A look back at the tape of the New England Patriots’ preseason finale versus the New York Giants sheds some light on a few different players. While the Giants won 16-13, the final score is really irrelevant. As always, the last preseason game gives the coaches a chance to evaluate backups and the depth behind the starters. With the only projected starters on the field being players for the Giants, the first few drives of the game were a golden opportunity for New England to match-up their backups against the Giants’ top players. Here are a few key stories from the final preseason game having an impact on the Patriots’ 2014 season.
The rookie quarterback has received much press for his work on Thursday night against the Giants. He had some good throw and bad throws, some good decisions and bad decisions, some scary plays and others full of promise. In short, what you would expect from a rookie quarterback. The key drives of the game were the first two as he faced off against the Giants first team defense:
His start was rocky as his first pass to newcomer Tim Wright was batted down by Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul as he got up in the air to bat down the first pass by Garoppolo. He made up for that with a great pass on third-and-nine as he found Kenbrell Thompkins on the left sideline at first down sticks. He missed Josh Boyce who broke open on a bad jam by veteran Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie but by the time Garoppolo got the ball to him Rodgers-Cromartie had closed on Boyce and the ball sailed. Boyce also seemed to slow down rather than sprint deep and stay a step ahead of the cornerback. The drive ended when former Seahawks cornerback Walter Thurmond broke-up and almost picked a tight squeeze short of the first down sticks.
The second drive began with a pair of ineffective runs by James White setting up a third-and-long. On third-down and eight he left the pocket and threaded a dangerous pass sidearm to fellow rookie Jeremy Gallon. The pass sailed right over the arms of Giants cornerback Thurmond as he was is tight coverage. The next play Garoppolo threw deep right to Boyce again and the ball was picked off by backup cornerback Zachary Bowman. Again, Boyce seemed to slow up on his deep route but Garoppolo had no business throwing the ball up into such tight coverage. He was saved by an illegal contact flag on Bowman.
After two running plays, Garoppolo was in the shotgun for a third-and-three. A quick three-step drop saw him throwing right to Aaron Dobson on a short end route. Rodgers-Cromartie was in tight coverage and broke it up. Dobson was the first option and could have run a tighter route to get separation. Hard to blame Garoppolo there as the ball was put in the right spot. Garoppolo finished 2 of 6 for 28 yards and an interception overturned by penalty.
The first two drives did not result in points for the Patriots against the Giants’ first-team defense, but that they moved the ball and were competitive was a win for the New England coaching staff. Garoppolo looked like a rookie, but he looked like a rookie with potential which was the best part of the opening drives. Now the question for him becomes whether he is the only backup to Tom Brady or if he ends up as third-string with Ryan Mallett making the team.
On the offensive line there was much talk about left guard Josh Kline, but there was plenty to see with many young players up front. My eyes were drawn to preseason stalwart Jordan Devey and fourth-round draft pick Cameron Fleming at the tackle spots for most of the first two drives. Devey was out at left tackle to start the game and faced-off against All-Pro Jason Pierre-Paul. Pierre-Paul batted the first pass of the game in a veteran move when blocked, but Devey was impressive against the speed rusher keeping him bottled up on inside moves and pushing him wide outside. Fleming held up well on the other side against Giants’ defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka.
In the running game both tackles had some curious decisions that resulted in short runs. On the second drive of the game against the first team defense the Patriots ran James White on a sweep right with Fleming leading the way. Devey covered some ground pulling showing some good movement. Fleming let safety Stevie Brown run past him and hit White in the backfield. Fleming lined up Rodgers-Cromartie and pancaked the veteran cornerback out-of-bounds and out of the play, but even a chip on Brown would have made for a positive play.
On the next run, Devey dropped back like he was pass blocking (not sure if he was trying to sell a draw play) and allowed Pierre-Paul to bounce off him and wrap up White for a short gain. It looked as if Fleming was doing the same on the opposite side so it may have been a design to try and draw the defensive end in deep and out of the play.
On the second drive, Devey and Fleming were lined up next to each other on the right side when they sprung White for his best run against the Giants’ first team defense gaining six yards. Fleming was on the left side the next play on a short run that set-up a third-down and three. The third down incompletion was a quick, three-step drop, but the pressure was not there. Overall, it was a strong performance by the three draft picks Fleming, Bryan Stork, and Jon Halapio as well as the potential starting left guards second-year players Josh Kline and Devey. Chris Barker played the whole game bouncing between right guard and over to left tackle.
Did anyone notice the lack of penalty flags after week-after-week of defensive holding and pass interference calls? The Patriots were flagged for three accepted penalties and the Giants for five. Eight total penalties for just 44 yards: that was the game total combined. In previous weeks that seemed like what would be called on a single drive.
So what was going on? Are the officials gearing up for a “normal” regular season? Was it just Bill Vinovich’s crew? Were the second-and-third string players playing disciplined football? Did the referees want to get out of town and end the postseason ASAP?
I believe this is a little of this and a bit of that. There were some bad defensive secondary coverage plays that were not called–especially a few pass breakups by cornerback Logan Ryan and Dax Swanson in the end zone. Also, some aggressive play in the secondary by Brandon Browner. The defensive secondary looked no more disciplined than they had the previous three games. The difference was the flags stayed in the officials’ pockets. Hopefully this is a precursor for the regular season.