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Game Observations: Patriots tame Lions in preseason opener

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The Patriots kicked off their 2019 preseason by steamrolling the Lions 31-3 on Thursday night, looking dominant from start to finish and giving the team a feel-good start to the new year. The Pats unleashed a balanced attack, scoring three first-half touchdowns and never looking back as the offense moved the ball no matter what personnel was in the game. 

New England got notable performances from three receivers from whom they’ll need contributions this season, as N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers (two touchdowns) and Maurice Harris (touchdown) all continued their strong summers. Rookie quarterback Jarrett Stidham was also impressive in what was a solid showing for almost every newcomer.

Meanwhile, the defense showed why there’s been so much excitement surrounding them this summer, setting the tone early with multiple sacks from a variety of players.

Here’s what else stood out as the Patriots got their 2019 season underway.

If there was a breakout star of the first preseason game it would have to be undrafted rookie Jacobi Meyers. Meyers had 6 catches for 69 yards with 2 touchdowns and continued to catch the ball like he has since camp opened. All the receivers that needed strong performances had them, but Meyers cemented his place atop the depth chart with his consistency. If he was this effective with Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham, it’s exciting to think about what he’ll do with Tom Brady.

The defense lived up to the hype, even without most of their top-line players in the game. They continued using their amoeba front, moving players all over the place and exploiting unexpected matchups for the offense. Jamie Collins looked like he hadn’t missed a beat since his first stint in New England, while the return of Ja’whaun Bentley was a reminder how exciting he was as a rookie. Six sacks in the first half on 12 dropbacks tells just how active and disruptive the defense was. Throw Hightower and Van Noy into that mix, along with the starters in the secondary, and woah, look out.

Matt Lacosse had two nice catches, including one up the seam that made us almost believe he could replace a little bit of Rob Gronkowski. But near the end of the first half Lacosse injured his left leg, limping off the field. As always, injuries in the preseason can be heartbreaking and considering the team was already looking for answers at tight end, we’ll all be holding our breath for Lacosse’s prognosis.

Braxton Berrios got off to a good start as well, looking very Edelman-like on a fourth-down whip route that he converted for a first down. Berrios was active in the punt return game as well (4 returns for 35 yards), making extra yards on each. This game was a good building block for the second-year receiver who seems to finally be hitting his stride as he finished with 3 catches for 45 yards.

None of the offensive line starters played in this one, except de facto starter Dan Skipper who has been Isaiah Wynn’s placeholder in camp. Skipper showed up well in his first game action though, holding the edge in pass protection. On a team desperate for any tackle who can play, Skipper’s stock is rising after this game.

Jacob Bailey kicked off the punter competition in the first half with three solid kickoffs, two issue-less extra point holds and one booming punt that was fair caught. Ryan Allen entered the game in the second half, answering Bailey with a punt fair caught inside the 10, then smoking a 56-yarder. If there was any doubt before Thursday, the punter competition is certainly on.

JoeJuan Williams hasn’t exhibited much in training camp but showed why the Patriots made him a second-round pick with some physical edge-setting early in the game. Williams’ size and tackling ability could be useful assets for the secondary. He had a personal foul and narrowly missed out on a pass interference call that was reviewed, so he was not without his rookie moments as well.

N’Keal Harry didn’t have a touchdown but had two great catches for 36 yards that show the kind of needed presence he can bring on the outside. The bad news is that once again Harry was dinged up, a recurring theme of training camp. He did return from the Blue Tent of Death and was seen on the sideline later. That’s a good sign, but it would be nice to see Harry make it through a game or practice without some kind of injury issue.

John Simon doesn’t get much mention but is firmly in the top line of edge players and showed remarkable athleticism grabbing an interception. Simon’s continued development is something to monitor as he goes from pass rush specialist to potential all-around edge player. The competition at the edge is white hot, with Simon, Derek Rivers (2 sacks) and Shilique Calhoun (sack) all making splash plays.

Everyone is hoping Brian Hoyer never plays a snap this year, but he had an excellent first half going 12-14 for 147 yards and two touchdowns. Jarrett Stidham wasn’t far behind him, throwing for 179 yards and a touchdown, while also having two beautiful throws to Maurice Harris down the sidelines that should’ve been touchdowns or pass interference. There’s growing reason to feel like the Patriots might have a developmental find in Stidham. 

Jerod Mayo was calling the plays and it was nice to see the defense continue the aggressiveness they played with under Brian Flores. It looks like Mayo will indeed be a first-year coach calling defensive plays.

Gunner Olszewski returned punts, and played running back and wide receiver. He’s got a long way to go for a roster spot but the Division 2 college cornerback is showing he can contribute a number of ways.

We expected to see rookie Damien Harris but instead it was all Brandon Bolden early and Nick Brossette late. The running game wasn’t as unstoppable as the passing game, but was effective in spots. Harris will be worth keeping an eye on. But if there was a down takeaway from this game it would be the sporadic running game that averaged just 3.5 yards-per-carry, and wasn’t effective off the tackles.

The Patriots are back in Foxboro next week for two practices before heading back on the road for joint practices with the Titans. Their next preseason game will be Saturday, August 17th in Tennessee.

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