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Game Observations: Shutdown Defense Leads Pats over Panthers

20190823-GameObservations-PDC

The Patriots rode a dominant effort by their defense to help overcome their undermanned offense and defeat the Carolina Panthers in their third preseason game, 10-3. Tom Brady, the top offensive line and running backs played a quarter-and-a-half, but with a diminished receiver corps, the jury remains out on who the 2019 Pats offense will be.

Meanwhile, the top defense allowed just 29 first-half yards and looked every bit the stacked dominant unit we thought they would be. If the defense has to carry the offense out of the gate until they figure out the wide receiver and tight end situations, they look capable of it.

With the third preseason game now behind them, the focus for most of the starters now turns to the season opener against the Steelers. There are still some roster spots to be won in the final week of the preseason and even some big questions to be answered, but most of them will just have to wait until the games count.

Here are the game observations!

- It was exciting to see both Chase Winovich and Byron Cowart getting looks with the top defense early on, a sign the coaches thought as highly of their performances against the Titans as we all did. Just add them to the mix of a multiple front defense that has numerous options at all levels. The defense looked great, forcing four three-and-outs on Carolina’s five first-half possessions. The only one that wasn’t a three-and-out was a five-and-out. Even the backups held their own in the second half, holding Carolina to just 3 points. So yeah, the defense looks ready to go.

- The offense started out with a lot of heavy 22 and 21 personnel because of the lack of receiver depth. The results might’ve looked better if not for the continued penalties, which included 3 for 35 yards on the first two drives, one of which brought back a 30-yard run by Sony Michel. The Pats would finish with 8 penalties for 80 yards. The penalties have been a problem this preseason.

- A big part of the early struggles was Jakobi Meyers suddenly looking like an undrafted rookie with the first offense. He stopped running on an early route, then had a drop and followed that up with the holding penalty that cancelled out Michel’s big run. He would bounce back once Tom Brady was out of the game, wrapping up with 7 catches for 74 yards. Meyers has a long way to go and doesn’t look like he’s ready to step in and be an immediate threat, but despite slow starts the last two weeks, he’s hung in there and found his stride in both games. 

- Gunner Olszewski was the punt returner for the night, finishing with a 15.8 yard average on 4 returns. I’m not sure the undrafted former cornerback is actually in roster contention but he had a strong showing at a special teams position where the Pats have a big need behind Julian Edelman. Olszewski took a hard hit in the 4th quarter on his only catch of the night and came out of the game. The injury luck at receiver has been terrible this summer.

- Ryan Izzo has been under the radar but he got a full audition in this one with many runs coming off his hip. Ben Watson’s potential injury puts even more focus on someone like the second-year tight end. Izzo’s 18-yard catch to set the Pats up inside the 10 on their first scoring drive was just the kind of play he needed. He’d also drew a red-zone pass interference call that picked up 29 yards in the third quarter.

- Phillip Dorsett was the only receiver making anything happen early in the game, which should kind of be expected considering his experience and status. Still, it was a needed good game for the receiver, and with Maurice Harris and Braxton Berrios out, he might’ve locked up a job with 7 catches for 47 yards.

- The offense was just grinding it out early as you might expect when you’re rolling that kind of personnel onto the field. It’s hard to get too upset about it, but at the same time there isn’t a lot to hang their hat on this preseason.The only thing that seems clear – Sony Michel is going to be a focal point and the ground game might have to keep them afloat while they figure out their receivers. 15 plays for 85 yards with a James Develin one-yard scoring run shows what kind of a grind it was.

- Jake Bailey had a strong showing with 4 punts and a 48.0 average, including a 56-yarder and one that was downed inside the 10. But another missed field goal by Stephen Gostkowski might call into question how Bailey’s holding job has been. Gostkowski now has misses in all three of the preseason games.

- The tackle competition was on full display as Dan Skipper came in at left tackle and Cole Croston came in at right tackle in the second quarter, then in the second half they switched sides. That film will be dissected by the coaches and one winner for the swing tackle spot should emerge. Stidham getting sacked 5 times didn’t look good for any of the backup offensive linemen.

- A shorter night for Tom Brady, Isaiah Wynn and the other starters than expected, as they all came out halfway through the second quarter. At that point we had seen all we need to see and why keep Brady out there throwing to undrafted rookies out of 22 personnel?

- There looked to be some significant injuries in this one, with Ben Watson, Damien Harris, Gunner Olszewski and Brandon King all getting hurt and not returning. King was carted off, never a good sign. He’s been a key special teamer and that could open up a roster spot. Kyle Van Noy was helped off after a big sack but returned to action later. Watson is already out for September so his status isn’t as pressing as the others who were close to roster locks.

The New England Patriots take on the Carolina Panthers in a preseason game at Gillette Stadium on Thursday, August 22, 2019.

- Jarrett Stidham played over Brian Hoyer, which should only stoke the fires of wondering if the team will only keep two quarterbacks this year. But Stidham looked like a rookie, narrowly avoiding multiple turnovers again. He did show a willingness to stand in the pocket and deliver the ball, a good sign, but I’m not sure anyone would feel great about him having to win a meaningful NFL game. His third-quarter fumble was the first time he’s paid for his mistake and it should be something to learn from. He bounced back with a strong 10-play, 70-yard field-goal-scoring drive in the fourth quarter.

- The defense threw some Cover-0 pre-snap looks before bailing into Cover-1 and Cover-2, a staple of last year and I was surprised to see them throwing it out there in the preseason. Check that… I was thrilled. It’s rare to see that kind of disguise in the summer and it’s a great sign that last year’s aggression on defense will continue.

- The headline for the offense? We just don’t know what the Patriots have. Isaiah Wynn looks like he’ll be a fine left tackle. Hard to tell exactly what his ceiling will be but we can be fairly optimistic. However, the other question marks are as big as ever. Tight end became an even bigger unknown with the injury to Watson, while none of the new receivers emerged with Brady and even Gunner went down now as well. It’s hard to remember going into a season where we’re just going to have to wait and see what the offense has. Edelman should be there, that’s huge, but after him who knows how it will look in just over two weeks.

- The headline for the defense? Wow. They looked like everything we hoped they’d be and more. The only real question is how they deploy the talent. The vets are good, the rookies are coming on and there will be some tough decisions to be made. Usually the hype is reserved for Tom Brady and the offense but in 2019 it’s the defense that looks ready to lead the way to the Super Bowl. We’ll just have to see how the offense comes together, because no one knows for sure right now.

The Patriots close out their preseason hosting the Giants next Thursday, August 29th at 7:30pm.

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