Six Takeaways From Pats vs Packers

Football is back, and for the 2015 New England Patriots the first preseason game has come and gone. The Patriots fell to the visiting Green Bay Packers last night 22-11, and the game looked and felt like most preseason openers do.

There was sloppiness on both sides of the ball, a few standout performances, and a few guys that will need to rebound in the next week.

By now most football fans realize that the score of these games really don’t matter all that much. Maybe the loss is an excuse for coach Belichick to throw in a few more sprints at the end of practice, but how individual players perform is the key.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the things we learned about the defending Super Bowl Champs in last night’s game:

Jimmy Garoppolo Struggles: Garoppolo appears to be a tough player to predict in his young career. A year ago, he struggled mightily in training camp practices, but when game time rolled around he morphed into a different player. Early reports out of training camp said yet again Garoppolo looked shaky, and his performance last night mirrored that. Ask almost any professional athlete and the majority will say how you practice almost always reflects how you play. Pointing out the obvious, Garoppolo missed four times with the deep ball and took seven sacks. Some of the blame for the seven sacks definitely goes to the offensive line, which we will get to later, but Garoppolo also was stepping into the rush a bit, and failing to use his legs in instances where he could have broken the pocket to buy more time. It also appeared that Garoppolo was a little bit too reliant on third year receiver Josh Boyce, who had a team-high 11 targets. The lone interception of the game was a forced throw to a covered Boyce, and the pass was thrown to the inside of a comeback route. Garoppolo was working with a young offensive line, and without the stating group of skilled position players, but Patriots fans better hope for more from Jimmy G in the coming weeks.

Jonas Gray Impresses: We obviously already knew that Jonas Gray can be an effective running back in this league. Gray got himself in the dog house last season by showing up late, and the team also added LeGarrette Blount into the mix. Blount will most likely be the primary back again this season, but with Ridley and Vereen gone, Gray has a good chance at being the backup. On his 55-yard touchdown run Gray did just about everything right. He squeezed through his blockers, and then broke for daylight showing speed to the edge that people might not have thought he had. Gray was by far the most effective Patriots running back last night, going for 10.6 yards per carry and breaking three tackles. Gray might just be earning himself the backup role this preseason.

Introducing James White: When the Patriots let Shane Vereen walk to the New York Giants it left a huge void to fill in the third down, receiving back role. A pivotal spot in the Patriots offense as we all know how much Tom Brady likes to pick on linebackers in coverage with running backs out of the backfield. It might actually end up being simple for the Pats by inserting James White. White showed last night that he is more than capable of filling that role. White caught four passes for 52 yards, with 57 of those yards coming after the catch. One catch in particular that stood out came on third down. Garoppolo swung it out to White who had two Packer defenders staring him down. White eluded both tacklers with a quick cut to the inside, and got the first down. Those are the type of plays, making something out of nothing, which Vereen and predecessor Kevin Faulk lived off of.

Patriots Go With Young O-Line: Sacks are often a result of many factors. It’s the job of the receivers to get open, the QB to get rid of the ball, and obviously the offensive line to block. Last night Jimmy Garoppolo was sacked seven times, never a stat that coaches like to see, preseason or not. The Patriots went predominantly with a very young and inexperienced group upfront last night with Chris Barker (2nd season), Shaq Mason (rookie), David Andrews (rookie), Tre’ Jackson (rookie), and Cameron Fleming (2nd season) getting the majority of the snaps. It showed as the group struggled especially in pass protection. Andrews and Barker are most likely fighting for a roster spot, and this goes down as good experience for Jackson, Mason, and Fleming. Many projected Jackson as the opening day starter at one of the two guard positions.

Defensive Line Depth: Another positive takeaway from this one was seeing the plethora of talent the Patriots have on the defensive line. The Patriots played 12 different guys along the defensive front, and most had at least a play or two that stood out. Despite the departure of Vince Wilfork the Patriots still look to be formidable up front defensively. Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, Easley, rookies Malcolm Brown, Trey Flowers, and Geneo Grissom all played in some capacity against the Packers. Then there was maybe the best player on either side of the ball for the Patriots last night, journeyman Rufus Johnson. Johnson was drafted by New Orleans in 2013, and hasn’t recorded a stat in a regular season NFL game to this point. Last night Johnson had a sack; a QB hit, and also batted a pass down at the line. Johnson might still be a long shot to make the roster, but if he plays like he did last night he would be tough to cut. People often ask why the NFL has some many preseason games? It is for players like Rufus Johnson.

Patriots Cornerbacks As Expected: It doesn’t take a football genius to see that the Patriots don’t exactly have a great deal of talent at the cornerback position. So when the Packers trio of quarterbacks didn’t see a ton of resistance last night it was to be expected. Two things that were troubling from this prospective however were the lack of pass breakups and the play of Logan Ryan. The Patriots had just one pass defended as a team. Logan Ryan was the only Patriots secondary player got a hand on a pass, and that is troubling. The Patriots might have to have a “bend but don’t break” mentality this season, but that little resistance will get you eaten alive in this league. Also, Logan Ryan looked like a scrub out their last night. Getting beat deep on a 4th and 1 by Jeff Janis (who?) for a 26-yard touchdown. Ryan is going to get serious playing time this season, and might even be the number two corner behind Malcolm Butler. He has to be better than that.

At the end of the day last night was just one baby step in what is a long process. Some guys stock went up, some down, but most will still have the chance to prove themselves as the season goes on.

In other words, don’t look too much into last night’s game. It was the first time out for many of these players, and even for the veterans it has been awhile. Bill Belichick often says it’s about improving week to week, and that will be the key for many of these players.