Curran's Eagles-Pats preseason game preview-review
Curran's Eagles-Pats preseason game preview-review
FOXBORO – Preseason is the only time the old saying, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game...” applies in the NFL. After last week’s sluggish performance by the Patriots’ second- and third-teamers in Washington, Bill Belichick made it clear he wants an uptick against the Eagles.
FOXBORO – There were nearly 30 flags thrown for infractions Friday night, 21 of which were enforced. Which was fun to watch. It may have been tough to watch at times but earlier this week, referee John Parry said, “It’s an offensive game” and the 77 combined points in the second fake game of the year were testament to that. So what happened out there? After every game, we go back over our preview and see what was semi-accurate and what was flat-out wrong.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
It is TBD on how much Tom Brady and the other prime-time Patriots play. Expect them to see at least a quarter because the progression to a heavy workload in Week 3 against Carolina demands they get acclimated to playing simulated football this week. The Eagles secondary was annoyingly effective against the Patriots first-team offense all week. If the starters are going to get their work and make way for the subs, they’ll need some extended drives early and that means first down is vital. The run-blocking was bad last week in Washington and – without a tight end threat – the Patriots don’t want to be staring at second-and-9 and third-and-6 all night. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen need to get some holes opened up by their interior linemen. Dan Connolly’s been getting a lot of reps at center so we’ll see if he starts there tonight. If he does, either Josh Kline or Marcus Cannon could be at right guard. Nate Solder could use a bounce-back game after a subpar opener. He left practice with a trainer on Thursday so we’ll see if that keeps him down tonight. Also interested to see how well – and how often – Brady and Brandon LaFell hook up. When the second unit plays, Ryan Mallett will be under the microscope. He missed time this week with an unknown issue but it was probably traceable to him jamming his knee into the ground last week against Washington. Josh Boyce is having a “meh” kind of camp and could use a performance that shows his potential. Would like to see running back James White get some room to move and will be watching the young offensive linemen – Cameron Fleming and Jon Halapio in particular – to see how they perform. Lack of tight end depth is a concern going into this game.
Because the beginning of the game featured an extended drive, a pick-six, and another extended drive, Tom Brady got 18 plays quickly and called it a night. He went 8 for 10 for 81 yards and a touchdown. He also threw that pick, which came on a miscommunication with newly-signed tight end Steve Maneri. The trouble Brady had against the Eagles secondary vanished when the game began. He hit Julian Edelman, Kenbrell Thompkins and Danny Amendola at the wide receiver spots and Shane Vereen out of the backfield. The one throw to a tight end – the look to Maneri – ended poorly. That position is going to remain a concern. Meanwhile, the running game – which spun its wheels in the preseason opener – was effective. Stevan Ridley carried nine times for 45 yards and although he was charged with a fumble, if the play had gone to replay it would have been overturned because his shoulder was down. The Patriots recovered so no replay was needed. The Patriots keep shuffling their offensive line, seemingly in an effort to promote competition and cohesiveness. Good bounceback from Nate Solder this week and at first blush it seemed Dan Connolly, Marcus Cannon, Josh Kline and Logan Mankins all played well. Jimmy Garopollo was in with the starters for the third series and had another surprisingly efficient performance (6 for 12 for 72 yards and two scores). When Mallett got in for the second half, he played like a fire had been lit under him. He ran for a touchdown and dropped in a pretty one to Brian Tyms as well. Boyce had a decent game with two catches for 31 yards but also had a silly block in the back penalty that wiped out a touchdown. As a group, the Patriots ran for 250 yards on 46 carries led by Jonas Gray’s 98 yards on 12 carries. Brandon Bolden, though, continues to run well every time he gets a chance ((three carries, 21 yards), while Roy Finch had a better game this week (7 for 37). Not much yet out of James White who goes down a little easily on first contact.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
Tackling was shoddy last week. And the Redskins screen and rollout game made the Patriots defenders look a little slow. We’ll look for better fundamentals against what will be a stiff challenge from one of the league’s best backs, LeSean McCoy. Little Darren Sproles will also be a player who challenges the second level on screens and draws. The Patriots are shorthanded at defensive tackle so it might be a big workload for Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. Kelly in particular talked about needing to get his cardio back in game shape after last week’s game. Will Smith hasn’t been remarkable in practices. We’ll be watching to see how his reps are allocated and the impact he makes. Jerod Mayo probably won’t play after missing practices this week. Donta Hightower, Jamie Collins and the intriguing Darius Fleming will all be tested. In the secondary, expect to see some Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner will be back out there as well. With a flag-happy preseason underway, we’ll see how the Patriots respond to the heightened sensitivity about touching wideouts. The safety rotation next to Devin McCourty is another spot that will be in focus tonight.
The Patriots created four turnovers – two on strips by rising corner Malcolm Butler. The starters did a nice job holding LeSean McCoy in check and the tackling was much better this week. There’s an interesting secondary rotation going on. The Patriots ran Duron Harmon, Patrick Chung, Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon through the spot on Friday night. Given the need for defensive backs in the NFL these days with all the sub defenses, you need them all and it helps to be versatile. Darrelle Revis was in for two series and Brandon Browner wasn’t mixed in until the second half. The Patriots’ front looked good early on with the starters. A lot of receivers were running free underneath later in the game.
THE KICKING GAME
The return and coverage teams are what bear watching. Roy Finch, who had a fumble on a kickoff and a muffed punt last week will have to raise his level to help himself now. Watch the performances of guys like Fleming in coverage because that’s where those depth linebackers and safeties need to make themselves useful.
Not a great game. Long snapper Tyler Ott missed a block and got a Ryan Allen punt blocked. Ryan Allen mishandled a punt snap and had to scramble around and get it off on the run. Stephen Gostkowski missed a field goal. The coverage teams were average.
GAME WITHIN THE GAME
Both teams figure to go up-tempo offensively and the stress on the respective defenses in terms of communication and conditioning will have an impact on the effectiveness shown.
Any quickness of tempo was mitigated by the flags so the speed didn’t come into play in any discernible way.
DON'T BE SURPRISED IF...
Jimmy Garoppolo comes back to earth a bit after last week’s commanding performance against Washington.
Jimmy stayed up in the stars. He’s got excellent poise and got very good protection for the most part as did the other Patriots quarterbacks on Friday night.
THAT SUMS IT UP PATRIOTS STYLE
“It’s just good to go up against really good competition. I think that’s what it’s been. I think competition has been at its best, and I think it brings out the best in all of us. Those guys are competing hard, and so are we. We’ve made our fair share of plays. I think we’ve made plenty of mistakes to learn from. I think the whole goal is to come out here and get better and see where we’re at, measure yourself against another opponent, then we’ve got a day tomorrow with a little bit of time with them, and then we’re at it Friday night.” – Tom Brady on working against Philly
Brady was yearning to play and his performance showed it. He gets so into these practice games, it has to impact the other 89 players on the roster in some fashion.
THAT SUMS IT UP EAGLES STYLE
“Obviously you're watching a first ballot Hall of Famer, one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. I think everybody, when you get a chance to watch someone that is as good as they are at their craft, I think he can learn a lot of different things. That's a unique thing when you get to participate in situations like this is that when you're not in, what are you doing?” – Chip Kelly on his quarterback Nick Foles observing Tom Brady.
Foles, coming off a bad preseason opener, was crisp as well – 8 for 10 for 81 and a touchdown.
THE WINNER IS...
Patriots 23, Eagles 21
Patriots 42, Eagles 35