Aug 7, 2014; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins running back Evan Royster (26) carries the ball as New England Patriots strong safety Tavon Wilson (27) defends in the second quarter during a preseason game at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots vs. Washington Redskins: Five Takeways From Preseason Opener

The New England Patriots fell to the Washington Redskins by a score of 23-6 tonight, as they really struggled in their 2014 preseason opener.

With that said, the Pats held most of their starters out of tonight’s contest, which is smart, considering they demolished the Skins in practice this week, and there is no point in risking any injuries to the important contributors. There are plenty of things to take away from this game, so let’s get right to it.

1. Jimmy Garoppolo Shines

This was easily the biggest story tonight. When pretty much everybody else sucked, the rookie stepped up, and played extremely well in his first NFL game. After Ryan Mallett struggled in the first half, Garoppolo came on in the second, and along with receiver Brian Tyms, lit up the Washington secondary.

Garoppolo showed off his terrific deep ball accuracy, a lighting quick release, some good pocket awareness, and some damn good mobility. His touch on the deep ball was particularly impressive, as he connected on three separate beauties to Tyms. He was also composed in the pocket, did not panic, and made the right play every single time. Obviously this is just preseason, but this was a great debut for Garoppolo.

He completed nine of 13 passes for 157 yards, and a touchdown.

2. Offensive Line Struggles

The biggest question mark of this team heading into the preseason was how the offensive line would hold up. Through the first game, the answer is not too good. This group struggled as a unit, and while they only gave up one sack, Ryan Mallett was under constant pressure, and the Pats finished with a mere 63 rushing yards.

Nate Solder struggled out of the gate, getting hit with a holding penalty on the first drive, and giving up a sack on the next. But it seemed like he settled in after that, although he didn’t play much after that either. The same can be said for Sebastian Vollmer, who had a rough start, but appeared to settle down. The real problem came from the interior, where Jordan Devey, Jon Halapio and Josh Kline had rough outings. All of these players were consistently blown off the ball, which completely disrupted the rhythm of the offense. The only good news about this, is hopefully Kline and Devey will never have to play during the regular season.

Dan Connolly played center for the team in the first half, while Ryan Wendell took over in the second. This speaks as to how Bill Belichick feels about the center battle, although this may just be a rotational thing he is trying out. From what I could see, Connolly and Wendell did fine, aside from their usual slip-ups.

3. Malcolm Butler Earning Roster Spot

The defense as a whole really struggled tonight, but one huge positive was cornerback Malcom Butler’s play. Perhaps someone gave Darrelle Revis the wrong jersey, because it honestly seemed like Revis was out there tonight. Butler was all over the Redskins’ wideouts, giving them no space to operate, knocking down multiple passes, and generally just putting them on an island.

He did pick up a late hit penalty in the first half, which is never good in Bill Belichick’s eyes, but his play was so good, I would personally let the flag slide. Obviously Butler cannot earn a roster spot right now, but he is on the right track. With Brandon Browner out for the first four games of the year, Butler may even see some playing time at the beginning of the season. But he must continue this strong play over the next three weeks.

4. Chris Jones Injured

After Sealver Siliga injured his left hand in practice earlier this week, the Pats were already pretty thin at defensive tackle. But now when you factor in Chris Jones’ knee injury, the Pats may need to add more depth in the middle in the coming days. Jones had a solid 2013 season, and was expected to be a big contributor in 2014. However in the second quarter, fellow defensive tackle Macrus Forston fell on Jones’ ankle, thus injuring his teammate.

Hopefully this is not too serious, but the initial signs aren’t good. Having good depth in the middle is key to a good run defense, which is essential in the NFL. Look for the Patriots to address this situation in the near future.

5. Backup Linebackers Awful

Perhaps the worst unit in this game, the linebackers. The starting trio of Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins, and Dont’a Hightower did not play, which forced Steve Beauharnais, Darius Fleming, and James Anderson into action.

All three of them were putrid.

Missed tackles, missed coverages, bad angles, not getting off blocks, biting on the play-action. They were guilty of all of these things tonight, and it cost them a lot of yardage. Good linebacker play is one of the most important aspects of an elite defense, because they control the middle of the field. If the opposition can pound you on the ground, and eat you alive between the hashes, the ballgame is over. Beauharnais in particular was really bad today, despite his nine tackles.

Mayo, Collins, and Hightower better stay healthy all year long.

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