By: Russ Goldman
The Patriots played their final pre-season game against the Giants at the new Meadowlands Stadium Thursday night, losing 20-17 and finishing the preseason at 2-2. I had low expectations for this game as the starters tend to play very little in the fourth pre-season game.
The good news is to my surprise I did get something out of this game. There was some good and bad to take away from watching the Patriots in this one, and the final score really doesn’t matter in this type of game. I wanted to see how each unit would play after last weeks game against the Rams, which was overall a disappointment. I’d say the Patriots performance last night was a mixed bag.
On defense, the Patriots did not come out strong. The Giants first possession saw them drive 86 yards on 9 plays for a touchdown. It was frustrating because on that drive the Patriots made Eli Manning look like his brother. There were open receivers all over the field, and Ahmad Bradshaw was able to run pretty well against them.
However, on the second drive the Pats did stop the Giants first team offense. These two drives were the only possessions to really judge last night, since the starters only played against each other during these situations.
The defense is a work in progress, and obviously it is going to take some time before they get comfortable. On the positive I see improvement coming from the defensive backs in coverage situations. Devin McCourty showed me something last night and stood out, and I am starting to get a good feeling about this cornerback. He was right on his receiver on many plays, and I do feel he is a player to really watch this season.
On the negative, there was one player that stuck out to me with a very poor performance. Derrick Burgess did not play well against the run as he was unable to set the edge. He is also not getting to the quarterback in passing situations. His struggles likely stem from the fact he missed the majority of training camp, but his play this season could be a huge key to the defense.
On offense, the Patriots last night proved to me they are ready to go. Tom Brady’s statistics aren’t the greatest in two drives. He was just 4-of-8 for 51 yards and one touchdown pass and also threw an interception. However, he was in complete command of the offense. He drove the Pats down the field on their first possession, and finished off the drive with a 5 yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski.
There were a few other positives on offense. Rob Gronkowski stood out once again as a major threat in the red zone. I have a feeling that Gronkowski and Hernandez are going to add dimensions to the offense that have not existed in the Brady era, which is going to be an exciting thing to watch this season.
Another positive would have to be play of the offensive line. They kept Brady clean with plenty of time to throw the ball. I was really impressed by their play so far, which has been a topic of discussion as Logan Mankins continues to hold out.
One negative would have to be the running game. Fred Taylor was the feature back in the first two drives, but unfortunately he had very little room to gain yards.
On special teams I thought there were positives for this unit. Zoltan Mesko did a nice job in punting. He had an average of 43.8 on 4 punts, and also downed one punt inside the redzone. This game was very encouraging from Mesko.
Stephen Gostkowski also was very good on kickoffs, and kicked a 46 yard field goal. Overall, this unit was a positive Thursday night.
Just like I did last week, after each game I’ve gone back and looked at my “reasons to watch” article to see if they shed any light on the game. Below is the analysis of my “ five reasons to watch the Patriots pre-season game against the Giants”.
1.This game will be a chance to focus on back-up quarterback Brian Hoyer. Brian Hoyer I thought played very well. Hoyer ended up the game 15 – 26 for 266 yards. He also threw a touchdown and had one interception. He showed me that he is ready to be a very competent back up to Tom Brady.
2.How will Jonathan Wilhite and Terrence Wheatley play in this game? Terrence Wheatley did not play last night, and Jonathan Wilhite didn’t really stand out in this game. Unfortunately, this game didn’t help me make any decisions on these players.
3. How will Benjarvus Green-Ellis play Thursday Night? Green-Ellis also did not play last night. It is too bad, because I don’t know if he will make the team. He is definitely a player that is on the bubble.
4. Will wide receivers Taylor Price and Brandon Tate show us improvement from the beginning of the pre-season? Taylor Price was a pleasant surprise last night. He caught 4 passes for 33 yards. He was very involved in the offense, and showed me the ability to get open. We’ve definitely seen improvement from him.
Brandon Tate did not catch a pass, and was not involved in the game very much last night. However, I have seen enough from this player in this pre-season to be encouraged by his potential.
5. I want to see if Ron Brace can make an impact Thursday Night. Ron Brace did not play in this game either. I was disappointed to see before the game that he would not be playing, because he needs more playing time to improve his game. Injuries are a part of the game, and let’s hope his injuries do not stop his progression as a player. He has shown me this pre-season glimpses of the ability I saw him have at Boston College, so I am hoping he gets back on the field soon. The Patriots could really use him on the defensive line.
This fourth pre-season showed me some positives and negatives with the Patriots. The game solidified my positive thoughts on the offense and special teams. Unfortunately, the defense still left me concerned. I see signs of life from this unit. It is a young and athletic defense, and I just think at this point we are seeing the growing pains of this unit.
Going into the season I have confidence in the offense, and in the special teams units. It is the defense that will have to grow up over the course of the season. Regardless, I am still positive that I see a team that will be winning the division and making the playoffs. I have seen enough in this pre-season that leads me to that conclusion.