46 Observations from the Patriots First Preseason Tilt

FOXBOROUGH, MA – AUGUST 12: New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) hands off to New England Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson (38) during a preseason game between the New England Patriots and the Washington Football Team on August 12, 2021, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Game one of the preseason is in the books. Not only did the Patriots win, but they also avoided major injury. There was a lot of excitement to finally see Mac Jones in action as well as the plethora of offseason additions. As with any game, there were players that flashed and some who didn’t, ups and downs, exciting plays, and some frustrating ones as well. Below is a collection of thoughts after watching the game.

1. Pats started on defense which allowed us our first look at a majority of the defensive starters. Lawrence Guy has been struggling in one-on-one periods throughout camp and while he was not particularly dominant in this game, he did do exactly what was asked of him. He set an anchor for the interior of the defense and kept the linebackers behind him clean. A two-gapping nose tackle is like a good plumber; does a lot of dirty work that the general public doesn’t see but it’s crucial work, nonetheless.

2. Good to see Hightower back out there. Relatively quiet night from him overall in his first game back.

3. Matt Judon got off to a great start with the Pats. He plays FAST. He flew off the ball on a third and two, was untouched by the left tackle, scraped the backside of the offensive line and brought down the running back for a loss. That play started a three play sequence where Judon had tackle for loss, pass defensed, and QB pressure. That’s getting it done in all phases of the game. Early scare when Judon was rolled up on and immediately grabbed his leg. He continued playing after missing a couple plays but an injury scare is a quick way to bring down the excitement level of watching football again.

4. Jalen Mills looks solid, not CB2 solid but definitely will be a fun piece for Belichick to use throughout the season. I expect him to a heavy match-up piece.

5. Adrian Phillips played most of last season out of position as the team sustained injuries at linebacker. He was already a versatile piece and added more to his resume with that transition. He has been having a very solid camp and continued that in the first preseason game. He is going to be fun to watch this season.

6. Bentley looked much better with limited responsibility and improved talent around him. He has always been a solid player when asked to play to his strengths, last year he may have been asked to do more than he should have been.

7. Harry and Meyers were the starting wide receivers with Bourne coming in for three wide receiver groups. Not the starting duo most envisioned when the Pats invested in Agholor and Bourne this offseason but perhaps a good sign as the young duo continue to develop.

8. Harry got a lot of run last night, leading the wide receivers in snaps played, but only had a single catch on his lone target of the game. He has been playing well in practice but needs to build stronger trust with his QB’s to get more targets in game action.

9. Meyers picked up where he left off last year- looking like the Pats best wide receiver. He looked quicker and more confident in his routes Thursday night.

10. Interesting note during the broadcast when Zolak noted that Bourne may be asked to play the Deion Branch role for the offense. They are similar players in terms of measurables and their crisp route running and pension for gaining yards after the catch. Small detail but they will also be sharing the same number (at least from Branch’s second go around with the team).

11. Chase Young absolutely embarrassed Isaiah Wynn during the offenses first drive. Nothing to be too concerned about as Young is going to be doing that to offensive linemen in this league for a long time. Good effort by Wynn to fight for the ball even if it was called an incomplete pass.

12. With Joe Cardona out with a wrist injury, new long snapper Brian Khoury led to some clunky operation on the punt team. The Pats had numerous false starts called on them when punting.

13. While the punt team may not have been as sharp as usual, Jake Bailey certainly was. He picked up right where he left off last year-booming kicks and pinning returners to the sideline. One note on his first punt, he outkicked the coverage (hard thing to do when Matt Slater is on the field), this can set up for a big return by the opposing team.

14. Zolak mentioned Winovich may be a candidate for the long-term PUP list, Winovich may feel differently as his recent Instagram post hinted at a return sooner than later.

15. JC Jackson played extremely well. Him and Gilmore should again be a top CB pairing in the league this year.

16. Dugger looked okay in man coverage, was often in the right position but did not finish the play consistently. There has been a lot of chatter of him exploding onto the scene in year two, hopefully he can clean up the small details here.

17. From the uniform department- Judon rocking the red sleeves is a sharp look. The Washington helmets are a clean look, I hope when they finalize their rebranding, they keep them. There was noticeable uptick in dark/shaded visors on the Patriots.

18. Uche is another player that has a lot of momentum to make a massive leap in year two. He was involved in some pressure packages before Judon briefly left, perhaps forecasting his role as a niche pass rush specialist. Uche looks quick and played with more power than last year.

19. Not a Patriots note, but Ryan Fitzpatrick is just awesome. He consistently gets it done with whatever team he’s on; I mean the guy can throw bombs while looking through his earhole. I’m excited for the Pats QB room but I wouldn’t have been upset to watch Fitzmagic in Foxborough for a year.

20. Damien Harris looks like a legitimate talent at running back. He displays good vision, acceleration, and runs with a low pad level. Let’s hope he can stay healthy.

21. Jonnu Smith is the anti-thesis of what the Pats have had at tight end the last two years. He’s big, quick, and a monster after the catch. He displayed some grit in his run blocking assignments as well. Expect him to be utilized in a multitude of ways this season (like another 81 at tight end that isn’t talked about in these parts anymore).

22. Seeing Cam execute a screen pass to James White was a welcome sight. Cam struggled with that part of the passing game last year.

23. Cam has three or four good throws before one where his mechanics seem rushed and comes out as a duck.

24. Mac looked good immediately. Meyers made a great sliding catch on Jones’ first attempt (even though it was ruled incomplete), Jones stood in the face of pressure and delivered a catchable ball. Watching the replay and seeing a clear catch by Meyers and no challenge by Belichick made me wonder if Belichick wanted Mac to have a live rep in a third down. No idea but for a guy who preaches situational football it may have merit. Jones played with good anticipation and timing. Mac operating the play-action passing game and successfully hit dig routes brought back memories of another guy who had a lot of success here…

25. Speaking of which, a lot of the nuances of Jones’ game are very similar to Brady’s. Wonder if during their time together at Alabama if Daboll had Jones watch film of Brady. Daboll served as an offensive assistant in New England before going to Alabama.

26. Jones got some run with the number one offensive line-something that has not been happening in training camp practices. Jones also had extended playing time where he called his own plays at the line. Jones also took responsibility for setting his own protections throughout the evening.

27. Michel looked more confident in his vision and cuts.

28. Jones may have had the best throw of the night for either team when he dropped an absolute dime to Wilkerson in the front corner of the end zone on a go route. Would like to see Wilkerson fight for that ball a bit more.

29. In general, the offense played with more tempo and stayed on schedule with Jones at the helm than at any point last year.

30. Nordin was better than advertised. He would love to have the missed PAT back, but it was nice to see him bounce back and crush the second one. His 50-yard field goal in the second quarter would’ve been good from 60. With such a strong leg it might be worth seeing him on some kickoff duties as well.

31. Uche and Bentley played an “add-blitz” concept beautifully on a third down conversion by WFT. Uche initially was schemed to blitz but peeled when the back flared to the right flat. Bentley instead replaced Uche in the blitz scheme to keep numbers. Complicated concept for younger players to grasp and great to see Uche do his job.

32. Uche did a great job when he was unblocked on a naked boot. He closed to the QB but most importantly did not leave his feet when in pursuit. If a QB can get a defender airborne with a pump fake, the QB can redirect while the defender cannot. Small detail but extremely important to maintain the integrity of the defense against those kinds of plays. Dugger had a chance to intercept the pass on this play off the carom but couldn’t pull off the Kearse-style catch.

33. JJ Taylor plays a lot bigger than 5’6″. He runs with great contact balance and showed big POP in pass protection. Returning punts falls into the “more you can do” category as he tries to make the team in a deep backfield.

34. Perkins was extremely solid in his debut as he filled up the stat sheet with four QB pressures and three run stops, both best for the team. However, he did lose contain on one second quarter run. He set the edge but allowed the back to bounce the run outside of him, when setting the edge everything must be forced back to the defensive interior.

35. Langi continues to be a heart/hustle player as he plays at 100% effort all the time. He and his wife were involved in a bad car accident his rookie year with the Pats. Good to see him back making plays on the field. Langi did drop his field on contact in the third quarter and was easily juked by the running back. Important to focus on the fundamentals of the game and see what you hit. Langi was also victim to a case of good throw and good catch beating good coverage at the end of the second quarter.

36. Tashawn Bower was very good throughout the game. He may be on the outside looking in currently, but more showings like this will make a strong case to be on the active roster.

37. Marvin Hall was a late addition at receiver this summer and faced an uphill battle to make the roster. Muffing a punt will do him no favors, especially after his limited playing time on offense (1 snap).

38. For being signed earlier this week, Malik Gant knew his assignments and played well. He must remember quite a bit from being in camp with the Pats two years ago.

39. Washington may be calling the Pats later this offseason regarding their kicking situation. Hopkins struggled throughout the night and the Pats suddenly have a kicking competition on their hands. Folk was solid last year for the team and Nordin has been off to a hot start.

40. Nice to see Joejuan Williams make a play. He has been picked on by quarterbacks at practice. Case of being in the right place at the right time but he’ll need to continue to make those kinds of plays to make the roster. He later got beat from a press alignment on an out route for Washington’s 2-point conversion attempt. Williams played through the whistle and knocked the ball out as they were going to the ground to preserve New England’s lead.

41. Rhamondre Stevenson is a specimen at runningback. He has similar size to LeGarrette Blount, and similar to Blount, he plays with very nimble feet. Stevenson transitioned well to power when he needed to finish a run or get the tough yards and also showed pull-away speed on his 91-yard touchdown jaunt late in the fourth quarter. Stevenson had a huge hole to run through, but his speed took away the safety’s angle as he tight-roped the sideline. Had he been pushed out of bounds it would have led to some teaching moments during film review.

42. Zuber added speed and excitement to the receiving corps last year when called up from the practice squad, he looks like he is destined for a similar role this year.

43. Miles Bryant was a pleasant surprise last year when he was activated late in the season. While he played primarily in the slot last year as the dime, he played almost exclusively at safety Thursday night. He looks like a Jonathan Jones lite. Bryant suffered an injury late in the fourth but got up and jogged off with what looked like a stinger/pinched nerve.

44. Cassh Maluia was brought back after the Pats placed Raekwon McMillan on IR with a torn ACL. Maluia was with the Pats last year and got sparing playing time due to injuries at the linebacker position. Maluia was involved in a rough two play stretch late in the fourth when he dropped his head and missed the tackle on the running back in the right flat before getting lost in coverage on Washington’s lone touchdown of the night.

45. Belichick’s reaction to Rivera taking the timeouts late in the game was already in midseason form. Stevenson taking a simple toss play to the house two plays later qualifies for the “play stupid games, win stupid prizes” category.

46. Disappointing not to see Barmore play after he suited up for pregame warmups. Barmore is still dealing with a left foot/ankle injury he sustained in practice early last week.

The Pats will return to practice Sunday before heading to Philadelphia for a stint of joint practice with the Eagles and new head coach Nick Sirianni. The Eagles then host the Patriots for the second preseason game on August 19.

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