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With the first two pre-season games in the books this Patriots team is beginning to fold into shape.
Save a pick-six that was intended for tackle turned tight-end Steve Maneri, the first string offense looked very impressive.
The highlight of the night was Tom Brady’s back-shoulder touchdown pass to Kenbrell Thompkins. The back-shoulder throw has emerged as an almost unstoppable weapon in the NFL the past few years (nobody uses it more than Aaron Rodgers), but Brady rarely utilizes it. Thompkins started the game at receiver alongside Edelman and Amendola, and it’ll very interesting to see how he is used in Week 1.
While the Patriots may not have a true number one outside receiver, it’s becoming clear that they’re going to be fairly deep outside the numbers. Aaron Dobson came off the PUP list last week, and he is hopeful to play this Friday against Carolina.
Thompkins has played well, and looks like he has great chemistry with Tom Brady. Free-agent signing Brandon LaFell has impressed many in camp, and has the makings of a capable red-zone target, and has the versatility to play inside and out.
Speaking of outside receivers, Brian Tyms had another solid outing. ProFootballFocus has Tyms as their highest rated receiver through the first two pre-season games, and he’ll likely remain on the roster through the first four weeks while he serves a four-game suspension. While he has been impressive, the hype around Tyms should be tempered until he gets in-game reps with Tom Brady (hopefully we’ll see this on Friday).
There was clearly an emphasis on running the ball in the game against Philadelphia. Patriots backs carried the ball 46 times for 250 yards, a 5.4 yard-per-carry average.
Stevan Ridley was solid on the ground, but once again looked sloppy holding onto the football. This is a huge concern, and he’ll likely be on the shortest leash of his career this season.
James White has received heavy praise during training camp, but has yet to wow any outsiders during the first two pre-season games. He ran for just 27 yards on 10 carries last Friday, and just doesn’t seem like he has that “it” factor.
The offensive line looked much better against the Eagles, manhandling the Eagles defensive front in the running game, while allowing just two sacks (both on Ryan Mallett).
A quick remark on the back-up quarterback situation. Mallett looked much more comfortable against Philly, and Jimmy Garoppolo looked great again. It’s obvious Mallett’s teammates love him and want him to succeed. The bench went crazy after both touchdowns, his teammates appear to be rooting for him.
Defensively, I think more questions were created than answered on Friday night. The absence of Jerod Mayo (he returned to practice today) may have changed things.
While the Patriots will be in a “nickel” defense most of the time, it appears that the “base” set will indeed be a 3-4. At times Chandler Jones was standing up as an outside linebacker, and he even seen dropping into coverage Friday night.
This also changes how the defensive line is evaluated. I think this could hurt Will Smith’s chances of making the team, but help Joe Vellano’s, who started at defensive end.
With Brandon Browner’s suspension looming, undrafted rookie Malcolm Butler started alongside Darrelle Revis. Butler was solid once again. He looked good in coverage and forced two fumbles. With Browner out the first four weeks, Butler looks like a lock to stick with the team until Browner returns.
One thing that could improve Butler’s chances of staying with the team the entire season is the experiment going on at safety. Both Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan got reps at safety alongside Devin McCourty. Neither Duron Harmon or Patrick Chung have taken a hold of the safety competition, and Arrington and Ryan could emerge as new threats.
Bill Belichick may simply be trying to get as many of his best players on the field as possible.