Notes from the first half as the New England Patriots trail the New Orleans Saints 21-7 in preseason week two.
After a quick three and out to start the game for the Patriots, the Saints took over and marched straight down the field after a pair of catch and runs from Mark Ingram. They were held out of the end zone, however, due to a beautiful pass break-up by Devin McCourty on the 6'6" Brandon Coleman. McCourty, the All-Pro safety, began the game as the team's starting right cornerback.
Veteran move by Devin. https://t.co/a2p6FXwm2T— Only In Boston (@OnlyInBOS) August 22, 2015
After a second straight Patriots three and out, the Saints marched right down the field again, thanks in part to a big completion from Drew Brees to Brandin Cooks with McCourty in soft-man coverage. Former Patriot Ben Watson finished off the touchdown drive to give the Saints a 9-0 lead after he easily burned Patriots linebacker Jonathan Freeny over the middle.
The Patriots' offensive struggles continued, going three and out for their third drive to start the game (which turned out to be Tom Brady's final drive). The Saints retaliated quickly, with Duron Harmon losing Brandin Cooks on his deep quarter for a 45-yard touchdown.
Brees to Cooks https://t.co/aGSHNFVdlk— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) August 23, 2015
Jimmy Garoppolo took over for Tom Brady to close the first quarter. His opening drive lasted to the second quarter, after hitting LeGarrette Blount on a nicely designed play-action roll-out on a 3rd and 1 finally gave the Patriots a first down. The drive didn't muster much more than that, with Stephen Gostkowski missing a 57-yard field goal attempt.
The Patriots finally started to generate momentum defensively in the second quarter. Granted, it was with Luke McCown at quarterback instead of Drew Brees.
After getting the ball back on offense, the Patriots made some progress on offense. The had a ten play drive, picking up a few first downs. Jonas Gray ran the ball with power and patience (Chris Barker had a nice pull block on a first down run). Garoppolo also found Chris Harper for a nice catch and run for a first down. However, this drive would also stall, with the team failing to convert on a fourth and five near the red zone.
With less than two minutes remaining, the Saints took back over and sped down the field for yet another touchdown. Brandin Cooks had another big gain, and Robert McClain committed a costly pass interference to give the Saints the ball within the 10.
New England would close the half with a very impressive drive led by Jimmy Garoppolo that had him start with just over a minute to go and one timeout. Garoppolo was 5/5 for 65 yards on the drive, and had a scrambling, sack-escaping touchdown throw to Chris Harper.
Nice touchdown by Garoppolo. Gronk happy. #NEvsNO https://t.co/h155f3s8Ci— Only In Boston (@OnlyInBOS) August 23, 2015
The Patriots started the game on offense with a depleted group of skill position players, but a much more complete offensive line. The only Patriots starter on the line that was missing was Bryan Stork - with Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer getting the start. Rob Gronkowski suited up but did not play for the second straight preseason game.
Malcom Brown started the game at defensive tackle, and had some really solid disruption in both the running and passing game in the opening quarter. One player who really struggled as the Saints built their early lead: Jamie Collins. He was victimized multiple times in coverage and had a tough time tackling as well. Linebackers Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower got the night off.
Jabaal Sheard continues to make excellent plays in the running game, shedding blockers for two solo stops behind the line of scrimmage in the first half.
Dion Lewis looked really solid in the passing back role. He had an excellent second quarter blitz pick-up, and was very involved in the receiving game. He also has excellent burst and wiggle as a runner.