Patriots Bubble Watch: Grading the Final Battles

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - AUGUST 29: Quarterback David Carr #8 of the New York Giants looks to pass as he is pursued by Justin Francis #68 of the New England Patriots during an NFL pre-season game at MetLife Stadium on August 29, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Giants defeated the Patriots 6-3. (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images)

We conclude our preseason "Bubble Watch" series by picking the winners of the situational battles I outlined yesterday. Last night's game wasn't as much of a decider for these players as I had hoped, as most of them played exceptionally well and did everything that they could to prove to the coaches that they belonged on this team, but one of the biggest indicators of the last week of the preseason is when a player sees the field in addition to what he does once he's on it. I took playing time into account as well as how each man played, but even then there are still some very difficult decisions to be made over this coming weekend.

Regardless, it will be very nice to come back once the dust has settled, the roster is set, and we can all start turning our attention to Week 1 of the regular season and the Tennessee Titans. Ideally, all of the players in this article will remain Patriots in some capacity, but that may be asking too much from the football gods - and I'd much rather wait until the playoffs before I start making my sacrifices to them.

Analysis after the jump.

Eric Kettani vs. Brandon Bolden. Once again, I was impressed with both players last night. Kettani threw some nice blocks, picked up a few first downs on short yardage situations, and had a few nice receptions out of the backfield as a checkdown receiver. However, yesterday was Bolden's day. He got the bulk of the carries, returned punts and kicks, and had an all-around solid performance. It's looking more and more like the Patriots won't be keeping a fullback, and Bolden seems to have value in terms of running back depth and on special teams. Again, Kettani had a good game, but he currently plays a fairly expendable position.

EDGE: Bolden. He was more productive, showed more versatility, and becomes more valuable due to some recent injuries.

Trevor Scott vs. Justin Francis. Much like the Kettani vs. Bolden matchup, both of these guys had a great game. Scott was disruptive in the backfield, made some nice tackles, and helped to shut down the Giants' first unit. Francis was an absolute beast, racking up a number of QB pressures, at least one sack, and what was in my opinion the defensive play of the game when he forced David Carr out of the pocket before catching up with the receiver 25 yards downfield to make the tackle. However, Francis saw all of his reps late in the game against New York's 2nd and 3rd stringers, whereas Scott was around early. Francis has taken advantage of every single opportunity that has come his way, but he might just me too far down the depth chart at this point. If he gets cut, let's all hope that he clears waivers.

EDGE: Scott. At the end of the day, the playing time says a lot, and Scott got the more significant reps.

Marquice Cole vs. Alfonzo Dennard. Cole was inactive last night, and as a result Dennard got the start with the first unit (or whatever unit you want to call it that opened up the game). And while he's no Rodney Harrison, I thought Dennard had a very solid game. He made a few pass breakups, showed excellent tackling technique, and forced a Giants fumble off a running play that almost resulted in a safety. I didn't pay very close attention as the game wore (and wore and wore) on, and so I don't remember whether or not he was still on the field late in the game, but I think that this kid has a ton of ability and plenty of upside. I still say he'd benefit from a red-shirt year, as he definitely had his share of rookie mistakes (one in particular I remember was when he left his man to chase David Carr and ended up ceding a 1st Down), but that requires a lot of X factors falling New England's way. What to do with Dennard is likely one of the more difficult decision the coaches have left.

EDGE Push. Cole was out, which likely means that he's on the team, but Dennard impressed in his first full return to game action.

Dan Connolly vs. Dan Koppen. The center position was one of the more interesting ones to watch last night, as Koppen, Connolly, Ryan Wendell, and Donald Thomas all saw time snapping the ball. According to Mike Reiss's breakdown, Connolly saw 15 plays at center compared to Koppen's 10, with Wendell racking up 18 snaps and Thomas 16. Perhaps more telling is the fact that Koppen was still in the game late in the 4th quarter. Again, I think it all comes down to the Brian Waters scenario, but I now wouldn't be at all surprised if Koppen has played his last regular season game as a Patriot.

EDGE: Connolly. The number of reps he got combined with his versatility makes him the better option at this point.

Jeff Tarpinian vs. Tracy White. As expected, White didn't play. A little more surprising, however, was that Tarpinian didn't see a whole lot of action last night, with Mike Rivera getting the start over him. Niko Koutovides's injury is definitely something to monitor, as the two players are quite similar in style and ability, and if Niko is out for any significant amount of time it will open the door for Tarpinian. However, considering the playing time he got last night and his practice squad eligibility, I think that Tarpinian is on his way out the door.

EDGE: White. Too much special teams value there, and too much depth at linebacker elsewhere to leave White the odd man out. Definitely practice squad material.

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