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Game Observations: Rookies lead Patriots to grind-it-out 22-17 win over Titans

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The Patriots played mostly backups in a sloppy 22-17 win over the Titans in Week 2 of the preseason that did feature some bright spots that should translate to the regular season. Though the overall product on the field was more disappointing than the systematic destruction of the Lions, the Patriots rookies showed well for themselves once again, while some unexpected veterans continue to rise up the depth chart.

In the preseason it’s hard to determine what’s meaningful and what can be chalked up to backups playing like backups against backups. And really, the most beneficial work of the week was not done on the game field Saturday night, but on the practice field during the week, where the starters got plenty of more situational work in joint practices than they could’ve hoped for in the game.

Now, the Patriots turn the page to Week 3 of the preseason, where most of the starters should play at least a half. The vaunted dress rehearsal should give us a far better sense of who the 2019 Patriots are, but for now let’s jump into the observations from the win over the Titans.

-Byron Cowart showed good burst in limited action in the first preseason game and he got bumped up with the starters against the Titans. Cowart is a surprising player, as originally thought to be an interior space eater, he looks far more like a disruptive hand-down defensive end. He is a late riser and with plays like the one below he won’t be under the radar much longer. He’s making a roster push.

- JoeJuan Williams had 2 pass breakups on the first 3 possessions, kick-starting another solid step in his progression since the start of camp. His length is a real asset and he brings a unique body type to the secondary. It would appear now that he’s the fourth cornerback and should have a role on defense. Keion Crossen is knocking on the door as well despite an inconsistent performance.

- Derek Rivers and Shilique Calhoun were both injured within 5 plays of the Titans 10-play, 87-yard touchdown drive in the first half. While Rivers headed to the locker room, Calhoun remained on the sidelines and appeared to avoid a major injury. The Patriots have great depth along the defensive edge but losing either or both players would be a blow to their depth.

- The passing game under Brian Hoyer was a far cry from where it was last week against the Lions. In the first half Hoyer went 6-8 for 55 yards and an interception and was under much more duress than he saw in Week 1. Jarrett Stidham wasn’t as sharp as he was in Week 1, but he showed continued progression, especially making throws on the run and with his well-placed touchdown throw to Damoun Patterson late in the 4th quarter that capped off a 99-yard drive. It wasn’t all perfect, but Stidham continues to have his moments even if he looked like the rookie that he is.

- Damien Harris finally made his debut and was one of the few offensive bright spots, rushing for 80 yards on 14 carries. Though he was stopped short on a third-and-1, he made up for it with an impressive 20-yard run down to the 1-yard-line that set up the Patriots first half touchdown. Harris looked good catching the ball as well and seems to be on track for where we thought he’d be, a valuable member of a versatile backfield.

- Ryan Allen got a great bounce on his only first half punt, but it was Jake Bailey’s 67-yard free kick after the safety and 54-yard punt that stood out most in the punter battle. Bailey continues to crush the ball and put pressure on Allen. Next week should be a bloodbath as far as punter battles go.

- Obi Melifonwu was in the area of 2 of the Titans’ first half touchdowns, not a good development for him as Terrence Brooks had a strong game, with some strong hits and good coverage. It would appear Brooks is close to sewing up a roster spot at Obi’s expense, and is a strong contender to play some defense as well. He looks like a solid find.

- Brandon Bolden had a pretty good kickoff return called back due to a hold. It looks like quite a drop off from what Cordarrelle Patterson did as a returner last year. The team could look to find an upgrade there after cutdowns.

- Jakobi Meyers got off to a slow start, but found his stride, finishing with a two-point conversion and 6 catches for 82 yards. No other receiver had more than one catch, showing just how important Meyers has become to the receiver-depleted team. Meyers continues to catch everything thrown in his direction and is a near lock to make the roster as this year’s undrafted free agent.

- Mike Pennel was penciled in as Malcom Brown’s replacement before the season, but he didn’t enter the game until the second quarter and played into the second half. The reason? Danny Shelton looks much improved in the Patriots system in year 2 and has knocked Pennel down the depth chart. With Byron Cowart coming on as well, Pennel could be fighting for a job next week against the Panthers.

- It’s good to see the Pats are already using their amoeba third down defense but it just wasn’t effective like it was against the Lions. One of the only dynamic pass rushers this week was rookie Chase Winovich who is already beating tackles off the edge with a variety of moves. Winovich will be a role player this year but it’s exciting to see how disruptive he is after just a few weeks in the NFL. He was the standout defender from this game. Now I’m just waiting for him to let his hair out of the pony tail, then he’ll be ready to go full berserker.

- Lance Kendricks had a bad hold in end zone that caused a safety, but acquitted himself better in the second half with a nice catch-and-run and a good block on Nick Brossette’s touchdown scamper. It’s there for the taking with Kendricks. It will be a huge upcoming week for him.

- Trent Harris and Calvin Munson are mostly buried on the depth chart, but both have shown up pretty well in limited action from the edge and middle respectively. I’m not sure there’s a path to the roster for either of them, but it shows how deep the Patriots are this year at those positions.

- With 12 penalties for 99 yards, the Patriots were sloppy for the second week in a row, one of the keys I was expecting they’d avoid. This kind of bad football can’t continue and must be driving Bill Belichick nuts. Eliminating that kind of play is always his first team priority and they’ll need a much cleaner game against the Panthers.

- Stephen Gostkowski missed a 40-yard field goal, his second miss in as many preseason games, and nearly missed an extra point as well. While there isn’t a better option out there and available, this inconsistency isn’t exactly confidence inspiring.

- The big picture for the offense is that the guys who are actually going to make the team did pretty well despite an overall poor performance. Isaiah Wynn acquitted himself well in his first game action as a left tackle, while Damien Harris and Jakobi Meyers had solid games that show they can be contributors. The team still needs Dan Skipper and one of the tight ends, like Kendricks, to seize a role. Those spots remain uncertain.

- The big picture for the defense is that their rookies are also continuing to develop, as Williams, Cowart and Winovich look like legitimate finds. Terrence Brooks is one of the free agent breakout players. The defensive personnel will look entirely different against the Panthers but those rookies could find themselves playing and contributing.

The Patriots return to Foxboro for their first home preseason game on Thursday, August 22nd against the Carolina Panthers at 7:30pm.

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