similar to the 2012 New England Patriots in terms of results.
The first drive of the game opened with the Patriots in full bully mode, as they set the tone of the game and ran the ball down the throat of the Eagles first team defense behind Stevan Ridley’s 62 yard rush on the first offensive play of the game out of a two tight end set. The Patriots offense had Tom Brady under center, wide receivers Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson to his right with Amendola in the slot. Both tight ends (big rookie Zach Sudfeld and former New York Giant Jake Ballard tight to the line. Amendola motioned left across the line outside of Sudfeld on Brady’s left.
The Eagles defensive backs were tight to the lie against the Patriots wide receivers leaving ten of the eleven defenders within five yards of the line of scrimmage at the snap. The receivers released while Sudfeld and Ballard sealed the Eagles defenders outside. The offensive line got some good push from the middle guards and center Ryan Wendell. Tackle Sebastian Vollmer pancaked his defender putting him on his back on the ground and out of the play as Ridley took the ball straight up the middle and picked up the opening from Vollmer.
Running back Stevan Ridley did his part and made one cut up the middle with a burst and was almost 15 yards downfield when he was able to get past the first Eagle defender with a realistic chance to touch him. Rookie receiver Aaron Dobson ran with him shielding the cornerback from making a play on Ridley. Ridley was run down by Eagles defensive back Bradley Fletcher at the 18 yard line. Without passing the ball once on the first drive, the Patriots rushed six times for 80 yards and jumped out to a 7-0 lead after a pinch over three minutes.
The Eagles came back against the Patriot first team defense and Eagles quarterback Michael Vick converted a 3rd and six for 22 yard across the middle of the defense to wideout Jason Avant and then hit Desean Jackson on a 47 yard touchdown down the sidelines. Rookie cornerback Logan Ryan was in coverage and had no chance to make a play.
On Jackson’s touchdown, the Eagles were in a three wide set and quarterback Michael Vick in the shotgun. Jackson was split wide to the quarterback’s right with two wideouts on the left. A perfect pass from Vick made the play as cornerback Aqib Talib was with him and took away the sideline. The announcers on the local broadcast blamed Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib for not knocking Jackson off his route or being fast enough to stay with the speedster. However, it appeared that Talib was expecting a safety to help defend that side of the field with him and provide some help over the top .
Patriots safety Steve Gregory failed to get over to take away that side of the field. He was caught up underneath looking at the underneath pattern by tight end Brent Celek (well covered by slot cornerback Kyle Arrington) and was out of position. As happened multiple times last season, Gregory let the play past him and was ten yards away from the play. Talib appeared to keep Jackson turned inside where the help should be, but again Steve Gregory was out of position and made Talib look bad.
Fortunately, the Patriots first team offense got the ball back, and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady converted a big 3rd down and four to wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins on a nice grab on the sidelines. The undrafted rookie free agent caught four passes on the drive and Brady spread the ball around hitting him, Danny Amendola, rookie Aaron Dobson, and finally running back Shane Vereen for a 13 yard touchdown to cap the first team offense’s night.
Finally, the first team defense made a stop and created a turnover against Philadelphia top offensive unit (one drive with Michael Vick at quarterback, the other with Nick Foles). After giving up a 19 yard reception to Riley Cooper, the defense tightened and Patriots inside linebacker Brandon Spikes made his presence shown by sniffing out and snuffing the first down running play, and then taking down Philadelphia tight end Brent Celek short of the first down to force a punt.
After a three and out by the second team Patriots offense, new defensive tackle Tommy Kelly showed why the Patriots were so interested in him this offseason as he got to quarterback Nick Foles (along with an assist from impressive second year defensive end Chandler Jones) and forced a fumble (after head coach Bill Belichick brushed up on his challenge flag toss and reversed the incomplete pass call on the field). Brandon Spikes scooped up the fumble, and had the play not been whistled dead by the referees, may have turned Kelly’s sack and forced fumble into six points.
With that, the starters on offense and defense both were done for the night. The offense was sharp, just as all the news out of Philadelphia had been in practice all week. Running or passing, the offense was unstoppable. Even Tom Brady’s only incompletion had good pass blocking by the offensive line, and Brady had to throw the pass away after the coverage by the Eagles secondary prevented an open receiver on first down. Other than one big mistake by Steve Gregory on defense, the defense was able to bounce back and stop the Eagles offense on the two subsequent drives.
It was a good start to build off for the starters on both sides of the ball, but left one wanting to see more of Tom Brady and his young receivers on offense and see how a shuffling of the safeties on defense (starter Devin McCourty had the night off) could lead to more consistent results.