The New England Patriots took on the New Orleans Saints in what was the second preseason game for both teams. After a great week of practice the Patriots struggled mightily to start the game. I know it’s only preseason, and that many of the starters didn’t play, but overreactions is what Boston does best, so here we go.
Right off the bat the offense was out of sync, and Brady, who played in three offensive series, failed to gain a first down. LeGarrette Blount was continuously stuffed at the line, and Brady was not on the same page as his receivers. Two of the three drives that Brady had led ended in incompletions that were intended for Danny Amendola.
The defense saw its’ fair share of struggles as well. After holding the Saints to a field goal on their opening possession, the secondary began to show some signs of concern. Devin McCourty, who was asked to play corner, was burned on multiple occasions by Saints’ receiver, Brandin Cooks. While I’m sure this move was an experiment by Bill, I pray that we do not see this in the regular season.
While it was only a small sample size, it looked as though whatever corner back skill McCourty had possessed earlier in his career, is now gone. Daron Harmon also saw some adversity at the safety position. During a first quarter play, Brandin Cooks was able to run by McCourty and get past Harmon to haul in a long touchdown form Brees. It is a play that an NFL safety cannot let up, and I am sure that Harmon will hear about it in the film room.
Another area of concern involved linebacker, Jamie Collins. Collins, who I have been very high on since the beginning of last year, did not have his best performance as a pro. Early in the first quarter, Collins allowed a long completion to Mark Ingram on a wheel route. Collins was late to get over, and Ingram was able to have a big gain down the sideline. Collins also had some missed tackles, tackles which he usually makes. I’ll chalk it up to a bad game, but if it continues it could be a something to keep an eye on for the upcoming season.
Corner back Logan Ryan was also beat along the sideline in route to a quick Saints scoring drive near the end of the half. It’s clear the secondary is still a work in progress, and hopefully will be able to improve in the next few weeks, or it could be a long year.
It wasn’t all bad for the starters though. One player who really stood out to me was corner back, Malcolm Butler. What’s most impressive about Butler’s performance was that he was not targeted a single time. He completely shut down his side of the field, and was, in fact, able to make plays on the opposite side as well.
During a first quarter play, the Saints ran a reverse to the left side of the field. Butler, who was lined up on the right, was able to cut across and lay down a massive hit on the runner. While it’s still early, I will say that Butler looks very comfortable at corner and should be a big contributor to this year’s defense.
Jimmy Garopplo looked sharp as he went 11 of 13 for 113 yards and 1 touchdown in the first half. Garoppolo looked much more comfortable than last week, and was able to close out the half with a great touchdown throw to Chris Harper. On the play Garoppolo showed great composure to avoid a sack, look down field, and find receiver Chis Harper, who by the way had a solid game.
Most of Garopplo’s early plays consisted of hand offs to Jonas Gray. Gray was limited, but this is more a knock on the offensive line than anyone else. The line was bullied off the line of scrimmage, and the Saints were constantly in the Patriots’ back field. Although the Patriots were experimenting with different players, it is still worrying to see the ease in which the Saints’ pass rushers were able to penetrate.
As the game continued into the second half Garoppolo only looked better. He led back to back scoring drives to start the half and finished the game at 28 of 33 for 269 yards and a touchdown. His lone mistake was an errant throw downfield that resulted in a fourth quarter interception. He was able to shake off the pick and lead the Pats on two long drive, the last of which resulting in the game winning field goal by Gostkowski.
What Garoppolo struggled with was offensive management. He was forced to burn a timeout before he had even ran a play, and the Patriots were also called for illegal formation penalties. While Garoppolo didn’t make any major mistakes, he is still not quit where he needs to be.
I am confident, however, that Jimmy will be able figure it out, and if he is called upon to play in the season opener (despite the fact that Brady’s lawyers are wiping the floor with the NFL) he will be ready to go, and be able to perform at a winnable level.
As for the defense, there is still work that needs to be done. The starters got off to a rough start, and left a lot of plays on the field. The backups added some confidence, as they dominated the Saints offense in the second half, but as a whole there is still a gap from where they need to be.
In the end, it’s only preseason, and I am sure that the coaching staff will have this team ready to play, but it’s always fun to overreact. In actuality this is a solid team, and I see only good things for them in the future.
P.S.- Bradley Fletcher was actually sneaky good in this game, although I’m sure he’ll find some way to be awful next week.
By Jake Cianci