Here are my instant observations from the New England Patriots 27-23 loss to the Houston Texans.
The Patriots need a pass rusher
Trey Flowers dressed, but didn’t play. Geneo Grissom didn’t suit up. Rookies Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise, and Keionta Davis were inactive. That left Kony Ealy, Caleb Kidder, and Harvey Langi to play with the top defensive unit. The Patriots also used Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler as pass rushers, too. No one was able to generate consistent pressure, highlighting the team’s need for depth.
Hopefully Wise and Grissom are able to return soon and Davis is able to debut. Ealy looked solid in his chances, but the defense needs more than “solid” from the position.
TE Rob Gronkowski played, TE James O’Shaughnessy put on a strong display
Gronkowski played in the preseason for the first time since 2012. He was used as a blocker and didn’t see a target from Tom Brady, but it was good to see him on the field for the first time since his back surgery. He needs to get rid of some rust like any player coming back from injury and he should hopefully be ready to go by week 1 of the regular season.
After Gronkowski (and Brady) sat after two drives, O’Shaughnessy played with Jimmy Garoppolo ahead of Jacob Hollister and played well. He’s a natural catcher and plucks the ball from the air, but he didn’t show much in yards after the catch. Still, he’s a great special teams player and that could give him the edge over Hollister who had a quiet game.
The Patriots running backs are all incredible
Mike Gillislee didn’t play and James White didn’t play much (1 catch, 4 yards, first down), but the depth at the position is absurd. Rex Burkhead was a beast, picking up 70 yards and a touchdown on 10 touches, showing well as a runner, receiver, and blocker. Dion Lewis was strong in all facets, too, picking up 43 yards on 8 touches.
Brandon Bolden continued his strong preseason with 33 yards on 8 touches, and then D.J. Foster followed up with 64 yards on 9 touches. All of these players could contribute on special teams and on offense. They should all be on NFL rosters this year.
The Patriots can’t keep six running backs, though. They might not be able to keep five. Maybe the team can trade one or two of these players for a pass rusher.
K Stephen Gostkowski, CB Cyrus Jones had strong special teams performances
Gostkowski connected on two extra points and on all three field goals (38 yards, 42 yards, 51 yards). He was solid on kickoffs and looked like his old self. Hopefully that’s a sign of things to come.
Jones had his best day as a returnman, especially on punts, doing his best to help the Patriots late in the game. Jones had a 32-yard punt return in the second quarter to the Texans 42-yard line to set up a field goal and as New England trailed 27-23, Jones returned a Texans punt 15 yards to the Houston 38-yard line and the subsequent punt 14 yards to midfield. Jacoby Brissett was unable to capitalize on the field position, but Jones flashed the return ability that led the Patriots to draft him in the second round.
EDGE/LB Harvey Langi received an extensive look
With Dont’a Hightower and Shea McClellin not playing, Langi played every defensive snap of the first half with the Patriots first team defense. He flashed an ability to generate some solid pressure, but also showed his inexperience by vacating some of his gap responsibilities to allow the quarterback out of the pocket. Langi is getting every chance to prove that he should make the Patriots active roster to start the season and he held his own with the top unit.