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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Thu May 23 - 02:00 PM | Tue May 28 - 11:55 AM

Game Observations: Ten Takeaways From the Patriots Second Preseason Game Against the Packers

The Patriots and Packers starters played in the first half of Saturday night's preseason game.

PDC

Green Bay, WI – A great, competitive week for the Patriots and Packers came to a somber ending at Lambeau Field on Saturday night.

Although we'll talk ball as we do following each game in this space, Saturday night's preseason contest was suspended following an injury to Patriots cornerback Isaiah Bolden. We love this game, but Bolden's injury was a reminder of the risk these players take by stepping on the field.

After deciding to end the game, the Patriots released positive updates saying that Bolden has been released from the Aurora Bay Medical Center in Green Bay, Wisconsin after undergoing a series of evaluations and being held for overnight observations. Bolden is returning home with the team and the Patriots have cancelled their previously scheduled joint practices with the Titans in Nashville this upcoming week.

"We're all saying a prayer for Isaiah," head coach Bill Belichick said. "I appreciate the way the league handled it. I think that was the right thing to do. That's really the bigger picture of it here."

While recognizing the bigger picture of the circumstances surrounding Saturday night's game, we'll transition into our observations knowing that Bolden's health is far more important than the takeaways about the football side of things.

Here are ten observations from the Patriots second preseason game against the Packers:

1. Powerful Play of the Game presented by Enel: Rookie WR Kayshon Boutte's 42-Yard Touchdown from QB Bailey Zappe in Second Quarter

The play of the night came from rookie wide receiver Kayshon Boutte, who also had a strong showing in joint practices as he attempts to make the initial roster as a sixth-round pick.

Boutte threw it back to his early-college days at Louisiana State University when he took a five-step slant to the house for a 42-yard touchdown. Boutte's explosiveness off the line allows him to consistently threaten off-coverage by forcing cornerbacks to respect a vertical release. Then, he shows the fluidity to burst through the route break and take off into the secondary.

Before an ankle injury derailed a promising collegiate career, Boutte was an explosive big-play receiver for the Tigers. The Pats rookie's 42-yard catch-and-run was a throwback and reminder of Boutte's immense potential if he can realize his natural talent as a pro in New England.

2. QB Mac Jones Makes First Preseason Start in Bill O'Brien's Offense

Starting quarterback Mac Jones got his first game action in the preseason on his maiden voyage with offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien in his ear. Overall, Jones's box score stats won't jump out at you in a 6-for-9 effort for 52 yards in 18 plays under center. However, Mac looked sharp in consistently muddy pockets showing good poise while making solid decisions with good field vision. The two sacks, including a strip-sack on his final drop-back, came on quick losses by two young offensive tackles.

The most positive sign in Jones's performance was his calm demeanor working behind a patchwork offensive line. Above, the Packers ran a T/E stunt over the left side, and rookie left guard Atonio Mafi struggled to pick up the wrapping edge rusher. Mac stares down the barrel as linebacker Justin Hollins closes on the quarterback, and Jones moves the chains with a catchable ball to Kendrick Bourne on a third-and-8 conversion. Jones also threw a competitive deep ball to DeVante Parker after sliding up in the pocket, but it went through Parker's fingertips.

Jones became jittery and indecisive in the pocket as his internal clock began speeding up in his second season, which wasn't the case on Saturday night. New England will take that effort from their quarterback, who will hopefully have better offensive line play in the regular season.

3. OC Bill O'Brien Drops Breadcrumbs With Starting Offense on the Field

After initially departing the Patriots to become the head coach at Penn State, offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien spent four seasons coaching college football. Along with his seven-year stint in Houston, mainly with a dual-threat quarterback in Deshaun Watson, it's not surprising to see O'Brien adding option elements into his mainly spread-centric system that already featured empty concepts and other shotgun concepts.

On Saturday night, O'Brien brought quarterback Mac Jones back to his Alabama days by incorporating run-pass options (RPOs) into Jones's 17 plays under center. By my count, Mac made three throws off RPO actions, with two completions, including a 13-yard strike to Bourne.

In the play, the Patriots are running an inside zone scheme where Jones is reading the backside defenders to make a post-snap decision. When the backside defender comes downhill to play the run, it opens the passing lane to Bourne on the slant, with Jones making another good throw while under pressure as right guard Riley Reiff falls off his block.

O'Brien's two-receiver stack routes also gave the Packers trouble in joint practices and Saturday night's preseason game. Above, rookie receiver Demario Douglas motions into the stack and then bluffs like he will release outside behind tight end Hunter Henry. When the defense back takes the cheese, Douglas breaks back inside for an easy third-down conversion.

The word of the day when it comes to the breadcrumbs that O'Brien dropped is conflict. New England's schemes were putting Packer defenders in binds, making them process quickly on the fly and presenting defenders with lose-lose situations, which is not easy to defend.

4. Patriots O-Line Struggles Follow Them From Practice Field to Saturday Night's Game

For those in attendance for two joint practices with the Packers earlier this week, the Patriots banged-up offensive line combinations struggled to block Green Bay's front. New England is down five offensive linemen already, two projected starters (Onwenu, Strange) and an offensive tackle competing for the starting right tackle job (McDermott). Following a bumpy effort for the second-stringers in the preseason opener, the Patriots reshuffled the deck heading into their two-week road trip, leading to notable changes at right tackle and guard.

Over the last four practices and in Saturday night's game, the Pats top offensive line has been, from left to right: Trent Brown, Atonio Mafi, David Andrews, Riley Reiff, and Sidy Sow. Although it's still not their projected core group, the results have been mixed. On Saturday night, Sow was bull-rushed on a third-down sack, Mafi allowed two quarterback pressures, Reiff was responsible for one quarterback hit, and starting left tackle Trent Brown got called for a false start on the first offensive play from scrimmage for New England. Then, backup tackle Andrew Stueber was immediately beaten for another Kingsley Enagbare sack, this time a strip sack.

As offensive line coach Adrian Klemm told Patriots.com earlier this week, building continuity with so many injuries has been difficult for the group. Although the pass protection, in particular, has been shaky, it's important to remember this is not the starting five that the Patriots hope to have when they face the Eagles in the regular-season opener. Still, injuries will come in a 17-game season, and the two auditions for New England's backups haven't been great.

5. Patriots Mostly Audition Starting Defense With a Few Notable Tweaks

The Patriots began the contest by playing their starting defense against Jordan Love and the Packers first-stringers, forcing a turnover and punt before Love led a touchdown drive against a mix of one's and two's for head coach Bill Belichick's defense. Although there was plenty to decipher from O'Brien's play-calling, the Pats defense went with a vanilla approach, mostly man-to-man coverage out of a traditional 3-4 and a tilted base front. Schematically, there wasn't much to take away from this game, at least on an initial viewing. Frankly, they did more with the second-stringer last week against Houston.

DL: Barmore, Wise, Godchaux

OLB: Judon

ILB: Wilson, Tavai

CB: Gonzalez, Jack Jones

S: Dugger, Peppers, Phillips

Nevertheless, above is the starting defense that the Patriots rolled out, opening in three-safety nickel before replacing Adrian Phillips with Myles Bryant to get to a more traditional three-corner nickel package. Most notably, the Pats played without top MIKE linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley with Wilson in his spot, and the run defense missed Bentley's presence. New England also had third-year defensive lineman Christian Barmore in over veteran Lawrence Guy. Guy eventually did get in for six snaps in his usual base defensive end spot, but he will get pushed for playing time by Barmore and second-rounder Keion White, who are more playmaking ends. Can those younger, more explosive players stop the run like Guy? Based on how it looked, Bentley and Guy's stoutness was missed.

6. A Rhamondre Stevenson Welcome Back to Football Moment With 23-Yard Run

After signing free-agent running back Ezekiel Elliott earlier this week, Rhamondre Stevenson reminded everyone who is the lead-back in New England on a 23-yard run in the first quarter.

On the play, the Patriots appear to be blocking inside zone, where left tackle Trent Brown's combination block with left guard Atonio Mafi creates the initial movement. Tight end Hunter Henry also effectively kick outs the edge rusher. Then, Stevenson gets a ridiculously good block by wide receiver Kendrick Bourne on the filling play-side safety to spring Stevenson, who does the rest.

Elliott was dressed on the sideline but didn't participate in Saturday night's game. The former Cowboy participated in team drills in Thursday's joint practice but is still working himself into the Patriots offense. Besides Stevenson, J.J. Taylor also ran the ball well, making decisive cuts to set up blocks and juke unblocked defenders to produce 29 rushing yards on four attempts. Not bad from Taylor.

7. Rookie WR Demario Douglas Kept in the Garage Once Again

The Patriots don't want you, me, or the rest of the league to see wide receiver Demario Douglas, or at least that's the impression they're giving by hiding the rookie wideout through two preseason games. After playing two offensive snaps in the opener, Douglas made two catches on three snaps working with the starters and disappeared for the rest of the night. His quickness was on full display on both receptions, using a nifty release to create a coverage bust on his third-down catch and making a defender miss on the receiving end of an RPO screen. Douglas's dynamic route-running has made him a training camp star. Based on his preseason usage, the coaching staff doesn't want to show their hand with the shifty rookie wideout.

8. Evaluating Backup QB Bailey Zappe's Snaps Under Center

After Jones started, backup quarterback Bailey Zappe went the rest of the way until the game was called. Zappe's had sort of a weird camp. He's clearly experimenting with different arm angles to guide passes over the line of scrimmage, and as depleted as the starting offensive line is, the trickle-down effect on the second unit might be even worse.

The second-year quarterback's downfield accuracy hasn't been as consistent this summer. However, there are still playmaking moments where he'll escape the rush and make effective Houdini plays in the pocket, like a side arm dump-off to J.J. Taylor and his six-yard touchdown run to put the Patriots ahead. Zappe is smaller and less consistent than Mac, but he has a playmaker gene even though his physical tools aren't tremendous. Still, it's a bit boom or bust right now.

9. First-Rounder Christian Gonzalez Plays Another 34 Preseason Snaps

Another dress rehearsal for the Pats top rookie in the books, and Gonzalez's movement skills carried him once again. Gonzalez is still working on his awareness and technique in zone coverage, but he sticks with receivers in man coverage effortlessly, and the defensive pass interference penalty was borderline at best. Gonzalez seemed to match a double move, got his eyes on the ball, and deflected the pass while slightly making contact with the receiver. It looked clean from this vantage point.

10. Rookie P Bryce Baringer is a Gamer, Place Kicking Competition is Still Undecided

After struggling over the last week or so, rookie punter Bryce Baringer boomed two of 59 and 61 yards. He's a gamer, and with two huge punts downed inside the 20-yard line, this competition might be over. As for the placekickers, the Pats continue to give veteran Nick Folk every chance to hold off fourth-rounder Chad Ryland. Folk kicked two extra points to Ryland's one, all makes for both kickers. They also each got two kickoffs. The kicking competition still feels like a dead heat.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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