Thursday night’s win over the Bears helped improve the Patriots to 2-0 on the exhibition season and there were once again plenty of bright spots as they continue getting ready for 2016.
After a 23-22 victory over Chicago, here’s a quick look at 10 players who stepped up during the Patriots final home game of the exhibition season.
1) CB Cyrus Jones – Thursday night was a good one for the rookie out of Alabama, who picked off Brian Hoyer’s first pass of the night with just under four minutes to go and helped set up the Patriots at the Bears’ 15-yard line. What made the play more impressive was how well he read the route and anticipated where the football would be, stepping in front of receiver James Bellamy to force the turnover. Three plays later, LeGarrette Blount was in the end zone and the Patriots were back in the game at 11-9. Jones also had a decent night returning kicks and is starting to look comfortable early on here in New England.
2) RB LeGarrette Blount – Blount looked like a different running back Thursday night, showing a nice burst and an ability to cut and change direction that we haven’t seen in a long time from the veteran. Part of his success stemmed from better play by the offensive line, which gave him a little more time to work than they had in last week’s game. He finished with 11 carries for 69-yards and a touchdown, and hopefully this improvement is the sign of things to come for Blount, who right now once again remains the lead candidate to join Dion Lewis for the primary running back duties.
3) TE A.J. Derby – Derby has been impressive to watch this preseason and he’s quickly establishing himself as the player to beat at the number three tight end position. Derby finished the night with 6 receptions on 7 targets for 71-yards including a touchdown, and made several impressive catches in traffic despite opposing defenders getting a couple of good shots in on him. Through two games Derby leads all receivers by nearly double the amount of catches, with Thursday night’s game seeing him increase his total to 9 receptions on the preseason along with putting him over the 100-yard mark with 118-yards total receiving yards.
4) TE Martellus Bennett – Bennett finished with a quiet night while catching just two passes for 26-yards, but he looked much more comfortable in the offense than he did last week. His first reception of the night was a big 3rd-down grab to move the chains, and overall he played well and was spotted smiling and laughing with Jimmy Garoppolo, which is a good sign as the two continue working on getting on the same page.
5) DE Trey Flowers – Flowers again looked terrific, getting into the backfield on numerous occasions while joining Johnson on his 0.5 sack. The Patriots should be pretty happy with the state of their guys up front heading into this season, and seem to have a premium on players who appear to be relatively formidable in terms of helping make their pass rush that much better in 2016. Flowers is certainly a great example of that, and he’s definitely been impressive through the first two weeks of the preseason.
Johnson Had a Solid Outing Thursday Night. (USA TODAY Images)
6) DT Anthony Johnson – One of the areas of need has been the Patriots getting consistent inside pressure from their defensive line, and Johnson certainly did that throughout the evening, including batting down a 3rd down pass by the Bears to force a 36-yard field goal attempt. He finished with a pretty impressive stat line, with a quarterback hit, a tackle for a loss, a 0.5 sack, and that’s not even counting the number of times he made opposing quarterbacks run for their lives. It was a nice glimpse of what will hopefully be more to come from the former undrafted free agent, who seems like a man on a mission in his third NFL season.
7) WR Chris Hogan – Hogan had a solid outing Thursday night, finishing the evening with 4 receptions on 5 targets for 53-yards, including a two point conversion grab. Hogan had a 20-yard reception during the team’s no-huddle drive at the end of the half that helped set up Derby’s touchdown and seemed to have great chemistry with Garoppolo and ran a great route on the two-point try. Hogan has done a good job so far this preseason and seems to be settling in.
8) QB Jacoby Brissett – Brissett put together a pretty good performance Thursday night, missing just four passes during his 13 attempts. Overall he finished 9-of-13 for 87 yards but some of the things that stood out were his strong hands on pump fakes and his overall execution during play-action. One play that stood out was a play action fake he made inside where he stepped and faked the handoff before turning and then spinning back outside, completely fooling the defender before rolling back out and hitting Steven Scheu on a 14-yard pass. He’s already improved quite a bit over two weeks, and looked like he’s starting to feel more comfortable. That’s good news considering he’s going to be the go-to guy should anything happen to Garoppolo and hopefully we’ll see more of that over the final two exhibition games.
9) LB Jamie Collins – Collins again was his usual brilliant self this week, although he finished the game without forcing any turnovers. He finished with 4 total tackles on the evening and watching him, if the preseason remains any indication, he’s going to be in for a big year. Through two games it’s just amazing to see how quick and athletic he is and how much better the defense looks as a whole with him out there. Getting him under contract is something that the Patriots certainly know they need to get done, and after seeing what they were like without him out there last season, hopefully the two sides are able to strike a deal on an extension.
10) QB Jimmy Garoppolo – Finally, it’s only one game, but Garoppolo has definitely come a long way in just one week’s time, which was great to see given the fact he’ll obviously be the starter heading into week one of the regular season. One word to describe what we saw from the 3rd-year quarterback was “smooth”, which is what he was nearly every time he dropped back to pass. He went through his progressions with ease and nearly every one of his throws hit his receivers in stride, and the best part of the night was his performance at the end of the half when he lead the team down the field in the hurry-up offense before firing a touchdown pass to A.J. Derby, which was a terrific throw between two defenders.
The most ironic part of the night was the fact Brian Hoyer was in the house as a back-up with the Bears, which was a stark reminder of the difference in terms of the quarterback the Patriots finally have playing behind Tom Brady. Hoyer started the game off with an interception by Jones that immediately put the Patriots in business, and finished with a paltry 4-of-14 (29%) and a QB rating of 22.6, which is not going to get him back into the starting line-up with any NFL team. Meanwhile, Garoppolo was calm, cool, and even when he was under pressure or had guys in his face, moved around incredibly well while keeping his eyes downfield and remained poised throughout the contest.
Garoppolo looked like a player who is gaining a lot of confidence, and watching his footwork in both his throws and evading pressure was really just impressive to see for such a young player, as he never looked rattled at all despite the fact Chicago continually came after him. Meanwhile, seeing Hoyer panic and have difficulty making decisions was just a reminder of how much better Garoppolo is at this point in his career that the former Patriots back-up.
However, it also further reinforces how much better off New England currently is given how things played out with the departure of both Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. Thursday night was definitely encouraging, and hopefully Garoppolo can put together a strong finish as he continues working on preparing to play far more meaningful games in the month ahead.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: A.J. Derby Anthony Johnson Chris Hogan Cyrus Jones Jacoby Brissett Jamie Collins Jimmy Garoppolo LeGarrette Blount Martellus Bennett Trey Flowers