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Analysis: Eagles-Patriots

Posted Aug 15, 2014

Observations about New England's preseason home opener from the press box at Gillette Stadium.

FOXBOROUGH – Starting the game with a Tom Brady INT, and then his diving to make a tackle, would be tops on my list of Things I Don’t Want to See in Preseason. Then, he was hit hard by a couple of Eagles on the second series after throwing a pass. Some scary moments for Patriots fans.

Brady did manage to lead a scoring drive to rectify his initial miscue, and then promptly called it a night. Good move.

There are still a number of position battles and personnel groupings happening on both sides of the ball, which made the second preseason contest interesting in several respects. Here’s what stood out:

Backup QB

When Brady came out after two series, it was a mild surprise that rookie Jimmy Garoppolo was given first dibs over Ryan Mallett (it should be noted that Mallett missed a couple of days of practice earlier in the week).

The rookie wasted little time, leading the offense to a short scoring drive (after a fumble recovery by the defense). How did he follow it up? When an even more impressive 75-yard scoring drive, which he helped sustain with a great pass on 3rd-and-8. He then showed veteran-like poise in the pocket on his second TD toss of the night when he hit Brandon LaFell in the back of the end zone as an Eagles defender was bearing down on him.

Garoppolo didn’t face too much heat, but when he did, he eluded the pass rush fairly well, showing good instincts and not panicking.

Mallett had a short field, too, when he came into the game at the start of the second half. After a turnover gave the ball to New England deep in Philly territory, Mallett ran for a touchdown to capitalize on the INT. He finished 7-of-11 for 92 yards and a passing TD, too. Not a bad response to Garoppolo’s formidable challenge.

After Garoppolo’s impressive debut a week ago in Washington, and Mallett’s continued inconsistency week-to-week, could we be seeing an ascent on the depth chart for Garoppolo? I wouldn’t be opposed to it.

O-line

Once again, Dan Connolly started at center, which is fast becoming the norm. He seems to have overtaken Ryan Wendell for the job of snapping to Brady.

Jordan Devey, last week’s left guard starter, got the nod at right guard this time as incumbent Logan Mankins assumed his usual spot. Sebastian Vollmer also was back at right tackle. Left tackle Nate Solder assumed his normal position at the start, but was used often in the first quarter as a tackle eligible due to the lack of tight end depth on the roster at the moment (injuries have taken a toll). Marcus Cannon came on as the left tackle in those situations. Cannon later was flagged for an illegal roll block, one of the new rules changes for 2014, as well as a hands-to-the-face infraction, which is a point of emphasis this season.

Josh Kline took over for Mankins on the third drive and was quickly replaced by Chris Barker. Ryan Wendell also replaced Connolly at center, but Connolly was back in on the fourth drive. After that, Wendell came in and stayed there for the remainder of the half, with Kline and Devey as his left and right guard. Wendell remained there after the half, with Kline moving to right guard and Barker stepping in a left guard.

Kline looked like he had a good game overall, sometimes taking Solder’s place as the tackle eligible. He even threw a nice block on rookie Roy Finch’s touchdown run in the 3rd quarter. Devey appeared shakier, even when he moved to left tackle.

Front 7

Joe Vellano replaced injured Chris Jones as the starting right defensive end next to nose tackle Vince Wilfork and left end Tommy Kelly. Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones were the outside ‘backers, with Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins on the inside.

Ninkovich, a former outside linebacker who’s played defensive end the past couple of seasons, showed excellent technique in contain and in rushing the quarterback on back-to-back tackles for loss. Jones dropping into pass coverage, however, still needs some work as he tries to transition to 3-4 outside ‘backer from 4-3 d-end.

Vellano stayed on the field, moving to nose in place of Wilfork. In the second half, he finally yielded to rookie L.T. Tuipulotu.

Jake Bequette got some reps at right OLB in the second quarter, his first game action of the summer. It’s a critical point in Bequette’s career, as the former third-round draft choice hasn’t been active often in his previous two seasons. Nothing he did Friday, however, jumped off the page, one way or the other.

Meanwhile, the shift back to the 3-4 seems like more than a training camp experiment at this point. If they come out next week against Carolina in the 3-4, then it’ll be safe to say that the Patriots have changed base defensive fronts after only a couple of seasons using the 4-3.

Safety

Kyle Arrington got the start next to Devin McCourty, continuing a summertime experiment/audition for that role.

Patrick Chung came in and was penalized immediately in the 2nd quarter. He also was victimized by Eagles tight ends on the Eagles’ second scoring drive.

When Duron Harmon came on as McCourty’s replacement in the 2nd half, he made an immediate impact, picking off a Philly pass that led to Mallett’s rushing TD. Logan Ryan and Nate Ebner combined as the safeties at times in the second half as well. Ebner registered a pick, but it was more a case of being in the right place at the right time when a pass was tipped in the air.

Next week’s game – the regular season tune-up, as the third contest is normally treated – should provide some indication of who has the inside track for the job beside McCourty. That role, it seems, is still very much up for grabs.

Cornerback

Rookie Malcolm Butler started again, only this time on the right side, as left corner Darrelle Revis played this week after sitting against Washington. Revis only lasted the first couple of series, though, before retiring for the evening. Butler stayed in, moved to the left side, and veteran Brandon Browner assumed the right side.

Butler was nearly beaten for a TD in the first half, but the pass to the receiver he was covering went just a bit too far. On a positive note, though, he forced a fumble and recovered it in the second half.

He has been getting increased reps, due to the slow return of veteran Alfonzo Dennard, who practiced more this past week, but didn’t suit up for the game. Butler’s role may also have something to do with the impending four-game suspension that Browner must serve in Weeks 1-4 of the regular season. The coaches may be giving him an opportunity to show what he can do while Browner is sidelined. He certainly appears to have positioned himself nicely for a spot on the 53-man roster.

Kick return

Rookie Roy Finch had a better night than last week, when he put the ball on the ground twice. Finch returned a pair of kickoffs for an average of 26 yards. His longer one was 31. Not a bad rebound effort (plus scored a rushing touchdown on offense). Second-year man Josh Boyce returned just one kick for 25 yards.

Long Snapper

If you're keeping track of Patriots LS battle, rookie Tyler Ott made a blocking mistake that led to blocked punt in the first half. Veteran Danny Aiken came in on the next punt and made a great tackle down field. He later picked up a penalty for getting down field too early, however, and his snaps to punter Ryan Allen weren’t exactly perfectly placed.

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The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on the PFW Blog represent those of individual authors, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the New England Patriots organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. Authors' views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Patriots officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.

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