52 Observations from Patriots Preseason Finale

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – AUGUST 29: Rhamondre Stevenson #38 of the New England Patriots celebrates after rushing the ball in for a third quarter touchdown against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on August 29, 2021 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

Sorry for the radio silence last week during the Eagles joint practices and subsequent preseason game; my wife and I were camping up in Glacier National Park, away from most reaches of technology. Pats had an up and down week of practice there before blowing the Eagles out 35-0 behind strong games from both quarterbacks and running backs, Rhamondre Stevenson and JJ Taylor.

The Pats subsequently traded Sony Michel to the Los Angeles Rams for a sixth round pick in 2022 and a fourth round pick in 2023. Michel had been having a strong preseason and looked to serve as a strong one-two punch with Damien Harris. The emergence of Stevenson seems to have made Michel expendable. The trade was good business for the Pats as Michel entered the final year of his rookie deal and was unlikely to be resigned by the team. The chances of Michel landing a deal that would have netted the Patriots a fourth round compensatory pick were pretty low. Moving him now gave them the chance to reap a little more for losing a guy who wasn’t in their long term plans.

The Patriots conducted two joint practice sessions with the Giants in Foxborough before playing the preseason finale in the Meadowlands on Sunday night. Before this transpired, however, Cam Newton was placed into the COVID-19 re-entry cadence as a mix up with testing protocols during the weekend after the Eagles game. Newton was out of town for a team approved medical appointment and did not test with the NFL testing company. While Newton was tested on his trip, the technicality of specific companies forced him into the COVID protocol. In case anyone was wondering if Belichick was upset with Newton for the snafu-Newton got first team reps in his first practice back and played as if the starting QB on Sunday night-all under a coach who punished a running back for not properly setting an alarm after a 200 yard, four touchdown performance. Belichick must not have understood the complexity of the COVID rules either. Better for it to happen now than in the regular season.

The Pats continued their busy week by trading for corner back Shaun Wade from the Ravens for a 2022 seventh round pick and a 2023 fifth round pick. The rookie corner had been having a solid preseason but the Ravens must have had their reasons for moving on from him so early in his career. The Pats have gotten somewhat thin at the corner position thanks to injury and with no discernible timeline for Gilmore’s return, getting an extra body made sense.

Now that we’re all caught up on the recent happening with the Pats, let’s get to the observations from the finale against the Giants.

1. As with every preseason game, the most important part came in the form of no significant injuries to the Patriots. Evan Engram of the Giants left in the second quarter on play that didn’t involve much contact. The Giants ruled him out very quickly which is usually a sign of serious injury but may have just been because it was the preseason finale. No reason to risk further injury with the season kickoff two weeks away.

2. Matt Judon continues to be a tremendous pickup for the Pats. After going to blue sleeves last week, he was again in his red sleeves-making him easy to pick out and a personal favorite look of this writer. Judon had another huge game last week and was again disruptive Sunday against the Giants, which makes it particularly interesting they left him unblocked on a third down early in the game. Judon plays full tilt every time and letting him get a free shot on your quarterback in the preseason finale may fall into the “not as we drew it up” category for the Giants. Judon would’ve added a sack later in the first quarter if not for an obvious, but uncalled, holding penalty.

3. Speaking of offseason acquisitions, Godchaux has been quietly picking up steam in practices and showed up in film on Sunday. Godchaux showed his prowess as a run stuffer on a few snaps, a welcome sight for the Patriots as they try to improve on a dismal run defense from a season ago.

4. The Pats pass rush this season has the chance to be downright terrifying. On the first third down of the game we got our first look at the potential of this group to get after the passer. Uche and Barmore both decisively won their individual battles and got to Daniel Jones in a hurry. This was without Judon on the field either.

5. Uche is in line for a monster season if he can stay healthy. Double digit sacks doesn’t seem like an unreasonable expectation for him.

6. Uche continues to show exceptional natural pass rushing ability as well as discipline and understanding of the defensive concepts. He executed an add blitz concept perfectly later in the first quarter and was almost solely responsible for the goal line stand. He is a disruptive player to say the least.

7. Uche did a great job to disengage from his blocker and scrape down the line of scrimmage on a play going away from him to get a tackle for a loss on the goal line. On the next play Uche added to the pressure concept late but stayed disciplined in his rush and forced Jones to make a bad decision resulting in D’Angelo Ross’ interception.

8. D’Angelo Ross got the start at corner and showed positional flexibility by getting snaps at safety too. He looks to have played himself onto the initial roster.

9. Harris has continued to look like a top NFL back. The first offensive drive of the game showcased his ability as a runner. He has displayed great speed and power throughout the preseason.

10. Newton looks more comfortable running the Patriots offense, although the offense overall still has a clunky feel to it with him at the helm. This isn’t helped by the extreme vanilla playcalling of the preseason. There were no designed quarterback runs, no called option plays, and Newton himself didn’t take off and scramble much. Perhaps the inclusion of his running ability will fully unlock the offensive potential.

11. Newton has been smarter with the ball and this was on display during the first drive. He got rid of it quickly on a quick pressure inside the red zone before putting the ball away from harm’s reach on the next throw. On the quick pressure it seemed as if the protection wasn’t set properly as the throw hit the ground before any of the receivers were into a break or even looking for the ball. Newton struggled last year with setting his pass pro, hopefully that isn’t a trend that continues. The second throw was on an out route to Agholor. It harmlessly fell to the turf well short of both the receiver and defender. Newton struggled throwing this route last year to Byrd. Good to see him put it somewhere where the other team doesn’t have a chance at it.

12. Newton has displayed his arm strength throughout the preseason including two throws to Jakobi Meyers Sunday. The first was a great read, good throw and great catch to split the defenders to pick up a first down. Newton threw it where his guy could make a play and kept the ball safe. The second throw was on the interception to Meyers on a seam route. There was a lot to like and a few nit-picky things on the play. For the great, Newton put this thing on a ROPE. He still has his impressive arm strength after all these years and the amount he has been dinged up. He also trusted Meyers to make the play; Meyers put his hand up, calling for the ball, and Newton obliged. Last year we would’ve seen Newton double clutch and force it elsewhere if not take a sack. Good to see some development in his chemistry with the receivers. Meyers HAS to make this catch. He has been noted for his strong hands but did not showcase them here. The only other nit-picky part of the play would’ve been Bourne springing open on the boundary. While the safety would’ve been in position to make a play, you expect NFL level QB’s and WR’s to be able to hit the sideline shot.

13. Speaking of Bourne, he has been extremely quiet throughout the preseason having just 2 receptions for 36 yards. He has not been quiet in practice however. His production should pick up once he’s playing the full game and not just the first quarter or two.

14. The field goal unit was a lot smoother with Folk and Cardona back in uniform.

15. The Pats defense played two end around plays very well. It probably helped they had seen them in practice two days earlier during the joint sessions, but always good to see guys stay disciplined in live action. Both the number one unit and the backups defended these plays well. Van Noy did a particularly good job in the first quarter to maintain contain to his side and string the play out to the boundary.

16. Barmore was disruptive again on Sunday. He had flashed in the previous game against the Eagles but consistently put it together against the Giants. Barmore has been extremely difficult for offensive linemen to block during one-on-one drills and he’s now putting that on display in game action.

17. Between Barmore, Jones, Stevenson, and now Shaun Wade, Pats have an extremely talented and deep rookie class.

18. When the Giants went for it on fourth down in the first quarter, it seemed like a case of Belichick keeping his cards close to his chest. The Giants came out in 22 personnel on a fourth and one, only to have the Pats match with a base 3-4 alignment. Not exactly a beefy, run stopping defense for the situation.

19. Hightower repositioned the defensive linemen on multiple occasions. May have been a case of Hightower seeing something he had seen on film and putting his guys in a better position to make a play then the D line not knowing where to line up.

20. Deatrich Wise had an active game in the pass rush. He has been a niche pass rusher for the Pats throughout his career before the Pats heavily invested in him this offseason. Wise has been staying long after practices to continue to polish his pass rushing repertoire and the hard work paid off Sunday.

21. With Olszewski struggling at receiver it may be concerning that Meyers and Taylor handled punt return duties throughout the game. Or it may mean nothing at all.

22. Trent Brown got called for a false start on a third down, like the Pats trying to get them on a hard count, and while the execution of Brown on that play leaves a lot to be desired, the explosiveness of his first kick slide is amazing for a man his size. Freaky even.

23. It was a quiet night for Dugger and McCourty with the ones. Not a bad thing when your safeties don’t get mentioned in the stat sheets. Coverage was good so they didn’t get any throws there way and the players ahead of them handled the run game so they weren’t involved in any tackles downfield.

24. Michael Jackson had an extremely rough night and may have played himself off the 53 man roster. He was frequently picked on in coverage, was called for a too many men on the field penalty, and later showed poor execution on a banjo concept and poor effort after. The banjo concept calls for the defensive backs to loosely assume man responsibilities when defending a bunch. The outside corner should release the outside wide receiver to the slot corner if the slot wide receiver runs an out breaking route. This was exactly what happened during Blachman’s touchdown. Despite the corner’s communicating a banjo on the play, Jackson was slow to identify the route concept, struggled to close the gap, and then didn’t show great effort in pursuit of Blachman as he ran into the end zone. Also had a chance for an interception as he dropped underneath a route but ended up dropping into the receiver’s route as the collision forced him to drop the ball. Rough night for Jackson.

25. Joejuan Williams continues to showcase his physicality. It might get him in trouble at times as he can get handsy with receivers but he has put together a solid preseason. His roster spot could go either way at this point. He’s helping himself out with some positional flexibility as he got snaps at safety as well.

26. Adrian Colbert was all over the field. He showed up positively in the run game multiple times. He plays downhill and with an attitude. He was the victim of a great throw and catch at the end of the first half. Colbert was in great position, just a better play by Smith. Colbert matched hands and was in plus position in coverage. If the Pats didn’t have Adrian Phillips, Colbert would be asked to play that role this season.

27. Mac Jones was again solid overall. The offense seems to run smoothly with him at the helm. He did have some rookie moments Sunday, including a delay of game penalty on his second snap. He also took a few coverage sacks. While he didn’t force the ball to anyone on these plays, dumping it off or throwing it away would’ve been a better decision than taking the sack.

28. Wilkerson showed up on a few plays. He’s been given every opportunity to get the number four wide receiver spot but has been unable to take advantage of the opportunities. He has struggled with drops in practice and in games, so having a clean sheet in that department Sunday night was a positive development in his battle for a roster spot.

29. Rhamondre Stevenson continued his impressive preseason. He plays with balance and power and showcased his speed earlier in the preseason on his long touchdown run against Washington. He will likely serve as the second punch to Harris. Stevenson juked Trent Harris out of his shoes before later in the drive showing his power run game on a five yard touchdown.

30. A running back group of Harris, Stevenson, Taylor, and White is going to be exhausting for defenses. Harris and Stevenson have the speed/power/size combinations that are enough to tire a defense but then asking them to keep up with the diminutive Taylor and savvy vet White is going to be a tall ask for anyone.

31. Asiasi is a very solid tight end and never got momentum going last year during a bizarre rookie season. He has shown up frequently this offseason making positive plays. He had a great game Sunday and was very involved in the passing game. He should get regular season snaps with offensive groupings and Henry’s injury luck.

32. Nordin put together a solid night until his final kick. He was consistent in his approach and appeared a bit more calm and confident than last week against the Eagles. With a chance to put the game away late in the fourth he seemed to change his mechanics as the field goal attempt didn’t display his trademark power and hooked left.

33. Winovich was consistently disruptive. He was flagged for roughing the passer last week but got a clean hard hit on Glennon on Sunday. Like to see players making changes from coaching points. He is going to be an interesting guy to watch on roster cut down day. He is definitely a productive player but has had his differences with the coaching staff in the past and the Pats are suddenly deep at his position. If Pats got an adequate offer it may not be a surprise to see him moved.

34. Giants LT Andrew Thomas had a rough game as the Giants O-line remains a liability after a few years of the team investing in it. In the final game of 2019, the Giants beat the Washington Football Team to give Washington the number 2 pick in the draft and the Giants the number 4. Washington took Chase Young and the Giants settled with Thomas. Wonder if they are happy with the decision to win a relatively meaningless game two years later.

35. The starting defense was extremely effective in base groupings and vanilla play calling. This will be a very tough group in the regular season. The addition of Gilmore back into the lineup will only elevate this group to the top tier.

36. Dee Virgin was another guy who had a rough night. He struggled in coverage and was picked on by the Giants QB’s consistently throughout the game. He also struggled when on the field for special teams. He is a candidate to return to the practice squad again this season.

37. Langi plays with his hair on fire. He is all over the field and constantly around the ball. He has put a lot of good film out there and will be on a roster somewhere if it’s not in New England.

38. Cajuste had an up and down night. He has recently gained the inside track for the top swing tackle spot. He was victim to a couple of sacks but showed up positively in the run game on multiple occasions. Neither sack were clean losses for Cajuste either as both could be chalked up as coverage sacks.

39. The Mac Jones touchdown to Zuber came on “Hoss Y Juke”, the same playcall that Brady hit Gronk on in Super Bowl LIII to set up the game winning touchdown.

40. After this touchdown the Pats went for two. The Giants called a timeout before the play. After the timeout, the Pats came out in the same offensive grouping and lined up in the same formation. Usually the defensive team is doing this to get a snap shot of what the offensive team was going to do. Typically after a timeout both teams come out in a different grouping and formation, not the case here.

41. Jones’ throw to Asiasi in the third quarter is NFL veteran level stuff. Back shoulder, under duress, and threw him open. Great throw, great catch. Was an even better throw considering Jones was under pressure.

42. Shaun Wade overall had a very positive Patriots debut. Wade showed his physicality in his press technique and in his run support. He played a fly route well in the third quarter and was physical while standing his ground. He got beat for the late touchdown when an obvious push off went uncalled-interesting since the refs were making sure they were getting their share of the spotlight throughout the game. After the touchdown, Wade showed the short memory mentality needed for an NFL corner back by playing tight coverage and playing through the whistle.

43. Shaun Wade was victim of a great throw and catch on the boundary later the game. The play was a bit reminiscent of the Julio Jones catch in Super Bowl LI.

44. Henry Anderson showed up consistently in the game. He got paid well so he should be expected to make the roster. He was disruptive as a pass rusher and firm in the run game.

45. Gano missing a field goal after Giants traded their kicker earlier this week has to be frustrating to Giants brass.

46. Taylor is extremely slippery as a runner, defenders rarely get a full hit on him. Important when you’re a 5’6″ NFL running back.

47. Bailey’s first punt was not one he’ll put on his highlight reel but his second was a typical high booming punt.

48. Perkins had a good game last week against the Eagles but was quiet on Sunday.

49. Hoyer was his usual solid self. He is a true wildcard when it comes to final cuts. His game last year against KC may come into the decision making process this year.

50. Bill Murray flashed late with two sacks in the fourth quarter. One came from a straight bull rush and Murray overpowering his man, the other came on a loop concept-bit unfair to ask a running back to stop a charging Murray. Murray briefly left the game with what appeared to be an injury but returned later.

51. Zuber did a great job on the catch and run on the Pats final drive. Showed a heads up understanding of the situation to slide down in bounds instead of trying to gain extra yards and risk gettin pushed out of bounds and subsequently stopping the clock.

52. Langi recovered the onside kick attempt with a fair catch and nice snag above his head. That’s the kind of play that will warm Belichick’s heart and may lock up a roster spot for Langi.

With the preseason behind us the Pats have answered a few questions and left a few to be answered. The Pats luckily avoided major injury, a positive outcome of any preseason. Next thing up for the Pats are roster cuts on Tuesday. Final rosters must be set by 4 PM Eastern.

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