Aug 13, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) makes a pass during the first half against the Green Bay Packers at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
At long last the New England Patriots took the field at Gillette Stadium. After what was easily the most tumultuous offseason since Bill Parcells exited after the 1996 season, the Patriots weathered the ongoing “deflategate” scandal which continues to refuse to go away. With Tom Brady still awaiting a decision in court, the Patriots may not know whether he can play until right before opening day.
The New England Patriots players seemed ready to take the field and put as much of this offseason behind them. With a ton of injuries on both sides of the ball, it was a typical preseason game one featuring a mishmash of starters, rookies, and backups. Quarterback Tom Brady was a surprise starter on offense, but with a depleted offensive line in front of him Brady did not play much throwing just four passes.
Looking back at last season’s preseason game one loss to the Washington Redskins, the stars of that game were defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (released in preseason), offensive lineman Chris Barker (practice squad), wide receiver Brian Tyms (limited role in 2014), and cornerback Malcolm Butler. There was also a lot of talk in training camp about undrafted free agent tight ends Asa Watson and Justin Jones–neither who were long for the team.
With that in mind, here are some notes on the first half before the backups took over completely in the second half.
Aug 13, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy (27) escapes the grasp of New England Patriots defensive tackle Malcom Brown (92) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork–whose contract option was not picked up in the offseason–was clearly missed on the first defensive series. Eddie Lacy had four rushes for 33 yards on the first series including a 15 yard run. In the passing game, Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson were at times being covered by rookie seventh round draft pick Darryl Roberts–this was definitely a mismatch.
However, veteran free agent cornerback Robert McClain looking good at times in the nickel cornerback role replacing Kyle Arrington. McClain made some plays for the secondary being strong in coverage and also against the run.However, he was burnt late in first quarter by Randall Cobb and gave up a third down conversion just before halftime.
Aug 13, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones (95) rushes Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Chandler Jones sacking Aaron Rodgers was a good start on defense for the edge rushers. Rob Ninkovich and Jones brought pressure, as did new defensive ends Trey Flowers and Jabaal Sheard. The Patriots had some very good pressure on fourth down on the first series to stall the drive at the two yard line. They created some nice pressure again on the second play of the second drive.
At linebacker Jonathan Freeny does not look like he is ready to step in for Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins and cover tight ends. Tight end Andrew Quarless had two receptions against him in coverage for 21 yards. James Morris showed up with some tackles in the running game. However, the Packers were throwing the ball in the first half with 35 pass attempts and just 16 rushes (and one of those a quarterback scramble).
Jabaal Sheard (#93 at defensive end) and Trey Flowers (#74 at defensive end) both had some push in the pass rush in the first half. It was Flowers with a strong rush and sack on Aaron Rodgers in the third series. On fourth and inches it was a good interior push by the Patriots defensive line to stop the Packers again with Sheard in the middle of it as well.
Aug 13, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive back Bradley Fletcher (24) defends against Green Bay Packers wide receiver Myles White (19) during the first half in a preseason NFL football game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Later in the first quarter, Bradley Fletcher appeared to have some good coverage along with Logan Ryan on first and goal. Nice tackling by Fletcher on the screen pass to Davante Adams. Third and goal saw some good coverage by Logan Ryan and rookie safety Jordan Richards.
On offense, it was wide receiver Josh Boyce who with a chance to shine with Brady at quarterback dropped a catchable ball on third and eight on the first offensive series. At running back, Jonas Gray moved the ball forward with poor blocking in front of him on the second drive. Quarterback Tom Brady had some misfires, but his third and four incompletion to Michael Hoomanawanui was a second catchable pass dropped by a receiver slated to be a backup in the regular season. Brandon Gibson looked great in the Julian Edelman role hauling in a ten yard slant from the slot.
Jimmy Garoppolo looked sharp standing in the pocket to convert a third and seven early in the second quarter to Josh Boyce in the face of a blitz. That was followed by Jonas Gray right for 55 yards and a touchdown and then Jonas Gray left for the two-point conversion. Rookie guard Shaq Mason pulled and cleared out the defense to open space for Gray. Nice burst shown by Gray outracing the defense.
Aug 13, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back James White (28) is tackled by Green Bay Packers cornerback Ladarius Gunter (36) during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Running back James White had trouble running the ball with some bad run blocking in front of him; however, he added a nice interior run on a dump-off pass showing good patience to set-up his blockers and spring free for a first down. Blocking was definitely an issue as the young group struggled at times in the first half to open space and keep the pass rush at bay. On special teams, kicker Stephen Gostkowski closed out the first half with a 56-yard field goal to put New England ahead 11-9.