By: Derek Havens
Pre-Season exhibition games by the NFL can often be boring, as well as misleading. Thursday night at Gillette Stadium, that was not the case. The Patriots held their own against the Super Bowl winning New Orleans Saints, completing the game with a victory. The Patriots also seemed to provide a positive indication of what the team could offer during the regular season. Here are some thoughts and analysis from the game:
Players who did not dress included: WR Wes Welker, LB Jermaine Cunningham, WR Matthew Slater, CB Leigh Bodden, S Bret Lockett, CB Terrance Johnson, LB Gary Guyton, G Nick Kaczur, WR Torry Holt, DE Ty Warren, and DE Ron Brace.
I was happy Belichick decided to rest Wes Welker, as he did not need to prove anything in the opening preseason game. Jermaine Cunningham sitting out was a disappointment, but he is still bothered by an undisclosed injury suffered at Wednesday morning’s practice.
Starting Defensive Line-up: Gerard Warren DE, Vince Wilfork DT, Mike Wright DE, Tully Banta-Cain OLB, Jerod Mayo ILB, Brandon Spikes ILB, Marques Murrell OLB, Darius Butler CB, Devin McCourty CB, Brandon Meriweather S, Patrick Chung S
I loved what the Patriots did on the opening set defensively. They were aggressive and pressured Brees immediately, which I felt they should have done more of last season but clearly didn’t have the personnel. Marques Murrell got a sack on third down and Patriots nation had to enjoy the pressure the defense generated from the get-go. The cornerbacks Devin McCourty and Darius Butler could be an intriguing young duo as the team moves forward, but with Leigh Bodden sitting out due to injury, I am curious to see who will be a starter opposite him when he returns. Butler struggled last night after an impressive camp and a solid rookie campaign. McCourty played well defensively and contributed on special teams with a great return for 50 yards in the fourth quarter.
Starting Offensive Line-up: QB Tom Brady, T Matt Light, G Dan Connolly, C Dan Koppen, G Stephen Neal, T Sebastian Vollmer, TE Alge Crumpler, TE Aaron Hernandez, WR Randy Moss, WR Julian Edelman, RB Benjarvus Green-Ellis
The Patriots started in a physical set with the surprise of Benjarvus Green-Ellis as the lead running back, playing in 21 of their 31 first half offensive snaps. Green-Ellis ran well the majority of the time and could be making a case for himself to be the lead running back if he keeps this up for opening day.
The patriots looked out of sync on offense on the opening drive as they went 3 and out after an excellent 41-yard return by Julian Edelman. Edelman continues to impress taking over as punt returner, as well as playing receiver (6 catches for 90 yards in the game). The Patriots offense did seem to operate more smoothly on the following drives.
Overall first impressions were very good, as the Patriots won 27 – 24. The team took an early lead that they later lost, only to come back and win. Edelman was by far the MVP for the night as he showcased his abilities and versatility. The pressure generated, on both defense and special teams, is an aspect to keep in mind going forward. I hope to see the tenacity of the defense stay elevated through the course of the season, much like the beginning of last night’s game. Also, the running back situation should be observed carefully as camp and pre-season progresses. I would say for the first game of the young NFL season, Patriots nation should be optimistic.