So what did we learn about the New England Patriots last night? Not much that we didn’t already know, but some things we already knew became a bit clearer.
To begin with, under the rules of the new CBA, the Patriots and Saints played last night’s game on fewer practices than they would have in previous years; teams are barely in real training camp mode at this point. Given that, play was a bit sloppy last night, though themes that were already emerging from training camp were reinforced last night.
The Patriots beat the Saints 7-6 last night, with two of the most powerful offenses in the NFL phoning it in while both defenses stepped up their games. Brian Hoyer led the Patriots on a third quarter touchdown drive culminating in a touchdown pass to Britt Davis, and the defense made the score stand up, yielding only field goals in the first and fourth quarters. Tom Brady had a pedestrian appearance of 4/7 for 30 yards, and gave up an ugly strip sack that resulted in the Saints’ first score. Jerod Mayo had a solid defensive evening, racking up three tackles, an assist, and a pass defense.
While Mayo was solid, it was rookie Chandler Jones who stole the show. Jones had a tackle and an assist, applied five quarterback pressures which netted two holding calls against Jermon Bushrod, one of the better left tackles in the league. Jones was also stout in run defense, played in multiple positions, and demonstrated why the Patriots are so high on the first round selection.
Beyond Jones, the Patriots pass coverage was improved last night, giving up 197 yards and holding the Saints to 33% efficiency on third down. The Patriots’ rushing game tallied 126 yards and was clearly an area of emphasis with the return of Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels as the Patriots rushed 31 times versus 41 passes.
The offensive line did not look great last night, which was expected given the absence of Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer, and Brian Waters. Nate Solder had a particularly difficult evening, netting two holding penalties and looking generally overmatched. The Patriots knew this was coming and historically have a solid offensive line, but it is clear that the Pats need their missing players back and need more time for their backup players to learn to work together. I suspect this problem will be fixed by the beginning of the year, but it is one area to be wary of.
Linebacker Dane Fletcher went down with a knee injury and it was discovered that Flethcher had town his ACL, likely meaning his loss for the season. Thankfully, the Patriots have depth in the front seven and this opens an opportunity for one of the bubble players to step forward, possibly giving Mike Rivera an opportunity to make the opening day roster.
The NFL lockout of officials meant Bill Belichick working the officials hard last night during the game. When asked about the officials in his post-game press conference, Belichick interestingly deferred to the opinion for Mike Pereira, the former head of NFL officiating. In that brief moment, Belichick made clear his feelings on the lockout, poking at the NFL to settle the contract issues prior to the start of the regular season.
The Pleasant Surprise
Running back Shane Vereen has not had a good training camp to date, and three other running backs saw carries before Vereen got the ball last night. But once Vereen did, he showed the flash that the Patriots drafted him for, picking up 64 yards on 11 carries. Coupled with Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead, the Patriots look ready to put a solid running back by committee on the field.
The Patriots will be back in action on Monday, Agust 20th in a Monday night game against the Philadelphia Eagles that will be televised on ESPN.