With the New England Patriots concluding their joint practices with the Philadelphia Eagles this week, I’m not quite sure what to expect out of tonight’s game. We all know that Week 2 of the preseason sees the starters get a little more time, Week 3 has been the typical dress rehearsal, and then Week 4 is almost exclusively for bubble guys vying for those last few roster spots. But with the NFL eliminating one of the August games, what does that mean? Is this game the dress rehearsal? Will next week’s game actually matter in some capacity? I have no idea.
But what I do know is that there are still a few things I won’t be giving a single ounce of weight to tonight, regardless of how deep into the 2nd half the starters play. Here they are.
Which quarterback starts. This now marks the second time I’m listing QB start on the list of things I’m not paying attention to, and for good reason. It’s been so long since New England has had anything that even remotely resembles a quarterback controversy, it’s understandable that we don’t really know how to handle it. And seeing how the NFL eliminated a preseason game and Week 2 is now likely the dress rehearsal game, I would imagine there are going to be a lot of folks to point to whoever takes the first offensive snap tonight is as locked in at the starting QB role as it gets. I, however, am just hoping to see Mac Jones, whenever he comes in, continue to make good reads and show off excellent throwing mechanics. Cam Newton is still my guy for Week 1 regardless of when he first sees the field tonight, as I’m on record multiple times touting the benefits of not throwing a rookie QB into the deep end right away. That opinion isn’t going to change no matter who starts tonight or how good Mac Jones looks against the Philly ones.
Running back reps. I’m for sure going to be paying attention to how the backs run, whether they’re hitting the gaps and breaking tackles and making the correct reads, but I don’t care at all how many carries each guy gets. I don’t think I’m even going to put any stock in which running back lines up on the first series of the game, to be honest; the versatility of this group leads me to believe that the Patriots won’t really be utilizing a lead back anyway and who lines up behind
Cam Newton Mac Jones whoever the starting QB is will be very much formation and scheme based. So I’m just going to look for some good runs and smart decision making with no injuries.
Linebacker grouping. While I’m very much looking forward to seeing individual LBs do their thing, I’m hoping that what I’ll mainly be seeing tonight is a bunch of different combinations of players as the Patriots experiment with their deepest unit. The very top of the LB depth charts is fairly secure, but given the variety of defensive looks the Patriots like to employ and the importance Bill Belichick has always placed on the position, New England is in the excellent and unique spot to try out all kinds of different combinations in a real game setting in which the score doesn’t matter. So I don’t know how much we’ll really be able to glean from who we see lining up next to who tonight. Rather, I’ll be focusing on individual players and which of the second tier guys showcase their wares in a positive manner.