Depending on whether you are a glass half full or glass half empty person you could make diametrically opposed reviews on the Pats first preseason game of the 2012 season. There were some things that looked very good, others that were very bad, and a whole lot of inconsistency in between. Perhaps this is to be expected given the new CBA rules limiting the number of training camp practices as well as the fact that it is still very early in the process of forming this team.
I haven’t rewatched the game yet but I did want to take an early lunch and go through some notes I jotted down during last night’s game. Rather than a chronological review here is what stood out to me.
Chandler Jones stood out in a positive way in his first game with the Patriots
The very first thing I noticed was Chandler Jones, as he got effective pressure on Drew Brees on the second and third play of the game which resulted in the Saints going three and out. Overall I counted at least five quarterback pressure by Jones, plus a couple of runs he stuffed for little or no gain. More impressively this was not done against third string scrubs, but against a pretty good NFL starting tackle, Jermon Bushrod. Jones also induced Bushrod into having to take a couple of penalties in order to protect his quarterback. I wasn’t expecting much this early from the rookie, but for a team that has been in dire need of a more effective pass rush for a few years now, the play from Jones was nothing less than highly encouraging.
A few other notes on the defense: Dont’a Hightower has a high motor but seemed to bite a bit too much on play action, and was completely taken out of the play on one long run up the middle. … Jerod Mayo seemed to be energized and effective, making some solid plays and being in the right place to make stops. He got his hands up to tip one pass that resulted in an interception by Steve Gregory to end the fourth drive of the night by New Orleans. … On one play the line got plenty of pressure on the QB and coverage was good, but containment broke down as the QB was able to run for a long gain. That was quickly corrected when on a similar play a bit later the QB was stopped well short of the first down. … Whether it was a miscommunication or failure on the part of one of the players involved, a receiver was wide open for an easy catch as coverage from Sterling Moore and Patrick Chung. Overall I thought Moore did not have a good game, which included a pass interference penalty. … There was one play I want to go back and review but at first glance it seemed that Tavon Wilson was indecisive on whether to go for the interception or the hit, and ended up doing neither. Fortunately one play later Chung was able to step in front of a Saints’ receiver for an interception. … Watching the game I felt as if Devin McCourty seems like a natural to play safety. He and Rob Ninkovich (who had for the most part a good game) combined for a nice tackle for a loss on a run just before Gregory’s pick. … After getting superlative reviews in training camp Justin Francis seemed relatively mediocre, even though he was not going up against starters. … Kyle Love got great penetration despite being double teamed to blow up a 2nd and 3 on the Saints’ third drive. … Trevor Scott had a nice strip sack late; I’d like to see how he does against starters rather than third stringers though. … Dane Fletcher‘s injury is disheartening. Bobby Carpenter replaced him with Hightower sliding over. Fletcher to IR improves the odds of Carpenter sticking, and also opens up an opportunity for players like Mike Rivera and Niko Koutouvides to make the roster.
On offense none of the quarterbacks did anything to brag about. Tom Brady was a bit off on a couple of longer passes – short on one throw, late throwing it on another, and throwing to the wrong shoulder on another pass. I’ll chalk that up to rust and not enough reps yet. …¬†Brian Hoyer didn’t do anything memorable. …¬†Ryan Mallett had some good passes but telegraphed others, one that resulted in a tipped pass and a pick. It’s a good thing he has such a strong arm because he seems to have a long delivery which results in a really slow release. On the bright side he had a very good pass to Tyler Urban for a 1st down and had a long pass to his deep right which should have been called for pass interference; without that it goes for a big gain or touchdown. Mallett also hit Jabar Gaffney in tight coverage for a nice first down just before that play.
The play from the running backs was a definite positive. Stevan Ridley was quite effective, mostly cutting outside to the left. … Shane Vereen had a nice 18-yard gain and then a few plays later showed a nice hop for an 13-yard run; he finished with 64 yards on 11 carries and provided almost all the yardage on the game’s only touchdown drive. … Eric Kettani was on the field quite a bit. Not to read too much into it, but I get the feeling that either he or Spencer Larsen will be on the roster to help out as a lead blocker on running plays, protection for Brady on passing plays, and getting involved with an occasional screen pass. … Ah yes, the screen pass; wasn’t it nice to see the return of that play? Kettani and Vereen both had two receptions, and Danny Woodhead had three catches – one that went for a 20-yard gain.
Then there is the offensive line. I thought they did well with their run blocking (the Pats ran for 126 yards), and I felt ¬†the interior line (Dan Connolly, Nick McDonald, and Donald Thomas) did a decent job – though to be honest it was difficult to focus on them based on camera angles and having not yet rewatched the game with the aid of a pause and rewind button. … Dan Koppen appeared to struggle at center in limited playing time. … All off season I have been telling people they have been over reacting to concern over Nate Solder at LT and the possibility of Marcus Cannon at RT, but last night’s game gave absolutely no ammunition for me to back up that opinion. Both Solder and Cannon were beat early and often on pass plays, which led directly to poor passing stats and eight – eight! – punts. When was the last time the Pats had to punt that often? Solder was called for two penalties (granted one was very iffy) and Brady was creamed once, sandwiched by two Saints which resulted in a strip sack fumble.
On special teams Matthew Slater was an absolute standout in coverage. … Zoltan Mesko got excellent height and distance on his punts, including a beauty that rolled out of bounds at the 13-yard line. … Chris Koepplin won’t replace Stephen Gostkowski, but he boomed a kickoff for a touchback that may have caught some NFL scout’s attention. … The returners did nothing to distinguish themselves. A collective groan from Patriots fans was emitted when a first half kickoff was returned short of the 20-yard line by Woodhead.
Bottom line: it was the first preseason game. Both precision-based offenses showed a lot of rust, which I’ll chalk up to fewer practices than teams were able to have in previous years. Let’s not forget that teams don’t game plan for preseason games. If you’re a glass half full person then the Pats defense held the high-flying Saints to two field goals; if you’re a glass half empty person then the 2012 Pats are doomed due to their offensive line.
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