Although it was a losing effort for the New England Patriots in their preseason opener against the New York Giants, there was a fair amount to take in from the 60 minutes of game time. With nearly all the starters getting the night off, guys lower on the depth chart and on the roster bubble had a chance to showcase themselves. Although that didn’t yield a perfect evening for the Patriots, they should be pleased with a chunk of what they saw.
Offensive Coordinator Update
As expected, Matt Patricia was calling plays in the opening drives with Brian Hoyer. The keyword there being was, as Joe Judge took over for the remainder of the game with Bailey Zappe in at quarterback. An odd move at surface level, but both coaches got play-calling duties last week in an in-stadium scrimmage. Patricia was workings with the first team, while Judge worked the reserves which in itself was a tell.
With that information in mind, hard to gauge the two against each other currently. Although the expectation, as it has been for months, is that Patricia will ultimately start the regular season on play call duty. That didn’t stop Bill Belichick from saying “Don’t worry about it”, regarding the situation when asked postgame.
Front Seven Shines
The defensive front looked exceptionally good, especially early, in this preseason tilt. The leader in the clubhouse in the pressure department was sixth-round pick, Sam Roberts. Along with his five pressures, he gave seventh overall draft pick Evan Neal the blues in the early stages. Although he whiffed on a would-be sack, that allowed Josh Uche to take down Daniel Jones. Another impressive player on the defensive front was Anfernee Jennings, who was a menace at and around the line of scrimmage. He laid the lumber on Jones on a 3rd and five inside the 10, forcing an incompletion on what could have been a touchdown.
If you are a Patriots fan, you know all too well how speed at linebacker has been a massive issue recently. Belichick tried to remedy this in the offseason, trading Chase Winovich to the Cleveland Browns for Mack Wilson. Last night, we got a good look at what Wilson can do off the ball, and he did not disappoint. He was all over the field making impact plays, featured by a nice hit stick on Daniel Bellinger on a 3rd and 10 in the second quarter. Of everyone the Patriots put on the field, Wilson may have put on the best performance. Also impressive on the front seven was Carl Davis Sr, along with UDFA LeBryan Ray.
More Than Just Speed
Anyone that felt like Tyquan Thornton was just a speed threat got a nice taste of what he can offer. Maybe the biggest shock of the evening was when he got his hands dirty in the run game right off the bat. He was brought in motion from the boundary to block right off tackle and held up surprisingly well. The Patriots have historically liked receivers who can block and they wasted no time getting Thornton acclimated in the run game.
Shoutout Deion Branch forever and always. Anyways, the real highlight was when Thornton put six on the board, more so how he did it. Working on Giants starter Aaron Robinson, Thornton fought through a hold and worked himself the boundary, giving a scrambling Brian Hoyer a wide-open target. Thornton also drew an illegal contact penalty earlier that same drive on a go route. With his speed and release game, he is bound to get some defensive backs in trouble. All things considered; the second-rounder passed his first test with flying colors.
Concern with O-Line Depth
The Patriots have made it through the offseason program relatively unscathed with injuries. That took a minor turn last night when multiple offensive linemen went down. Luckily none appeared to be significant, but Justin Herron, who didn’t have a particularly great evening with two false starts, along with Yodny Cajuste and Bull Murray all took trips to the medical tent. On top of Isaiah Wynn being a non-participant as of late, the offensive line depth, more so tackle than guard, is worth monitoring.
Analyzing the Cornerback Situation
Although the tandem of Jalen Mills and Jonathan Jones getting the night off was not a surprise, Marcus Jones joining them was. The rookie out of Houston not playing a down is a big tell that the Patriots have plans for him in year one. Specifically roaming the slot, which would kick Jonathan Jones to the outside where he spent some time last year before going down for the season.
With JC Jackson now out of the fold, the Patriots have sacrificed top-end talent at the cornerback position in exchange for well-rounded depth. Malcolm Butler and Terrance Mitchell got the chance to get some reps in against Darius Slayton and Kenny Golladay. Mitchell also forced the lone turnover for the Patriots defense, Peanut Punching a ball straight out of Colin Johnson’s hands, with Butler coming up with the recovery.
The next part of this brings us to the third Jones in the fold, Jack Jones out of Arizona State. Thrice he was targeted in coverage, and each time he jumped the route. The only completion allowed went for all of one yard. Easy to see why the Patriots were fans of him during the draft process with what he showed off on Thursday. A corner who didn’t have the best evening was Joejuan Williams, who is no longer a lock for this roster. The former second-rounder was beaten pretty good by Richie James for a go-ahead score late in the first half. Overall, it was not the night he needed whatsoever.
Happy with Zappe
Pleasantly surprising from Thursday was the performance of fourth-round pick quarterback Bailey Zappe. With Mac Jones getting the night off, it was he, not Hoyer getting the majority of the snaps in this one. Although it was by no means perfect, he did enough to make a good impression in his first NFL game. Working with Joe Judge, Zappe was given full opportunity to let it rip, throwing 32 times with 19 completions and 205 yards.
The notable blunder was a pick on a 4th and 1 inside Giants territory. Zappe didn’t have great protection here, but it wasn’t his best throw. On the flip side, he didn’t have protection on his touchdown pass either. That didn’t stop the pride of Western Kentucky from hitting Humphrey 20 yards out with the rush in his grill, off his back foot. Zappe faced no shortage of pressure in this one, more so than usual for a preseason outing. PFF had the Giants bringing the heat on 17 out of his 33 dropbacks. After a few rough opening drives, Zappe got settled in and did relatively good with the defensive pressure.