Well, even though it’s been an entire week since New England lost to Jacksonville, 31-24, that game feeds into our expectations for Saturday night’s tilt at Houston.
How many starters will play, and for how long? After last week, who will continue to stand out (rookie receivers) or remain invisible (pass rushers)? Many players to watch heading into the weekend.
The Middle: A reference to Jimmy Eat World in honor of Jimmy Garoppolo, who firmly entrenched himself in the middle of the three-man quarterback depth chart between Tom Brady and Jacoby Brissett. Jimmy G. completed 22 of 28 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns, a solid showing, especially considering the lack of marquee names around him. Garoppolo looked strong at the end of the first half and beginning of the second, completing seven passes in a row during the two-minute drill that culminated in a touchdown to Austin Carr, then going 3-for-3 during New England’s TD drive to open the third quarter.
While Brissett seemed to have command of the playbook and maintained the right idea as to where the ball should go, the poor kid’s passing reel should be accompanied by a specific Christopher Cross song. We may have to wait until the fourth preseason game vs. the Giants to see Brisett in action for a prolonged period. Let’s just say that Garoppolo allows the Patriots to give Brisett more time to develop. At this rate, Garoppolo remains steadfast at number two. And speaking of number two …
Jesus, Jones! Right here, right now, it’s tough to see cornerback/TD-watcher Cyrus Jones contributing to this team. I mean, if Jones were an undrafted rookie on the field during two offensive plays that were so long they may have started in the Christmas Tree Shops, we’d all be writing his New England epitaph. He has two things going for him: one, he’s their top pick from last year; and two, it’s not like he’s got a Malcolm-Butler-type rookie breathing down his neck. Expect to see Jones on the field as much as possible Saturday, if only to get some positive plays into his memory bank.
Is This The End? Rookie defensive lineman Deatrich Wise left the game with a head injury and will miss about a week with a concussion, according to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald. According to multiple sources, rookie Derek Rivers and free agent Kony Ealy both left the practice field Wednesday with injuries. The signing of rookie free agent defensive end Keionta Davis on Friday may just work as a practice stopgap until the Pats get healthy at the position. However, considering the competition level of the Scrappy Mocs, plus the fact that Davis went undrafted in part due a bulging disk in his neck, to expect anything of him would qualify as the ultimate “In Bill We Trust.”
After a pass rush vs. Jacksonville that provided about as much pressure as a garden hose with a car parked on it, the scrimmage at Houston could provide a test as to what the remaining Pats pass rushers can do. In the meantime, you can watch some highlights of Davis’ career at Tennessee-Chattanooga on patriots.com.
It’s Delicious, It’s Delightful, It’s D. Lewis: Last week we discussed the physical improvement of running back Dion Lewis over last season. He showed a greater ability to cut and find extra yardage vs. the Jaguars, much more like the Superball in a Habitrail we saw two years ago (as in this nifty highlight reel vs. the Dolphins). On third and nine at the 1:52 mark of the first half, Lewis avoided a tackler in the backfield, cut left with all the sharpness of a Ginsu, and plowed ahead for a 12-yard gain. Behind an offensive line that held up about as well as a boat made of milk cartons, Lewis’ consistent ability to gain extra yards stood out. Seriously, who else on this team can do the things he does?
In the recent past I have considered Lewis as residing on the roster bubble. I apologize for my error.
On Second Thought: As a big believer in Coach Bill Belichick’s drafting abilities (and you can see our Round-By-Round Review of Patriots drafts since 2000 as proof), this one’s hard to say, but the selections of Jones (2016) and Jordan Richards (2015) in the second round look like picks the Pats wouldn’t mind doing over. Jones still has time (and his kick-receiving seems to have improved, despite an awful decision to take it out from five yards deep in the end zone); meanwhile, Richards stands out like a weed whacker at a tulip festival. He’s well-intentioned, but he always seems to do some damage.
Austin Takes Us: Hard to avoid being smitten by undrafted rookie receiver Carr, who wrapped up the night with five receptions for 44 yards and a thrilling touchdown catch at the end of the first half where he took the freight elevator for an if-you’re-not-getting-this-it’s-going-out-of-bounds pass from Garoppolo. Nice night by him – always a positive sign when, as an undrafted rookie, you can initiate those “how’s Belichick gonna sneak this guy onto the roster?” conversations – but Carr finds himself on the outside looking in at that core receiver group.
Cowboy Up: Plus, Carr has some rookie free agent pass-catching competition. Tight end Jacob Hollister excelled at Wyoming, and he seemed like a guy who might catch some passes in the preseason, but we didn’t expect this. Hollister’s seven grabs for 116 yards led the team last week. On a few of those receptions, he held onto the ball while getting slammed around like a solid bag of ice before a kegger.
Will continued production by Hollister make him stick as a third tight end behind Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen? He does have prototypical “move” tight end size at 6-4, 239 pounds (former Pats TE Tim Wright, now with the Lions, is 6-4, 220. Both Wright and Hollister ran a 4.64-second 40-yard dash in college). I’m going to resist the temptation of the Shiny New Thing and temper the Hollister heat a bit. Nope, I still say Matt Lengel will stick as a blocking tight end, especially after having seen the backup offensive tackles play a game-long session of “Wait I Wasn’t Ready.”
It’s Maye! It’s Maye! Too early to get excited, but it was fun to watch new addition K. J. Maye get his hands on the football and create something in space. Early in the third, Maye scored New England’s second touchdown on a quick screen to the right side, waiting for blocks to develop and shooting through the open gap into the end zone. That play resembled New England’s first from scrimmage, where Maye took a screen from Garoppolo and weaved his way through traffic for six yards. He ended up with six receptions for 34 yards. With quicker guys like Lewis, Edelman, and Amendola in Foxboro, Maye’s got an onion-paper-thin chance to make the roster, but he could provide some insurance on the practice squad.
We mentioned Maye in our 2016 Senior Bowl “That Guy” column as a potential Seventh-Round Slot Receiver. At 5-8, 194 pounds, he seems like a guy worth rooting for. Also worth mentioning? The Seventh-Round Slot Receiver Guy from this year’s column included none other than East-West Shrine guy Carr.
Waddle I Do, When You, Are Far Away? Wooo-wee, the offensive tackle depth can make you melancholy. LaAdrian Waddle seemed to miss more blocks than an apathetic bus driver. Between him and backup Cam Fleming, the OT backups had Foxboro fans saying multiple novenas for the starting O-line’s health. The Patriots addressed the position via the draft with Tony Garcia in the third round and Conor McDermott in the sixth, but Garcia sat out last week’s game while McDermott didn’t get enough time to really shine through (though he showed some athleticism on a pull near the goal line in the fourth quarter). It’s a high-class problem when the largest concern sounds like “who are the backups?” but maintaining solid depth has helped New England stay at or near the top of the league for years.
And Then I Introduce Them To Harvey: We weren’t sure where rookie defender Harvey Langi would play. He took on a Rob Ninkovich role, holding down the defensive end spot while also dropping back into coverage. While he didn’t have any standout stats (three total tackles), Langi seemed to keep the edge while making decisive runs toward the football. More importantly for this stage of his career, he played on most special teams units. Langi’s worth keeping an eye on as, now with Ninkovich retired and Wise and Rivers missing time, there’s a role there to be filled.
An Ealy Departure? If you told me that veteran defensive end Ealy sat out last week’s game vs. Jacksonville, I’d have no choice but to believe you. Stats aren’t everything, but Ealy registered zero tackles while standing out about as much as flounder on the sea floor. Every Patriots fan has seen highlights of Ealy wreaking havoc during Super Bowl 50. It would be nice to see anything similar from him in a Patriots uniform. Missing time due to an apparent injury can only delay the process.
Not to be too picky about a preseason broadcast, but it’s worthwhile to watch these things with a critical eye and see if they improve over the next month. Therefore, some notes…
Being A Good Christian: Overall, I appreciate the tandem of Dan Roche and Christian Fauria in the broadcast booth. Fauria does a good job filling in where Roche may come up short. For example, on the opening kickoff, Roche lauded the Patriots’ special teams coverage, yet neglected to mention Jonathan Jones on the tackle. Fauria did mention Jones by name soon after. Similarly, with 2:09 left in the first, a long pass to Devin Lucien went incomplete. Roche called it, “Complete out-of-bounds, so, incomplete,” which maybe wasn’t what he wanted to say, but again, Fauria went into detail with a strong follow-up on how Lucien needed to give himself and Garoppolo a chance by allowing some space along the sideline on the route.
It’s Maye, I Said: Roche called Maye “K. J. Moore” at one point, then addressed him as Lucien (but quickly corrected it). Not a big deal and something I’m sure he’ll fix this weekend.
Un-Brofessional: Fauria doesn’t get all As, however. With 6:19 left in the first, the cameras showed Julian Edelman and Brady talking on the sideline. Roche had some fun with it, imagining Brady making a comment on Edelman’s Super Bowl catch. Entertaining to a point, past which Fauria took it when he seemed to barge in as Edelman’s voice, going overboard with a lot of “bros” and “awesomes” forced into it. I’m probably being too critical, but a light moment got weighed down by stepping on the joke. Stomping on it, really.
Two Replays, Or Not To Replay: Two quick notes on potential replays that did not happen during the broadcast. That nifty 20-yard sideline throw to Carr with 36 seconds left in the first half warranted another look. I still don’t know if Carr lost his guy in man-to-man coverage and came back to the ball, or if he found a crevice in the zone and exploited it. Even though Garoppolo had the team in hurry-up offense, there was time for a quick review. Also, with 4:50 left in the fourth, Brissett overthrew Hollister in the end zone, but without a replay it was difficult to tell if the tight end would have been open had the pass been on-target.
Too Many Cooks: One final criticism of the broadcast, and that involves the amount of on-camera talent. It’s like the cast of Reservoir Dogs. Do we need Roche, Fauria, Matt Chatham on the sideline, Paul Perillo and Andy Hart in the studio, and Steve Burton on the sideline? If you can’t tell me off the top of your head who played Mr. Blue, then I think we have an answer.
Listen, everyone I mentioned does a solid job. Still, for example, it seems that Chatham, as a former Patriot with increasing commentator experience, could fill the roles played by Perillo and Hart and especially by Burton. During the prerequisite Belichick interview at halftime, Burton offered a non-question related to players along the lines of “just your thoughts on the first half.” Belichick answered with a “we got a look at some guys” fill-in-the-blanks comment, which made me wonder a) what would Chatham have asked and b) how much more informative would the coach’s answer have been to a former player?
Again, I enjoy these preseason broadcasts in general; I just don’t understand why they stray from the regular-season, big-network formula of having two in the booth and one on the sideline. It seems like Chatham could provide all the info/commentary that the others outside the booth do. Maybe keep Burton as a halftime remote commentator and go to Perillo/Hart for longer pre- and post-game segments?
And as I type this, I realize maybe I’m just another cook?
Nothing To Ad: During the season I typically comment on commercials I enjoyed (or did not). No remarkable ones to speak of last week.
Mixtape Song That May Or May Not Prove Relevant: Came across a mix tape from 30 years ago that had Joe Strummer’s “Love Kills” on it. I mention it because you will fall in love with a Patriot this preseason, but he will not be on the roster in September. Prepare yourself, is all I’m saying.
Opponent Mascot Name Etymology: A Texan is someone from Texas. (You’re welcome.) More interesting is that “Texas” comes from a Spanish interpretation of the Caddo Indian tribe word “taysha,” meaning “friends.” Though, given their recent woes vs. New England, I don’t think the Texans will be very friendly.
Let’s hope for a competitive game and a healthy outcome. Should provide a great test for the offensive line.
Chris Warner will miss the Bridgeport Bluefish. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @cwarn89.