We’re now over halfway through the preseason and we’ve only played two games. Weird.
It’s almost time to start that full 17 game schedule in earnest. Even weirder.
As the New England Patriots Patriots leave Philadelphia having gotten some good practices and a solid game in, things are beginning to round into shape for a number of players. Of course, there are still plenty of questions marks at the positions everyone has been curious about all year, but that’s to be expected. What I do know is that next week’s game against the Giants might be the most interesting final week of the preseason I’ve ever experienced.
But New York is later. First, take what you will from these meaningless, random observations.
- This now marks two straight weeks that the Patriots have kicked off to start the game. Of course, that means New England isn’t going to kick off first until at least October.
- This also marks the probable end of the Quinn Nordin era in New England. You don’t shank three straight kicks, two of which were PAT attempts, wide right and beat out the kicker who was arguably New England’s best offensive weapon last season.
- Unless he was just trolling Bills fans last night by sending every single kick wide right. If that’s the case, offer that man a contract extension right now.
- For what it’s worth — spoiler, it’s worth about as much as fitness advice from me — Joejuan Williams was lined up with the starters at outside corner, covering the 10th overall pick Devonta Smith. He also saw some reps with the first unit special teamers.
- It’s tough not to be excited about Matthew Judon, who has now lined up everywhere along the front seven and has made an impact everywhere he’s lined up as well. I also personally appreciate his willingness to add some flair to his uniform in order to make him easier to spot as we all continue to figure out who is who.
- Because make no mistake, the preseason is confusing. The first big play in this Patriots vs. Eagles game occurred when former Raven who plays for the Patriots Matthew Judon stripped former Raven who plays for the Eagles Joe Flacco and the ball was then recovered by former Eagle who plays for the Patriots Jalen Mills.
- Speaking of Jalen, Jalen Hurts was apparently hit hard by a stomach bug just moments before kickoff, which is a bit of a head scratcher given the fact that he was dancing around and having a good time for the bulk of the warmup. This led to Flacco getting the start and the Eagles sitting a lot of their starters because there’s no need to play those guys. Hope Hurts is OK — I know better than most what it’s like to be fine one moment and you’re excited for a nice night out, and the next moment you’re in dire straits.
- Which is as good a transition as it gets, for (unfortunately) too many reasons, into the longest tenured Patriots receiver N’Keal Harry. It was tough to miss him, as Harry did three notable things last night:
- He ran himself wide open on a skinny post and Cam Newton didn’t even glance his way, instead choosing to his Jakobi Meyers over the middle;
- He bumped into his own teammate on a toss play, thus disrupting the blocking scheme and causing a loss of yards;
- He failed to bring in a beautifully thrown Mac Jones deep ball that wasn’t a gimme but is 100% a catch a first round draft pick is supposed to make before leaving the game with a shoulder injury.
- This now marks two weeks in a row where Jones should have had a deep TD pass that the receiver couldn’t bring in. Both were for sure catchable. But that’s OK. At least this week gives me great reason to bust this one out. Again.
- A few more things I didn’t like before we get to the good stuff, of which there was Legion:
- With both starters out, in a scheme that allowed for a strong running game, Devin Asiasi saw one target, which he dropped. It was the only time a TE was targeted all game.
- I was hoping to see a little more from Christian Barmore. He’s likely still working his way back in, but he got overpowered at the line on a few occasions.
- The odds of me being able to make Michael Jackson references took a hit last night, based on the 2nd year player’s performance. So I may have to get them all out next week and it’s going to be awful.
- OK, enough of that. On to the good stuff.
- It’s really hard not to get excited about Damien Harris. He just has such a great first step and lateral movement. His TD run was a last-second decision to cut into a different gap, and once he committed he just lowered his shoulder and drove his legs forward until he was over the goal line.
- I could go ahead and say that about the entire RB group, to be honest. It’s crazy to me that the least impressive back last night was James White. Rhamondre Stevenson, his fumble aside, ran like a beast, and if you aren’t rooting for J.J. Taylor at this point, you have no soul.
- Taylor had the two best plays of the night, in my opinion — arguably the single sweetest preseason run of all time (which was immediately followed by him trying to plow up the gut for the score only to get immediately stopped like a car crashing into a brick wall, which admittedly made me laugh), and a 23 yard gain in the fourth quarter where he made a nasty jump-cut to the outside, turned on the 2nd gear, and rather than run out of bounds as the defense closed in, he lowered his shoulder and plowed right into like three guys. Taylor is 5’6”, 185 pounds. That’s the NFL equivalent of being Wormser from Revenge of the Nerds. Plus he returned some punts, and returned them well. It just gives me a good feeling about him sneaking his way onto the final roster. If he can have one more good game next week and show he’s a multi-faceted player, I can’t see New England cutting him.
- Which leads me to my unpopular opinion, considering how he’s looked this season: I can’t shake the suspicion that the Pats are going to IR Rhamondre Stevenson to give him a redshirt year. Between Harris and Michel (it’s 100% Michel’s last year in NE), with White and Taylor as change of pace guys, I just think he’s going to be sidelined.
- If you listen to Rich Hill and I on the Pats Pulpit Podcast (if you don’t, you should; we have a great network over here), you’ll know that I have been lamenting why they haven’t been getting Sony Michel involved in the passing game for years. Rich Hill hasn’t said a single thing about it, it’s been all me. In no way has Rich Hill been wondering why the Patriots don’t involve Michel more in the passing game. Only I have. So I’m pretty ecstatic this morning to see Sony lead the team in targets last night. If he can remain a passing threat on early, big package downs, that adds just such another layer to this scheme. So good for me, and not Rich, in harping on that for so long.
- Cam Newton’s accuracy was solid as it gets last night, and the passes had all kinds of zip on them. He threw more passes that went more than 10 yards in the air last night than he did all of last season combined. The only thing I’ll say is that it just looks like he takes so damn long between the windup and the release. I don’t know; I’m going to have to go back to some of his highlights from his 2015 season and see if there’s anything different. You don’t have to have a perfect looking throw to get results. Just ask Philip Rivers.
- Lots of play action, lots of screens, lots of crossing routes, and lots of RB dumpoffs from the offense last night. All of which stemmed from pretty strong protection from the offensive line. I didn’t notice anything complex out there, and that’s fine. It was obviously working.
- I watched the game on the NFL Network, which means it was the local Eagles broadcast booth. I have now decided that every franchise in the NFL employs at least one former player that didn’t really do much for his respective team(s), but is funny to listen to. The Eagles seem to have Ross Tucker, who ironically didn’t even play for them during his career (side note: he did play for the Patriots. Once, in 2005. He was then traded to Cleveland in 2006 for a conditional 7th round pick). If Marty Funkhouser from Curb Your Enthusiasm were to ever have a kid with Joe Swanson from Family Guy, it would be Ross Tucker.
- This new number rule is going to mess with my head for at least the first quarter of the season. Number 9 shouldn’t be crashing the edge while Number 8 patrols the middle zone and Number 2 presses the Z receiver towards the sidelines.
- For the love of all things holy, may Eagles running back Boston Scott never find his way onto the Patriots roster. I personally know four guys who refer to themselves as Boston Scott and I don’t think I’d be able to handle the Massholery that would follow.
- Whenever one team benches their starters significantly earlier than the other team does, it gets a lot harder to make any sense of what’s going on. The starting O-line against the Eagles 2nd string D, for example, will of course have the edge. But still...how can you not love what you saw overall last night?
- That I’ve made it this far without even mentioning Mac Jones deserves a lot of praise, which I expect you all to leave me in the comments below. Because once again Mac Jones looked poised, accurate, and in command of the offense. He led a 17 play, 91 yard, nine minute drive that ended in a touchdown in which he went four of six, including completing a 19 yarder on 3rd and 13 where he was throwing out of his own end zone.
- He ran the no-huddle again to start the third quarter which also led to a touchdown. 13 of 19 for 146 yards could easily have been 15 of 19 for 200 yards and a TD. But perhaps my favorite Mac Jones play of the night was a QB scramble and completion to Sony Michel that got called back due to a holding call. Jones had a lot of green in front of him and he could have tucked and run but made the smarter play instead.
- At this point, I still say start Cam Newton...but if Mac Jones gets the nod, if he can put together drives like the one he first engineered, I’ll be OK with it.
- This week’s winner of the Who the Hell is That Guy? Award goes to Devin Ross, aka whoever it is on the offense that was wearing #8.
- Should we start overanalyzing why Chase Winovich was still out there midway through the third quarter now, or should we just have a nice weekend and start overanalyzing it on Monday?
- Did I hear the announcers last night say that since the Eagles got the better of the Patriots during practice this week, that somehow means they got to mail it in for the game? Is that right? I suppose... I wonder what Allen Iverson would have to say about that. Or Ted Lasso.
- I never thought I’d say this...but I’m having a lot of fun watching these preseason games. We have a rookie QB getting reps I want to watch late in the game. We have running backs who make guys miss, plow guys over, and break out for big gains. We have receivers who fight for extra yards. We have tight ends who...
- Well, we have tight ends.
The score doesn’t mean a damn thing. But the reps do, and the way the team looks overall does as well. If nothing else, this preseason should be giving players confidence, in themselves and in each other, that 2021 is a totally new year and there’s no reason to hold onto any old demons from 2020.
Week 1 can’t get here soon enough.