August 13, 2011

Preseason Game 1 Notes: Patriots 47 Jaguars 12

Football's back. Sweet. And seeing as my last 200,000 posts have said something along those lines its time to dole out some genius football logic.

The Patriots finally got back to work Thursday, thumping the Jaguars 47-12 in the preseason opener at Gillette Stadium.

Well...check that. Some of the Pats were back in live action. There was no Brady. No Ochocinco. No Haynesworth. And a whole slew of other big names were missing. Basically it was a JV slopfest against one of the more boring teams in the NFL (and that's when the Jags DO play Maurice Jones-Drew).

The bad news? Those in attendance (like myself) had to pay regular season prices (90$ + 40$ parking) to get a glimpse of 50+ soon to be free agents. The good news? The Patriot backups beat the crap out of the Jaguar reserves. Game notes after the jump.

Patriots ran A LOT of 4-3

Its tough to get a gauge on what we'll see from the Pats defense in the regular season, especially when just about every defensive starter was MIA. Plus, Belichick tends to run extremely vanilla schemes during preseason. And, a defense can look really good (Patriots really got after the QB with 4 sacks) when facing off against a rookie QB (Blaine Gabbert) seeing his first NFL action.

This much I do know. The Pats were in the 4-3 for most of the game (and 4-2-5 on passing downs), and did not line up in a 3 man line once. It's been widely speculated that Belichick is shifting away from his core 3-4 philosophy, especially given Ty Warren's departure this off-season, plus the addition of Haynesworth (renowned for his hatred of the 3-4). Last night was the first in-game evidence of a major strategic change. We shall see as the preseason unfolds.

New Rule Changes In Full Effect

The NFL made two major rule changes this off-season: moving kickoffs from the 30 up to the 35 yard line, and automatically reviewing every borderline touchdown. I can tell you already that I don't like either.

I can understand the ruling to move kickoffs 5 yards up-field. By increasing the percentage of touchbacks on kickoffs, you decrease the chance of a special teamer getting clocked and concussed. But based off of one game, its going to result in every kicker smashing every kickoff out the back of the end zone (like Patriot Chris Koepplin on the opening kickoff), or kick returners (like Julian Edelman) getting cut down at the 15. I think by the end of the pre-season, we'll see many roster spots freed up for kickoff specialists with Nigel Gruff-esque foot power as opposed to the electrifying Devin Hester/Josh Cribbs types. Say good bye to excitement.

Meanwhile, the decision to have every scoring play be subject to automatic review is going to tack on 15-20 minutes to each games. Two touchdowns that were clearly scores two nights were brought up to the booth for review. I understand that the game wants to avoid bad calls, but for every Vinny Testaverde/Calvin Johnson situation, you'll see another 5 get a second look that didn't need it. Maybe the pre-season will help the league iron out the kinks, but it took a long time Thursday night.

Other than that, and the fact that Matt Turk is neither A. Dead nor B. Retired, there wasn't a whole lot to take out of this pre-season game.

There were some noteworthy performances by the backup Patriots.

Brian Hoyer/Ryan Mallett

Hoyer (15-21, 171, 1 TD) looked great. He has a real feel for this offense after two years as Brady's understudy, and should prove to be a solid backup should Brady go down. But let's take a chill pill before we start calling him the next Matt Cassell.

Mallett (12-19, 164, 1 TD) was on his game as well (though against the 3rd/4th teamers), which was pretty impressive for a rookie who's had about 2 weeks of NFL coaching. He had a couple of mental mistakes (a delay of game for one), but he has an absolute laser for an arm. More coaching from Brady and Bill O'Brien will do him well.

Taylor Price

Price (5 rec, 105 yards 1 TD) had a himself a night, with a beautiful touchdown grab in the back of the end zone, plus a button hook that he turned into a 50 yard gain with a nifty juke. There are a lot of skill players on roster (specifically at WR) for the Pats who may get cut, Price (along with IMO Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman, and Matt Slater) among them. After Thursday, a game that Tate missed, Edelman struggled (2 bad KR and a drop), and Slater played well (great special teams as always and a deep catch from Hoyer) he may have a leg up in that crew.

Aaron Hernandez

When I went to Patriots training camp just over a week ago, Hernandez was the best in show. Too quick for linebackers. Too big for DBs. He looked good (6 catches for 68 yards), especially after stealing away an interception in the 2nd quarter for a 20 yard gain. But he's got to watch the fumbles. He had 2, one on the first play of the game (lost), another near the one yard line (which he recovered).

Stevan Ridley

Ridley was one of the surprises of Thursday night, wowing with with a quick burst (some pretty jukes) and sure hands for a big sized (225 lbs) back. His versatility (16 car 64 yds 2 TD, 7 rec 47 yds 1 TD) could make him an occasional contributor in the Patriots stable of running backs. Where he fits in the grand scheme (along with Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, the inactive Shane Vereen, not to mention Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk) remains to be seen.

Dane Fletcher

According to Belichick, Fletcher had a great off-season. It showed Thursday night, as the 2nd year LB out of Montana St. kept up the good work at Mike linebacker in the Pats 4-3. Fletcher looked psychic, blowing up two plays with tackles for loss and hitting the QB once. Its unlikely he'll will play much at MLB with Jerod Mayo in the middle, but if he keeps his play up he too could be an occasional contributor.

Darius Butler

I will be very surprised if Butler makes the roster, especially after his performance against the Jags. The 3rd year out of UConn has looked TERRIBLE ever since Braylon Edwards dougied in his face back in week 2, with zero confidence yet infinite separation from all receivers. It was no different Thursday, as Butler was consistently a few steps behind. To make matters worse, his one good pass defense was nullified with a 5 yard contact penalty from Leigh Bodden. The dude has potential but he needs to figure things out soon.

1 comment:

  1. Totally with you on kickoffs bro. Injuries can and will happen on special teams regardless. Taking away guys like Hester, Cribbs, Sproles, etc. is just a flat-out stupid move by the NFL.