Despite a tough loss for the Patriots with several self-inflicted wounds, there was a lot to be happy about going up against a team that was just shy of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Feburary. Rookies Keion White and Christian Gonzalez made their presence felt right away, as did Marte Mapu, despite only getting nine snaps. Additionally, with two rookies starting at guard in place of Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu, we saw some pretty good play from the Patriots' passing game. Well...after those opening three drives anyway. With that said, here's what jumped out to me watching things back on film, as focus shifts to a Sunday Night Football matchup with the Miami Dolphins.
Self Inflicted Punishment
The Patriots beat themselves numerous times last year and didn't get off to a great start in 2023 either on that front. 16 points surrendered in the opening 12 minutes and 13 seconds, and each set of points were preventable. On the second play, Deatrich Wise is lined up nearly across the neutral zone. That's the difference from this play resulting in a 3rd and 14 instead of an automatic first down. Eagles then take another seven minutes off the clock and pick up a hard-earned three points, and while better than the alternative, could have been easily avoided.
Onto the Pick-6, which Mac Jones shoulders most of the blame for. Not only does he rush this read/throw in what was a great pocket vs. a four-man rush, but he sails the throw. Had Jones come off the read to Bourne, there's a high likelihood that he would have had Mike Gesicki wide-open working back upfield or Pop Douglas on that deep slant from the slot, given the go routes on the outside. It really would've depended on where Reed Blankenship would have driven down, but there were yards to be had here.
Before we get to the fumble, I want to point out the good play design by Bill O'Brien here. As far as I could tell, this was Marcus Jones' lone snap on offense in this game, and he was either getting this ball or was going to be some really fast eye candy for the Eagles' defense. He ended up being the latter as Avonte Maddox drove down on this right away, forcing him to the ground. Although Zeke made a pretty good catch after the chip block, he didn't have a good enough grasp around the ball, and Jordan Davis made him pay.
After the ensuing Eagles drive, where Devonta Smith tacked on the Eagles' lone offensive touchdown of this game, they scored just nine more points in the final 47 minutes and 47 seconds of play. Cut any one of those scores out, and the Patriots' chances of winning this game are well over 85%. But again, this was all self-inflicted and preventable.
Keion White is a Bulldozer
Yeah, I think it's fair to say now that the Keion White preseason experience was no fluke. I also want to stress this as well. Jordan Mailata, the gentleman getting forklifted by White back into Jalen Hurts on play No. 1, is 6'8 and 365 (Three Hundred and Sixty Five) lbs. Parlaying the QB pressure into chasing said QB into a throwaway is absurd. The ensuing two snaps here are against Lane Johnson on the other side of the line. White, seemingly getting held to some extent both times, bats 1.000 on getting pressure on the player many consider the best right tackle in football. There was also one play where he got fooled on a read option, but outside of that White was a game-wrecker in his official debut. Just seven players got more pressure than his four, some of which include Matt Judon, T.J. Watt, Jalen Carter, and Josh Allen (Jacksonville). They got something in this kid. All of the key rookies (White, Gonzalez, Mapu, Mafi, Sow, Baringer) did good work in one way or another.
Gonzo Passes the Test
While Christian Gonzalez gave up his fair share of catches on Sunday, he was also really good and looked the part of a 17th overall draft pick. We talked coming into the weekend about him being able to match the physicality of the Eagles wideouts, specifically A.J. Brown, and he passed that test despite playing a lot of off-coverage. Hurts looked his way more than any other Patriots corner and on two huge plays in the fourth quarter, Gonzo was up for the challenge.
With the clock at 15:00 in the fourth, Hurts goes for a would-be dagger to Brown on a corner route. Gonzalez had much more trouble with Brown than Devonta Smith but came up huge here, going with him step for step downfield. He didn't even need the safety help from Marte Mapu either, who also played this well in his own right. A huge play nonetheless, and it ultimately saved another four points going up on the board.
Onto the biggest defensive play of the game now. The Patriots send the entire house on 4th and Short, which leads to Matt Judon getting home free, and Jabrill Peppers bringing some moderate heat from the other side. It's three quick hitters for Hurts, and then a deep shot on the off chance that's available it wasn't, but the good news for Hurts is that his opening read was not in the direction of the edge rusher bearing down on him. The bad news is that Gonzalez plays this perfectly on the only read Hurts could have gone to.
I can't say I was expecting a Gonzalez corner blitz in Week 1, but great job wrapping up here and bringing Hurts down. Overall, it was a pretty good debut for the Oregon (by way of Colorado) product, but he has another huge weekend on deck against the Dolphins.
Passing Offense Is Back on the Menu
I saw Kendrick Bourne and tight ends being utilized, and I saw (outside of the screen game) some creative plays and play-calling on Sunday. To that, I say, tremendous. One area where B.O'B had the Eagles' defense in hell was with bunch sets. They had a hard time communicating well or fast enough to get on the same page in the secondary, and it showed up a ton. Here are a few examples below. The latter is one of the failed fourth down attempts, but follow Bourne and his wide open window. Had Jones not had the rush all over him, that's an easy first-down pickup (Endzone view included).
Onto the three touchdowns now. Who knew that utilizing multiple tight ends and Bourne properly could work out? McCorkle makes the Eagles pay dearly for what was effectively a triple team on the 'Mondre checkdown. That allowed him to matchup hunt with four 1-on-1s outside the numbers, and he put a perfect ball on the money to Hunter Henry. A similar kind of coverage popped up on the second of two Kendrick Bourne touchdowns. Once again, Jones put one on the screws. Not to mention yet another bunch set that the Eagles had no answer for on the previous Bourne score. The Pick-6 was brutal, but given the opposition, I thought this was a pretty good game for the third-year signal caller.
Final Score: Philadelphia Eagles 25, New England Patriots 20
Gaffney's Three Stars from Patriots-Eagles:
3rd Star - David Andrews (Clean Pass Pro. Sheet)
2nd Star - Matt Judon (1 Sack, 5 Pressures, 2 QB Hits)
1st Star - Keion White (4 Pressures in 23 Snaps)
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