Patriots vs. Bears: Five things to watch
Patriots vs. Bears: Five things to watch
FOXBORO - Five things to watch tonight in the Patriots’ second preseason game, vs. the Chicago Bears at Gillette Stadium…
GET IT GOING ON THE GROUND
Eighty of the 117 rushing yards rolled up by Tyler Gaffney, Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount came on three plays last week (Gaffney’s 44-yarder, a 24-yarder from Bolden and a 12-yarder from Blount). It was good that those plays were well executed. But the 37 yards gained on their other 18 carries is less than pedestrian. The Patriots need a much better performance up front to give these bigger backs room to build up some momentum heading into the hole. And one of the backs – at this point, it appears either Blount or Gaffney – needs to assert himself as a player who gets what’s blocked plus a little bit more. It could be telling to see how they perform this week against a Bears front-seven that was solid against the run (90 yards, 28 carries) in its preseason opener against Denver. Watch the center position closely. David Andrews drew raves this week from Bill Belichick while Bryan Stork, who appears to be getting nudged out by Andrews, basically took himself out of practice on Tuesday by throwing a punch during 11-on-11 scrimmaging.
HOW WILL MARTY B. RESPOND?
Martellus Bennett had a fairly blissful landing in New England. Approachable and funny for the first few weeks of camp and in the offseason, Bennett was pretty chippy all week against his former Bears teammates. He was involved in minor dustups on both Monday and Tuesday and steered clear of a media horde comprised of reporters from both cities that wanted to hear from him. Bennett got extensive playing time in the preseason opener and was leaned on by Jimmy Garoppolo. How engaged will Bennett be this week? Will his focus and effort be heightened against Chicago or will he begin to show some of the hot-and-cold effort that he was alleged to have exhibited at his past three NFL stops. He’s gotten unstinting praise since getting to New England. Will a semi-adverse week knock him off track or does he move past all that and merely play the game without any “look at me” moments?
SPECIAL TEAMS IN FOCUS
We’ve spent a lot of time watching the Patriots punt return until trying to figure out if Cyrus Jones or V’Angelo Bentley will seize that job with uneventful handling of punts and solid return work. Jones has had some practice adventures but he’ll get it locked down at some point. The bigger concern is punt coverage. Last week, the Patriots allowed punt returns of 48, 19 and 17 yards. Far too much. Now, some of the players covering those kicks will be heading home soon as the Patriots make cuts and the Patriots’ front-line special teamers will be stepping in. But the punt coverage team in general needs to do a better job for special teams coach Joe Judge.
POCKET PRESENCE FOR GAROPPOLO
On the Patriots first drive last week, Jimmy Garoppolo took a sack when he failed to step up in the pocket into a throwing lane he was provided. This is where the height of the 6-2 Garoppolo sets him apart from Tom Brady, who’s tall enough to scan over the heads of his linemen. Stepping up for Garoppolo means his angle downfield to survey what’s going on will change. Can he step up and still be effective or do the Patriots need to implement more throws for Garoppolo where he can move the pocket and just process half the field instead of scanning? This week against the Bears and next week against a Panthers team that will be trying to make a defensive statement in their third preseason game will be telling for Garoppolo in terms of preparation for Week 1.
YOUNG DEFENDERS WITH A CHANCE TO CARVE ROLES
Corners Justin Coleman, Cre’von LeBlanc, Johnathan Jones, Cyrus Jones and linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill have shown good competitiveness at different junctures in camp and in games. This will be a solid test for them all after two weeks of joint practices and a second preseason game. Grugier-Hill in particular appears to be earning more time on the field. Watch to see if he gets some reps earlier with the starters in sub-defense passing situations. He’s made a bunch of plays against both Patriots quarterbacks and those of the Bears and Saints in practices. Can he do it against stiffer competition?