PATS REPORTER

Perry's Pats-Giants takeaways: Rookies roll in preseason finale

PATS REPORTER

Though the preseason finale between the Patriots and Giants began to feel like an old fashioned fourth preseason game pretty quickly, with reserves subbing in and the overall level of play dropping a bit, there was still plenty to glean Sunday night in East Rutherford, N.J. 

Mac Jones running on empty

The first third-down snap Mac Jones saw on Sunday came with pressure. Lots of it. The Giants brought the house, rushing seven defenders. There were too many for the Patriots to pick up as they worked out of an empty set with five pass-catchers spread out wide, and Jones knew he had to get rid of the football quickly. He did, barely. His pass floated toward the middle of the field in the general direction of Kristian Wilkerson. A defensive holding call gave the Patriots a first down.

But that trust Josh McDaniels showed in Jones -- to allow Jones to work from the shotgun, five wide, with no added protection in the backfield -- came up multiple times over the course of the game.

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Later in Jones' first drive, on third-and-9, Jones was sacked when the Patriots went five-wide and empty. Didn't matter. Empty looks kept getting called, and Jones was rewarded, finding Isaiah Zuber from an empty set on a Patriots staple concept called "HOSS," which means hitches on the outside and seams on the inside. Zuber ran a seam, and Jones found him.

Jones was sacked four times on the night, including when the Patriots went four- or five-wide out of the shotgun. He was challenged in that regard. He also worked from 21 personnel (two backs, one tight end), 12 personnel, 20 personnel and 11 personnel.

 

He worked under center; he executed play-action throws; he sold play-action, half-rolled out, and threw back across the field to Devin Asiasi for a 19-yard gain. He hit Asiasi on a four-verticals back-shoulder throw for 20 yards. 

There was a lot on Jones' plate as he saw the majority of the offensive work for the Patriots, including plenty when the play called for an empty set. Seeing pressure from those looks might've led to a few bumps and bruises for Jones. Plenty of teaching moments, too, one would assume. 

Devin Asiasi provides some insurance

Speaking of Asiasi, he played well enough on Sunday night to perhaps allow the Patriots to breathe a little sigh of relief. After a preseason game in Philly during which he dropped a would-be touchdown pass from Jones, he bounced back to catch all four of his targets for 64 yards against the Giants. 

With Hunter Henry not yet in uniform as he continues to deal with an injury, and with Matt LaCosse still unavailable after suffering an injury in joint practices with the Eagles, Asiasi could begin the season with a real role at the position behind starter Jonnu Smith. In an offense expected to be as tight-end dependent as New England's, having a reliable No. 3 option would provide real value.

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On his back-shoulder reception from Jones, Asiasi showed good coordination to find the football, contort his body and reel it in.

"It's something that we've been working on for a while now," Asiasi said, "and I'm glad we hit it."

Non-quarterback rookies shine

Christian Barmore didn't play much, but when he did he made his presence felt. He entered the game as part of New England's sub package on third down -- the first third down of the game -- and promptly generated a pressure on the same play Josh Uche sacked Daniel Jones.

On the very next drive, he got into the Giants backfield and put a two-handed shove into Jones' chest. He's explosive, and using him in a pass-rush-specific role might allow him to make an immediate impact in 2021.

Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the ball, Rhamondre Stevenson continues to do a little bit of everything. He ran through contact, including plowing through several Giants defenders for his fifth rushing touchdown of the preseason.

He also caught two passes for 17 yards. With some special-teams value on top of what he brings the Patriots as a receiver and a runner, Stevenson could help fill a role long held by Rex Burkhead as a do-it-all back.

That role may not lead to the number of carries that appear to be headed Damien Harris' way, but that doesn't mean it won't have a place in the Patriots offense.

J.J. Taylor lays lumber

J.J. Taylor shouldn't be stressed, though he said he was. An undrafted rookie who last season showed he could play at the NFL level, Taylor still carries with him some anxiousness this time of year. 

 

But he put together yet another uber-productive preseason game on Sunday. He ran nine times for 76 yards and caught two more passes for 13 yards. If Stevenson could be a more bruising version of Burkhead, Taylor has the looks of a player who just might make good on some of the Dion Lewis comparisons floated his way.

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Not only is Taylor versatile -- he returned a kick and three punts Sunday -- but like Lewis, he packs a punch in his smaller frame. Just ask star Giants defensive tackle Leonard Williams.

"Hit or get hit," Taylor said of his approach to chipping defensive linemen before getting into his routes. "That's the only mentality I have. Give the blow or take the blow. You choose which side you want to be on."

Nick Folk settling in

Nick Folk wasn't all that busy Sunday, but he made his lone kick of the night -- a 41-yarder. He also blasted a 58-yarder in warmups with Joe Cardona snapping and Jake Bailey holding. Based on his consistency in practice, he could very well have the inside track on the kicker's job in Foxboro. 

Rookie kicker Quinn Nordin did make a 48-yarder and a 37-yarder in the game prior to missing a 54-yarder wide left at the end of the night. He also made his lone extra point, which after a penalty was lined up from 38 yards away.

But has he done enough for the Patriots to move on from Folk? Doesn't seem that way. Nordin could be a developmental practice-squad candidate should he not make the active roster.

Questions at cornerback continue

Interesting night at corner for the Patriots. Newly-acquired cover man Shaun Wade was in uniform and aligning on the outside for the Patriots defense once he was inserted into the game. He was on the wrong end of the Giants' Hail Mary at the end of the game, but then was also on the scene for the subsequent two-point conversion that failed when Mike Glennon sent a pass to Dante Pettis' way. 

Maybe even more interesting was that Joejuan Williams was left out of the Patriots starting lineup. With both Stephon Gilmore (PUP) and Jonathan Jones unavailable on Sunday, the Patriots started J.C. Jackson at one corner spot and Jalen Mills at another, while D'Angelo Ross got the nod to start in the slot.

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Mills has shown to be proficient inside so the assumption here was he'd replace Jones and then Williams would get the start opposite Jackson along the boundary. Not the case. Williams has had a difficult summer as a cover corner after being cross-trained at corner and safety through the first two years of his career in New England. 

Williams has had a prominent role on special teams and could make the roster as a core kicking-game player. But Wade's acquisition may make it difficult for Williams to have a regular role defensively. If Gilmore returns to action prior to the start of the season, that cornerback room would be relatively full. Might it not have room for Williams?