The New England Patriots initial preseason game did little to assuage concerns about some key back-ups. While rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo shined fellow backup Ryan Mallett struggled. Starters Tom Brady, Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty, Jerod Mayo, Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins, Rob Gronkowski, Rob Ninkovich, Dont’a Hightower, Danny Amendola, Logan Mankins, and Julian Edelman were all on the sidelines for the first preseason game making it very difficult to draw conclusions about the team from just warm-up performance.
That said, it was a fantastic showcase for the understudies to take to the stage and get a chance to perform with the spotlight shining brightly on them. Some took advantage of the opportunity and opened some eyes; others missed a golden chance to grab a role and run with it. Time to take a second look at the tape to see who was a shining star and who was a disappointment during the first preseason game on last Thursday night before moving on to the next preseason game this week .
There is no bigger indicator to the offense’s success in New England than the offensive line play. Give Brady time in the pocket and the backs running lanes and the offense is unstoppable no matter what injuries do to thin the ranks of the rest of the skill-position players. Left tackle Nate Solder had a rough game one of the preseason against Washington getting beat by Brian Orakpo and allowing a sack and having a costly holding penalty negating a first down conversion.
Developmental tackle Jordan Devey got the start in Logan Mankins’ spot at left guard and moved to left tackle for the second half of the game as he was was given a full game of much needed work. The run blocking left a lot to be desired against the first team Washington defense but improved as the game went along. The pass blocking improved once Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo were on the sidelines, but there is still more work for the line to do in getting ready for the regular season. Rookie tackle Cameron Fleming looked stout in pass blocking in the second half and guard Chris Barker looked stronger and stouter on passing plays but seemed to get overwhelmed a few times on running plays.
Just seeing veteran defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly back on the field together again was a big boost for the defense. The two did strong work in the first five or six games of the season last year and the defense really struggled without them anchoring the middle of the defensive line. Second-year defensive tackle Joe Vellano had some strong moments in the second half as he generated some inside pressure and was stout in the running game. Fellow second-year tackle Chris Jones had some rough moments in the run defense as he was moved off the point with ease. Unfortunately, Jones injured his ankle/lower leg and will likely miss a few weeks further cutting into the depth where Sealver Siliga is already out with a hand/arm injury.
With no Darrelle Revis and Alfonzo Dennard not yet ready to play, the starting duo was Brandon Browner and undrafted free agent Malcolm Butler. Butler does not even have his own number as he shares number 29 with running back Roy Finch. Browner showed up in the playbook with an illegal contact penalty with about 4 minutes to play in the first quarter. Browner made up for it with a strong play in the running game on the next play (even though Michael Buchanan was flagged for a late hit after the play).
Butler was the star of week one with a couple of nice plays in the first quarter against Washington wide receiver Aldrick Robinson in coverage and a near interception on Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins’ first pass of the game. Butler allowed just two receptions and outperformed second-year cornerback Logan Ryan. Ryan was burnt on a slant route by Robinson on the first touchdown of the game. Ryan allowed completions on 4 of 5 passes in his coverage for 75 yards and the touchdown.
Wide receivers Brandon LaFell, Kenbrell Thompkins, and Josh Boyce all flashed some potential in the offense on the third drive of the game at the end of the first quarter into the second quarter. Thompkins made a nice grab on the right sideline in heavy coverage on third-and-five which was negated by Boyce lining up offside. On the last play of the first quarter Boyce worked the middle of the field and sat down just past the first down marker and made a nice move to make a defender miss and pick up three more yards. Finally, LaFell made a nice first down grab lined up on the right side in a five wide look with Mallett in the shotgun. LaFell was lined up closest to the line in old “Aaron Hernandez” spot and converted a first down. LaFell had a nice route later and had positioning on Redskins linebacker Will Compton but Mallett chucked it at his feet
Much later in the game wide receiver Brian Tyms shook up the fanbase as he went off for 5 receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown (and nearly two). Tyms is on his fourth team and faces a four game suspension. Tyms may last at roster cutdowns due to his suspension allowing New England pushing the decision back a month. Of course, he needs to show this kind of ability against better players to stick in New England with the already crowded wide receiving group.
One dropped pass. No separation. No explosion off the line. Getting pushed off camera while trying to block in the running game. Sixty combined snaps by undrafted free agent rookies Asa Watson and Justin Jones without any significant positive contribution other than some decent help in pass blocking on the handful of plays when they stayed in to block. Going through the tape again there was little to see by Watson or Jones to inspire confidence. Head coach Bill Belichick obviously felt the same and pulled the plug on the duo over the weekend.