The Patriots have finished up their two joint practices with the Saints in West Virginia and have flown down to New Orleans for their second preseason game. The game is slated for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff time and will be televised locally by WBZ.
Following a productive couple of days working out with Sean Payton’s team, now the Pats now have to get to the business at hand, which is getting the most out of this week’s game.
The starters should see a bit more action in this one as the Patriots start to prepare for the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers in September. Here are our keys in what to watch for Saturday night:
Offensive Line Composition: Against the Packers last week, the starting OL didn’t include a single starter from 2014. This week at least in the interior it should be much of the same. With center Bryan Stork still out with an injury, rookie David Andrews and rookie guards Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason should see a lot of work with the starting unit.
The key to watch for is at tackle where starters Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer may play this week and get some quality reps against a good opponent to prepare for the opener. The protection last week wasn’t great as Jimmy Garoppolo was sacked seven times. But the protection should improve as the unit gets more work together.
Quarterback’s Workload: Tom Brady concluded a razor sharp week of practice and will be looking to parlay that into a solid outing against the Saints defense. He should play into the second quarter but much of that will depend on how efficient the offense is initially.
Last week he only played a cameo but with no Edelman, LaFell or Gronkowski, he didn’t have his normal array of weapons around him. Edelman and LaFell won’t play in this one and didn’t make the trip. But look for him to try to get Danny Amendola involved as well as Gronkowski early to get the offense into a rhythm. Gronk and Amendola have had solid camps and the big man should see some action this week.
Jimmy Garoppolo will be looking to improve upon his up-and-down performance last week. With the OL getting more work together and the WRs getting more in tune with the offense, this week will be a bigger test.
Effectiveness of Running Game: With Jonas Gray and James White handling the running duties last week, the team will look to improve upon that this week. LaGarrette Blount missed some time with an MCL sprain but has been an active participant in practice this week.
Blount has had an impressive camp prior to his injury and looking a tad leaner, showed an impressive burst. It will be worth watching to see if he can replicate that this weekend and provide a 1-2 punch with Gray. This would be especially valuable in the red zone where they didn’t get any work last week. White and Brandon Bolden would then get some complimentary carries to help keep the offense balanced.
Big week for depth WRs: With no Edelman, LaFell, Aaron Dobson and Brian Tyms looking at a serious foot injury, this will be a key time for the players vying for those final roster slots to step up.
Brandon Gibson, Josh Boyce and Chris Harper are all vying for roster slots. With the team basically set with Edelman, LaFell and Amendola as the top three WRs, that leaves 1-2 slots open for competition. Matthew Slater is listed as a WR but is truly a ST’s player. That means production is everything now for those vying for the 53 man roster.
Gibson has been the most consistent all summer; the seven year veteran has progressed every day and seemed poised to earn a slot. Boyce, the 3rd year speedster from TCU has yet to put it all together. He was coming on in camp until a down performance against the Packers set him back. He rebounded a bit with some solid work in joint practices this week. He’ll be under the microscope early in this one.
Harper is an intriguing case, the UDFA from Cal is one of the bigger threats to be this season’s undrafted free agent to make the team. After a slow start to camp, he’s been improving daily and is getting a lot of work in the special team’s return game, always a good sign. It will be interesting to see if he gets any work this week with Brady and the top unit after he led the team in receptions against Green Bay.
Front Seven Pass Rush: Last week the Patriots got a lot of push from the front seven, especially early against Aaron Rodgers. Jabaal Sheard, rookie Trey Flowers and Rufus Johnson were all flashing in getting pressure from the edge.
This week, rookie Malcom Brown flashed in 1-on-1 drills in the interior and the team will be looking for he and Dominique Easley to push the pocket. Sheard, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and rookie Geneo Grissom will be looking to add upon last week’s performance. Grissom is another guy who has been coming on recently; he had an impressive showing against the Packers and followed that up with a good two practice sessions in WV.
The Saints love to push the ball down the field, but unlike the Packers, their plays are a tad longer in developing. This will be a nice test for the front seven to see if they can disrupt the timing of those deeper passes and bring some pressure on Brees this week.
It will be interesting to see if Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower get to see their first action of the summer this week. Mayo coming off of a serious knee injury has been impressive and physical in training camp. Hightower is ahead of his rehab schedule for his shoulder and has been a full participant in practice.
Who’s at corner?: After an impressive start by Darryl Roberts last week, he injured his wrist in the preseason opener and since Saturday, Devin McCourty has been getting a lot of work on the outside. This week, it will be an interesting scenario to see where DMac plays and to see if Tarel Brown is ready to see his first game action. Brown had a good couple of days of practice with the Saints.
Malcolm Butler had his worst day of the summer on Wednesday as Drew Brees and the Saints picked on him during the first session. But he rebounded nicely on Thursday with a solid practice. He’ll be watched closely on Saturday night as the Saints will try to test him again. It will be a good test for the guy who’s basically been penciled in as the team’s starting LCB. He passed his first one, albeit in a smaller sample against Rodgers and Green Bay. Brees and the Saints will be another one to guage.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2015 NFL Preseason 2015 Patriots Training Camp Bill Belichick Chandler Jones Danny Amendola Drew Brees Jabaal Sheard Jimmy Garoppolo Jonas Gray Josh Boyce Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount Malcolm Butler New England Patriots New Orleans Saints Patriots Patriots edge rushers Patriots Training Camp Photos Rob Ninkovich Sean Payton Tom Brady Tre' Jackson Trey Flowers