While much of the focus from the Patriots 37-20 win over the Eagles in the second week of preseason action on Thursday night was on Tom Brady's impressive summer debut, there was plenty of excitement on the defensive side of the ball as well.
Much of that playmaking revolved around a pass rush that picked up eight sacks against Philly, including an Adrian Clayborn forced fumble that led to a Ja'Whaun Bentley scoop-and-score 54-yard touchdown.
When Bill Belichick held his traditional day-after-game conference call Friday morning with the local media, the first thing he was asked about was that pass rush that shows tempting potential for a team that struggled mightily in that area last season.
After breaking down the preseason tape, the coach was clearly pleased with some of the things he saw from the rush, but also acknowledged that the overall pass defense left something to be desired.
"We had our moments. We had some pressure from different players and so there were some good things there," Belichick said. "We obviously allowed a lot of passing yardage. So there were times when the rush and the coverage didn't really marry up the way we'd like it to.
"Overall our team defense was good at times but need to have more consistency. When you give up over 350 yards passing that's not good. Knocking the quarterback down, that's good. We need to marry those two together."
Beyond his thoughts on the pass rush, here are some of the highlights of Belichick's morning day-after-game conference call, including his thoughts on the NFL's new helmet rule, Keionta Davis' extended playing time and Ja'Whaun Bentley's coverage abilities.
"It doesn't really matter what we think" about the helmet rule: After a clean first week of preseason action regarding the NFL's new helmet rule instituted this offseason, the Patriots saw four flags for the lowering-the-helmet call in action against Philly. One flag in particular against safety Jordan Richards seemed to be extremely hard to justify. Belichick was asked about that call and explained how the team is approaching the learning curve in regards to the controversial new rule.
"Yeah. I think there, there's those plays and then there are some other plays maybe that were similar plays that weren't called," Belichick said of the Richards penalty. "So, we're just going to have to do a good job of getting a clear understanding. These are plays that help define it, of what is and isn't allowed. So, again it doesn't really matter what we think. What matters is what the officials think and that they see and what they are going to call. So we'll have to adjust to what they are, the way the game is being called not the other way around. So we'll, again, examine those plays and ask about some other ones that are similar and try to do as good a job as teaching that rule as we can. I'm sure the players will do as good a job of playing it as they can. No player wants to get a 15-yard penalty. So they might have to, we might have to adjust our style or technique a little bit as we go here."
"I like what he's been doing": Keionta Davis arrived in New England last offseason as an undrafted rookie out of Tennessee-Chattanooga. He spent his entire rookie season on NFI with a neck injury that, according to Belichick kept the 6-4, 280-pound defensive end from being drafted, "possibly" even high in the draft.
After a year-plus in New England, Davis is back on the field and getting high-end reps on the Patriots defense this summer. He started against the Eagles and played a team-high 55 snaps on defense. Moving around the defensive front at times, Davis finished with four tackles, including 1.5 sacks and a tackle for a loss.
"Keionta worked really hard last year even though he wasn't able to practice," Belichick said. "He still has a long way to go, still has a lot of things that he can improve on and refine and react quicker to and so forth. But that comes from not having actively played football for a year, or a little more than a year. Hopefully that'll…it has returned and hopefully those things will come back to him and his reactions and all will continue to improve. But he's done a good job. He's in good condition. He's worked hard. And I like what he's been doing."
Bentley "has done a good job for us in all areas": Two weeks into preseason action one of the more consistent playmakers for the Patriots this summer has been the rookie fifth-round linebacker Bentley. After an impressive debut against Washington in which he tied for a team high with six tackles, Bentley was back at it in starting role against the Eagles. Not only did he finish with five tackles as well as his 54-yard scoop-and-score touchdown, but Bentley showed some impressive coverage abilities.
Belichick made it clear he very much likes what he's seen from the rookie so far as Bentley works to win a roster spot and possibly key job on the defense.
"Ja'Whaun has done a good job for us in all areas," Belichick said. "He has good size. He plays with good power. He's made a couple tackles the last two weeks on the goal line or in close quarters. He plays with good power against blockers and runners in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He's been in space. He's a very instinctive player. He finds the ball and has good awareness of the ball, the receiver, the route the guy is running and so forth. He learns every day. He'll learn every week. And there are still a lot of things that he needs to see, that he needs to work on. But he's getting better every day. He's very intelligent player with good football instincts and a good background and can handle the communication and signal-calling and adjustments that come with playing the position that he plays, which is generally right in the middle of the defense where a lot of things can happen. But he sees things well and can sort them out, make good pre-snap decisions and make good post-snap decisions and make them quickly. Those all play to his advantage."