The New England Patriots first preseason built a lot of hype around a few players while it proved to be too big of a stage for some. It provided an inside look at some of the rookies receivers they will rely on this year on offense, including who Tom Brady already has chemistry with. The defense returned mostly the same personnel we have seen in he past with a few exceptions. One of their biggest offseason acquisitions — in size and in impact — Tommy Kelly got his chance to show how he can have a huge impact next to Vince Wilfork. So, without further ado, these were my game notes.
I know it’s preseason, but Brady looked good. Really good. He looked like Brady of five years ago. He was 7-8 for 65 yards and one beautiful touchdown to Shane Vereen. He had pinpoint accuracy and just seemed to be in control when he was on the field which is what I felt was lacking at times last year. He seemed to like the rookies and already is building strong chemistry with three of them in particular, which we will get into.
Ryan Mallett was iffy at best. We have been waiting for him to step up these past two preseasons, but this wasn’t a promising sign. He showed a disappointing lack of accuracy and touch which caused him to miss a wide open Josh Boyce in the end zone. If he wants to be the primary backup or as trade bait for the Patriots, he needs to be better. Tim Tebow was well, entertaining. He proved that he can’t operate under a regular NFL playbook, but when put in the read-option, he flourished. Constantly finding good holes and places to run.
Overall QB Grade: B-
Stevan Ridley said it best, “This group is special.” That’s exactly what they showed Friday night. This group is versatile, but overall its strong. Although Blount had the best stats, I was most impressed by Ridley. There is a rumor out there that he gained 10-15 pounds of muscle this offseason and it showed. He looks huge and was running with power. Obviously, he isn’t a speed demon as we saw him get caught from behind on his first run of the game that went for 62 yards, but that’s not what we need him for. We don’t need him to be a speed guy. We like him because he can run over people and run effectively between the tackles. Expect a big season for him this year. He had eight carries for 92 yards and a TD.
Vereen is the next Darren Sproles — or at least that’s how the Pats are going to use him this year. His catch in the end zone was beautiful and — although New England people are comparing him to Kevin Faulk — he is more versatile than Faulk and is more of a big play guy.
Between the other running backs, Blount really stood out with some impressive lateral power and good short yardage gains. Although it was pretty awesome, his big 51 yard touchdown was more due to lack of defensive effort than Blount’s, um, elusiveness. Brandon Bolden should watch his back. He is one the roster bubble.
Overall RB Grade: A
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
This is the point of interest for everyone when looking at the Patriots offense. As you have probably heard hundreds of times on ESPN and NFL Network, they lost six of their seven top receivers in the offseason. They then signed Danny Amendola to be the new Wes Welker of sorts and drafted two receivers, Aaron Dobson of Marshall and Josh Boyce of TCU.
Although they both had their moments, who really stood out to me was UDFA Kenbrell Thompkins. He has been generating a lot of buzz in camp and with his three quick catches last night, he looks like he already has good chemistry with Brady. He seems to be ahead of the other young receivers.
The last young gun on offense to point out was tight end Zach Sudfeld out of Nevada. He played very well, but looked like a more receiving type of tight end instead of a blocker. His best play came where he made a short catch and then in Gronk fashion, broke three tackles and gained another 15 yards on the play. This kid will have a big impact on the offense this year.
Overall WR and TE Grade: B+
It was tough to really give them a grade seeing as they had to start their fourth-string tackle at the guard position. What was clear was that the left side of the offensive line can make an argument for best in the league. Solder and Mankins were running over people in the run game and only once was Brady put under real pressure. This group is extremely underrated and will be a vital piece in the Patriots success this year.
Overall Line Grade: A-
This group was up and down all game long. There were times when there was no pass rush at all, times when they just missed a sack and also times when they were storming the backfield like on Chandler Jones‘ and Tommy Kelly’s combo strip sack. Overall though, the group looked fast and solid. It will be an absolute menace against the run again this year, but their problem last year was lack of pass rush.
It didn’t help their top pass rusher, Chandler Jones, was injured for most of the second half of the season and in the playoffs. In this game though, he was healthy and was getting around the edge very well with both bull and speed rushes. It’s a relief to see him healthy again.
Tommy Kelly was dominant. Vince Wilfork was his usual self, but what stood out to me was the play of rookie Jamie Collins. He made a few plays here and there, but it looked like he was thinking too much. I think it was the speed of the game that caught him off guard, but as soon as he overcomes that, which comes from time and practice, he looks to have the tools to be a great player.
Overall Defensive Line Grade: B
This group has tons of talent and it will show this year. This is the strength of the defense and will get stronger with the return of No. 1 backup linebacker Dane Fletcher. He looked great in his first game back from a torn ACL. One person to watch this season is Donta Hightower. Like with Jamie Collins, the game seemed to be going very fast for him in the beginning of the season, but by the end of the year, he was a monster. He was flying all over the place and was constantly around the ball. He will be like that all this season and will have a huge impact this year.
Overall Linebackers Grade: A-
The night for the secondary was incomplete, but overall it was not impressive. One of the main things that stood out was the lack of quality safety play. On DeSean Jackson‘s touchdown, Aqib Talib isn’t as fast as DeSean so the safety must give help over the top, which is exactly what didn’t happen. Steve Gregory was late and didn’t help at all. This is fixed when the leader of the secondary, Devin McCourty, returns from injury and goes back to his free safety position.
It’s not set in stone, but I think he is a star at the safety position, but we will see what happens with a full season at the safety position. Also, rookie Logan Ryan showed flashes of good coverage, but what stood out to me was how good of a tackler he was. He will be a good depth addition for this secondary.
Overall Secondary Grade: C+
It was good outside of the kicker. Stephen Gostkowski missed two field goals and continued his questionable play that started last season. It’s time to bring in another kicker to challenge him and get his head back in order because he is going to once again have a lot of attempts and if he keeps missing then that hurts the whole team.
Overall Special Teams Grade: C
I think both the offense and defense or full of young talent that will really be put on show this year. I will have another report after game 2.