August 09, 2012
Opening Night Begs For Better Offense
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
FOXBOROUGH -- It doesn't count, but you perhaps wish you could have seen better than what you did.
Often times in NFL training camps, the defense is ahead of the offense. This was particularly true on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium, as the Patriots opened their 2012 preseason against the New Orleans Saints, a franchise in tatters thanks to BountyGate. On this night which marked the preseason opener for the Patriots (and the second game for the Saints as they played last week in Canton, Ohio), both offenses basically sputtered all game long, and for slightly different reasons.
The final score, which along with a quarter will buy you a cup of coffee (40 or 50 years ago), the Patriots wound up on the good end of a 7-6 count. But Bill Belichick will have plenty to complain about, as will offensive line/assistant head coach Dante Scarnecchia. The Patriots could muster only one touchdown, and the Saints would have won the game if Jon Kasay had not missed a 41-yard field goal attempt late in the game. But the Saints fared no better, as Kasay did kick two field goals but the Patriots kept the Saints out of the end zone.
Tom Brady played only two series, but the offensive line was so out of synch that it should have been zero series. Brady was jostled around for most of his time in there, and the main culprit was last year's top draft pick, Nate Solder. Solder was called for two key penalties, including a holding call which wiped out a 17-yard pass from Brady to Brandon Lloyd. Basically, Solder was getting killed by Will Smith all the time he was in there, the low light being Smith strip-sacking Brady on the first offensive possession.
But it wasn't just Solder. No Patriot quarterback could get comfortable during the game except for the only touchdown drive in the third quarter. With Logan Mankins injured and Brian Waters not yet reporting to camp, those out there simply did not jell very well. Dan Koppen started at center and looked like he is still trying to work out the kinks and win his old job back. Solder is now at left tackle, taking the place of the retired Matt Light, and looks like he is still learning the position. Donald Thomas started at left guard, which should have been occupied by the All Pro Waters.
Without any consistent protection, the quarterback numbers suffered. Brady threw for only 30 yards, Ryan Mallet's passer rating was 34.8, and only the touchdown drive engineered by Brian Hoyer helped his numbers any, though that drive was bolstered by the running of Shane Vereen. Mallet suffered an interception and looked as off kilter in the game as he has in practice. Right now, Hoyer remains the best option if Brady gets injured at any time.
Vereen was clearly the best Patriot offensive performer. Featured on the opening drive of the second half, he carried the ball seven times for 63 yards on a 14-play, 97-yard drive that ended with Hoyer hitting Britt Davis at the goal line from three yards out for the game's only touchdown. But Vereen finally showed what the Patriots believe he is capable of. He along with Stevan Ridley will be counted on to form a nice tandem to help offset the offseason loss of BenJarvus Green-Ellis as a free agent.
Vereen finished with 64 yards on 11 carries, while Ridley, playing in the first half, registered 40 yards on eight carries. Both players averaged five or more yards per carry. If Belichick could take away any positives from the offense, it was these two guys against a pretty good Saint defense minus Jonathan Vilma, serving a one-year suspension thanks to BountyGate.
If Vereen was the offensive MVP, it was clear that Chandler Jones was the defensive standout of the evening.
While the top Patriot draft pick was in there, he brought constant pressure on Drew Brees and Chase Daniel. Brees only completed one pass for four yards, while Daniel managed 4 of 6 passing for 64 yards. Brees was flushed out of the pocket, as Jones was consistently in the backfield bringing pressure. Jermon Bushrod, who had to block Jones, had a worse game than Solder as he was called twice for holding penalties and could do nothing with Jones. It was nice for Patriot Nation to see, as the pass rush was one of the key areas in need of development in the offseason.
Otherwise, the Saint offense was more out of synch all game long, and it really wasn't about the Patriot defense once Jones left. Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung had interceptions. The Patriots had two sacks, but both of them came after the varsity players had left the game. Basically, the Patriots were never really tested on defense, and other than Jones, nobody really looked overly good or overly bad.
So, if anyone learned anything from tonight's game, perhaps three things stand out. The offensive line needs Scarnecchia to iron out all the problems and get this gang to work more cohesively, with or without Waters. Vereen has to deliver this season, and if this game is any indication, he passed his first test. Finally, Jones may make folks in this region finally forget Richard Seymour.
The Patriots would have liked to dodged the injury bug, but linebacker Dane Fletcher suffered a season-ending ACL injury to his knee. In the end this won't be discussed at all when video hits screen and admonitions start spewing forth from the head coach's mouth. Belichick needs to do what he does and things will get better on all fronts. With Josh McDaniels back in the fold as offensive coordinator, the Patriots don't figure to get held to only one touchdown for the game ever again this season.
The Patriots get the Eagles at home next week. Look for more of an emphasis on the running game again, and an attempt for McDaniels to get his passing game energized. With Michael Vick probably lost to an injury, the pass rush won't be as tested as perhaps Belichick might like. Still, it will be a good test for the Patriots, despite the Eagles dealing with the recent death of Andy Reid's son Conner.
Patriot Nation will feel a little better if the Patriots can at least crack double digits next week.
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