The New England Patriots opened preseason on a high note: the team blew out the Detroit Lions 31-3 on Thursday night, and showed considerable promise in all three phases of the game along the way. Both quarterbacks played terrific, the young wide receivers made plays, and the pass rushers made life miserable for both the Lions’ blockers and their quarterbacks. It was a very good overall performance for New England.
We will have plenty of analysis over the next few days, of course, but let’s kick things off tonight with six initial observations from a successful trip to the Motor City.
The pass rush looks devastating
Remember the times when the Patriots simply could not put pressure on opposing quarterbacks? They look like a memory of the distant past between last season’s rise of the exotic pressure packages and today’s outing against the Lions: New England’s front seven was devastating and dominated the battle in the trenches against an overwhelmed opponent from start to finish. When all was said and done, Detroit’s quarterbacks had been sacked a total of nine times.
Third-year man Derek Rivers led the way with a pair of takedowns as he continues to build on what was a solid training camp up to this point. The same also holds true for rookie Chase Winovich, who capped his best week of practice to date with a 1.5-sack performance against the Lions. The two youngsters were the only defenders on New England’s roster to register multiple sacks, which speaks for the depth of the pass rushing arsenals.
Defensive tackle Danny Shelton, edge rushers Jamie Collins Sr. and Shilique Calhoun, and linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley all chipped in with one sack each, while rookie tackle Byron Cowart had half a takedown. All in all, the group looked terrific tonight when it came to destroying Detroit’s offensive rhythm. It was preseason, yes, but the players did what should be expected of them even when going against second or third stringers at this point in the season: dominate.
Jakobi Meyers puts on a show in the first half
The undrafted rookie out of N.C. State is the biggest surprise of training camp so far, and he was able to translate his practice performance onto the field today. Meyers earned the trust of his quarterbacks by making tough catches in traffic, and he did just that against the Lions as well — all while also showing good quickness and sound route-running. As a result, the 22-year-old finished the game with six receptions for 69 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“I want to be great. I want to be in a position where they can depend on me,” Meyers said during his postgame press conference. Today, he was firmly in that position and the team rewarded him not just by calling his number regularly and therefore making him the leader in receptions and receiving yards, but also by essentially letting him sit out the second half. As things stand right now, Meyers is on the team.
N’Keal Harry flashes his potential before leaving the game
N’Keal Harry will also be on New England’s 53-man roster week one, but he suffered a minor setback this week: on Tuesday, he hurt his hamstring and finished practice on the sidelines. Today, he was ready to play but again had to leave the game prematurely because of what appeared to be a similar issue. It did not appear to be serious at first glance, but it let an otherwise solid night end on a negative note. Before his injury, after all, Harry had a pair of grabs that went for a combined 36 yards. He certainly flashed his potential against the Lions.
Three Patriots suffer injuries
Harry was one of three Patriots to leave the game with an apparent injury: tight end Matt LaCosse and cornerback Keion Crossen also were unable to finish the contest. LaCosse, who saw considerable action as the number one tight end and finished the game with two catches for 37 yards, hurt his lower leg in the second quarter and gingerly walked off the field and later into the locker room not to return again.
Crossen, meanwhile, came off the field in the fourth period and was evaluated by the independent concussion spotter. He too went in the locker room and stayed there. Both situations will be worth keeping a close eye on — for different reasons: while LaCosse is projected to be the number one tight end to open the year, Crossen finds himself in a battle for the final spot(s) at the cornerback position.
Jarrett Stidham looks like the real deal
As impressive as they are, the numbers only tell one part of the story when it comes to third-string quarterback Jarrett Stidham’s night. All in all, the fourth-round rookie completed 14 of his 24 pass attempts for 179 yards and a touchdown — he also successfully connected with running back Nick Brossette on a two-point conversion in the second half. How Stidham achieved those numbers, however, was the most encouraging part of his game.
He spread the football around well, went through his progressions patiently, and generally displayed a calm confidence in the pocket — something that not every young quarterback can do. He also placed the football very well and was content to take what the defense gave him. In short: Stidham looked right at home in his first ever taste of the NFL. Both he and the Patriots can feel good about his performance.
The punter battle continues to be intense
We have talked about the competition between Ryan Allen and challenger Jake Bailey a lot over the last few weeks, and the battle lives up to its hype: today, both players stated their case. Bailey, who worked as a kickoff specialist and a punter and looked good in both areas, was the first man up. The incumbent, however, answered in style and displayed tremendous ball-placement and decent power when called upon. The battle of the punters will continue to be an intense one — and one to keep a close eye on as only one can emerge victoriously.