By: Derek Havens
In the second pre-season game of the very young NFL season, the New England Patriots displayed another impressive effort. As the Patriots handled the Falcons almost effortlessly throughout the game, there were once again many more positives than negatives in the 28 – 10 win.
I was impressed by the way the offense started. Wes Welker made an appearance in which he caught 2 passes over the middle for 6 and 14 yards. On the first drive the patriots threw six straight passes before running the ball six straight times. The drive lasted 6:13 as the patriots drove 80 yards for a Fred Taylor 28 yard touchdown.
Balance seemed to be a priority throughout the game and the plan was obvious, be more physical. The Patriots offensive line showed dominance in each quarter against the Falcons defensive line. The Patriots ran the ball effectively nearly the entire game and the older backs had a lot to do with that. Here are some story lines that I came away from the game with:
Defense was hot and cold: I thought the defense was average almost the entire game. There were some positives but the pressure they generated and the poor coverage on check downs disappointed me. The secondary would play well against the receivers and then the defense would lapse when the Falcons QBs would go to their check down options. Yes, they only gave up 10 points, but I thought they struggled to get pressure on the Falcons first team offense. The starting OLBs were Derrick Burgess and Marques Murrell. Murrell started a second straight week as Burgess returned to action for the first time. Devin McCourty and Brandon Spikes had another solid game, although as I noted in the blog earlier, Gary Guyton and Leigh Bodden are out with injuries. So, I will be monitoring who the starters are when those two are healthy. The defense certainly needs to step up if this team has playoff aspirations. They got the job done tonight but, I certainly expect more from the unit as a whole as the season progresses.
Old legs run hard: As I predicted earlier Fred Taylor got the start tonight. I did not predict however, how well he would run. The 34 year old Taylor looked fresh and motivated to show the staff as well as fans he still could shoulder the load. I was impressed by how hard he hit the hole and it certainly did not hurt that the offensive line was dominant for the games entirety. Both Taylor and Sammy Morris ran exceptionally well and if that can continue, balance could be restored to the offense.
Dan Connelly continues to fill big shoes: In the first two games, Dan Connelly has played as well as anyone could have hoped. With Logan Mankins still holding out from the team, Connelly has filled in admirably and his play is starting to speak for itself. I have noticed him in multiple scenarios stand out when he “pulls” to block. In the first week he did just that to help Benjarvus Green – Ellis score a touchdown and he did the same for Fred Taylor tonight to help the Patriots score their first touchdown. If he can keep his play around this level, the patriots might be able to recover from what many thought was a crippling contract dispute.
Tight Ends play large role: Both of the Patriots young TEs, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, played exceptional throughout the game. Not only were the efficient, combined 8 for 9 receptions, they both scored in the red zone – a huge problem for the Pats last season. Both players caught four balls and I thought their play show cased there hard work to date this off-season. I think both futures are very promising and that will most definitely benefit the team. I expect more of the same in future games.
Third Downs play key role: The patriots were sensational on third downs throughout the game, converting on 11 of 17 times. That type of success is critical to closing out games and scoring more points. Those length of the field, time of possession, drives that the patriots use to thrive on were created by third down efficiency. If they can continue to have that kind of success throughout the year, the results could translate into more wins.
Overall, my first impressions of he game are a positive. I would give the team a B+, however; I would like to see more tenacity on the defensive side. I loved the balance and physical nature the Patriots brought to the game and I hope that continues. Tom Brady has played very well in the first two games. Brady is a combined 15 – 20, thrown for 152 yards, 1 touchdown, and is 2 – o. As the rookies progress, Patriots nation has to be pleased with Devin McCourty, Brandon Spikes, Aaron Hernandez, and Rob Gronkowski’s progression. In the Patriots third pre-season, next week, fans and coaching staff should hope to see more progress by the team as they have in the first two. As many coaches play their starters for an extended period of time in week three of the pre-season, next week should continue to give us an idea of what kind of team these Patriots can be.