GREEN BAY - It was a total team effort during the second day of joint practice between the Patriots and Packers, as New England built off of a solid start and turned in one of their best full-team performances of the summer.
There was an immediate shift in energy as the two teams came together after warming up separately. A tame Wednesday session quickly shifted to an edgy one on Thursday, as multiple scuffles had to be broken up between the Pats defense and the Packers offense in the early going during first-down work against each other.
"It was just energy, guys had a lot of energy, it's getting close to games so it brings out our energy," said Christian Barmore, who was in the middle of a couple of those skirmishes. "It's all about the defense bringing the energy, it's all football, it's all love."
Anfernee Jennings would see his day end early after coming to the defense of rookie Keion White after rookie Keshawn Banks took a swing at him, but once things settled in, the Patriots defense found their stride after giving up a handful of big plays to the Packers the previous day.
Kyle Dugger ripped a reception from a receiver's hands in the endzone for the first takeaway of the day, while Marcus Jones would add to it later on with a deflected interception of his own. While the pressure wasn't quite as relentless as it was during the first practice, the coverage helped make up the difference, forcing a number of likely coverage sacks.
Jack Jones was involved in multiple pass breakups, while linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley had one of his own, dropping into a zone and knocking away an intended pass over the middle. Jahlani Tavai had a similar play in coverage, nearly making an interception and yelling out in frustration as the ball dropped from his hands. Almost everyone was active on this day in coverage.
During 11-on-11s in the middle of the field, where down and distance were tracked, the Patriots got third-down stops on each of their three series that were faced in succession. Later, in the final two-minute periods the defense once again got stops, though somewhat aided by slippery conditions as rain poured down for a brief time. Multiple Packers receivers saw wet footballs slip through their hands.
The Packers weren't without their share of plays on the day. Christian Watson continued to be a major problem, using his height and athleticism to make a number of impressive catches, including one in the end zone that he high-pointed above everyone else. Watson is an impressive player that looks poised for a big season.
During the final two-minute portion, Watson victimized rookie Christian Gonzalez, but Gonzalez would bounce back just a few plays later, defending a pass attempt to Dontayvion Wicks with tight coverage. The Pats appeared to play more man-to-man defense on Thursday than they did on Wednesday, and the results were noticeable.
Marcus Jones also allowed a touchdown earlier in practice to Romeo Doubs after Doubs made an outstanding move off the line to break free for an easy score. But like Gonzalez, Jones made up for it later with his pick.
All in all, it was an extremely productive two days on the practice fields for the defense. There were certainly some learning moments, especially for the first and second-year players, but it seemed like the early feistiness helped bring the defense, and eventually the entire team, together.
As DeVante Parker pulled in a 40-yard bomb from Mac Jones to cap off the first team reps at the end of practice, the entire Patriots team stormed the field in celebration. It felt like a moment that should carry this team forward into the regular season.
"It was two competitive teams going at it and I think we got better today," said Jalen Mills, who also found himself in the middle of the scraps and later had a would-be sack. "Especially at the end during those two-minute drills, both sides got better, offense and defense, and both had some learning experiences as well."
Deuce's Dime Package
- Keion White had a great couple of days and was dominant when facing back-ups but went down and limped off late in practice with an apparent left leg issue. White would remain on the sidelines and appeared to be okay after practice, but it will be something to monitor going into next week's joint sessions with the Titans.
- Another day, another mention of Jabrill Peppers here in the Dime Package but no one was more vocal on this day than Peppers after all the scuffles happened. Often barking at the Packers players, Peppers seems to be earning his teammates' respect for the energy he brings every day.
- Marte Mapu is one player I don't feel like I got enough looks at over these past two days. Mapu had some moments, like delivering a hard hit that appeared to jar the ball loose against rookie tight end Tucker Kraft, but with over 150 players on the field, Mapu is one that I wished I got some better looks at throughout the two sessions. I also noted Mapu giving up a slant touchdown to running back Emmanuel Wilson on Thursday.
- The Packers have a lot of "window dressing" to all of their plays and recognizing those things was one of the biggest reasons why I think the defense didn't allow the volume of big plays that they did on Wednesday. It also could've had something to do with the increased prevalence of man coverage, annually one of the team's strengths that takes some of the zone guesswork out of the equation.
- For the Packers, I had mixed feelings on Jordan Love. On one hand, he has an athletic presence and throws a really nice ball, especially when targeting Watson whose length and athleticism remind me a bit of what I saw from Davante Adams last year during joint practices with the Raiders. But Love's accuracy seemed inconsistent through both days.
- It's probably a good thing I didn't get to see much of the Packers defense because from the bits I did see Rashan Gary was a specimen of an outside linebacker and I might've tried to kidnap him back to Foxborough.
- Maybe the best day of practice I've seen from Jack Jones, who admirably avoided the shoving matches early in practice. Jones was around the ball a lot and had one of the few cornerback reps sticking with Watson and forcing an incompletion. Gonzalez and Marcus Jones got a ton of run and both had their ups and downs, and Jack also gave up some catches on Wednesday, but on Thursday he was their best corner.
- Some of the Packers best plays on Thursday were the result of blown coverages but there weren't many. One swing pass went for a big gain during the midfield 11-on-11 work before the Pats clamped down. Love placed a perfect ball up the seam to rookie Luke Musgrave that should've probably been a touchdown but Musgrave couldn't haul it in and that gave the Pats D a final win on the day.
- There were some moments of good pressure by the front, though it's hard to tell exactly when the play would've ended. Sam Roberts and Daniel Ekuale flashed some immediate pressure on one midfield rep, with one of them getting their hand up to deflect a pass that was nearly intercepted.
- New blue cutoff hoodie for Bill Belichick today that sent me to the Hoodie Database for identification purposes. It was located and tagged as a new cutoff 2015 "Property of New England Patriots" hoodie. BB is 3-2 in the style but all in a fully-sleeved version. He most recently wore it for three games in 2021, the wins over Buffalo and Jacksonville and the loss to the Bills. I think everyone can agree we'd still prefer this one to the red hoodie he had worn for the vast majority of training camp.
Check out photos from joint practices between the Patriots and Packers on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023.