Looking forward to Game 2 of the Pre-season Thursday night (7:30) against the Philadelphia Eagles. After two spirited joint practices, it will be interesting to see how the Patriots come out and play. The Eagles physically dominated the first practice, with both Jalen Hurts and Joe Flacco carving up the secondary.
N’Keal Harry vs Kristian Wilkerson – This has become the biggest battle in camp. Harry has put together two good practices while Wilkerson has developed a case of the dropsies. On Tuesday, Harry benefitted from a heavy dose of Red Zone work. This is where he excels. He was 5 for 5 against the Eagles, some of which were starters. We need to see Harry targeted in other places on the field, in non- Red Zone areas. Might this be the week?
Mike Reiss pointed out that N’Keal Harry played out of the slot in the Red Zone. This made me look into a comparison between N’Keal Harry and Aaron Hernandez as a slot/TE hybrid. Interesting?
Harry – 6’2, 228 lbs, ran 4.53 40 at the combine. His vertical jump was 35.3” and he lifted 27 reps at 225 lbs, ran a 7.05 3-cone drill at his Pro Day.
Hernandez 6’2 245 lbs, ran 4.64 at Pro Day. His vertical was 33”, he didn’t do the weight lifting and ran a 6.83 3-cone drill.
Harry created quite the mismatch. It will be interesting if we see him in this position on Thursday night since the Pats are short on TEs. Could this be an avenue for Harry to make the team? Keep 3 TEs (Henry, Smith Asiasi) and an extra big WR that can block downfield?
Cam Newton vs Mac Jones – Most of the attention in camp has been focused on Newton vs Jones. Unless Jones starts to get reps with the 1st team, then it’s no contest. Newton is the starting QB. Jones did get a sprinkling of 1st team reps and acquitted himself well (except for one bad INT). He then reeled off a streak of 11 completions to end the day. This showed that Jones is learning from his mistakes (He is a rookie and will make mistakes) can bounce back and not make the same mistake twice. Newton was 13 of 15 (with a drop by Wilkerson) on the day and Jones 13 of 14. Unless we have shocking results in the game Thursday night, Newton will be the starter. Jones has learned the playbook and played well, but just not significantly better. However, if Newton comes out of the gate slow at the start of the regular season, Jones will get his opportunity sooner rather than later.
Newton was being ridden hard by Eagles’ 2nd-year backup Safety K’von Wallace, calling him the “Checkdown King”. Mike Reiss put it into perspective. That’s what the defense was giving him and he took it. Philly was playing mostly zone and packing the end zone to prevent a score. I would relate the same thing about Mac Jones last Thursday night when Washington wasn’t giving much downfield and Jones needed to throw the underneath stuff. He made the right decision and that’s what the coaches are looking for. If he completes the throws that is nice, but not as important as making the right read.
Injuries begin to mount – This according to Jeff Howe of the Athletic – CB Jon Jones (first absence), TE Matt LaCosse (first absence), TE Troy Fumagalli (waived-injured to get to 85), TE Jonnu Smith (second consecutive absence), DB Myles Bryant (third consecutive absence), Anfernee Jennings (sixth total absence), WR Tre Nixon (third consecutive absence), DT Lawrence Guy(third consecutive absence), TE Hunter Henry (fifth consecutive absence), LS Joe Cardona (fifth consecutive absence), K Nick Folk (eighth consecutive absence), QB Jarrett Stidham (PUP), CB Stephon Gilmore (PUP), LB Cam McGrone (NFI), LB Terez Hall (PUP), S Josh Bledsoe (NFI), DT Byron Cowart (PUP). We are down to one true TE, Devin Asiasi, and FB/TE Jakob Johnson for Thursday night’s game.
Look for a heavy dose of Christian Barmore on Thursday. Lawrence Guy is out injured and Barmore has slipped into his starting role. I was critical of the Barmore selection in the draft, but everything I have read and heard indicated that Barmore has lived up to the expectations that come with the 1st DL drafted in the 2021 draft.
The D line as a whole was off against Washington. The WFT O-Line is not spectacular and they dominated the Patriots last Thursday. That was mostly against the 2nd teamers.
Offense – It starts and ends with QB Jalen Hurts. The 2nd year Pro will have the reins to the offense. Once Carson Wentz was traded, Hurts became the #1 QB. All reports have been positive that Hurts has taken control of the team and will run the show. If you remember, Hurts was the all-everything QB at Alabama in 2016, but lost the National Championship game. In 2017 he didn’t let that happen again. In 2018 he lost the starter’s job to Tua Tagovailoa. He subbed in for Tagovailoa in the SEC Championship game and led Alabama to victory. He transferred to Oklahoma in 2019 and had another terrific season finishing 2nd to LSU’s Joe Burrow for the Heisman trophy. He is no slouch.
Joining Hurts in the backfield will be Miles Sanders and Boston Scott. Sanders, when healthy is one of the top backs in the league. A true 3 down back. However, Scott often subs in in passing downs and is a proficient receiver and blocker. Philly had health problems in the backfield last year and ranked 30th in the league for healthy RB.
The Offensive Line was beset with injuries last year. They were the worst in the league to maintain their health and not missing time. This season they are leaning on seasoned veterans again. Three starters are 31 or older and that does not project well. The draft brought OC Landon Dickerson from Alabama. However, Dickerson is a risk having had 4 of 5 seasons in college ended early by injuries (2 ACLs, 2 Ankles). He is pushing 33 yo Jason Kelce who signed a one-year contract.
The Eagles WR were worse than the Patriots WRs last year. I am not making this up. This is according to CBS NFL analyst Warren Sharpe. They were also very unhealthy last season ranked 30th for WR’s health. Jalen Reagor is expected to bounce back in year two and have a big year. Rookie #1 draft pick, Alabama WR DeVonta Smith will give Hurts a lightning-quick WR to throw to. I hope to get to see both in action on Thursday.
TE’s Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert are a formidable duo to deal with. Let’s see how the secondary (Dugger, Phillips) and linebackers deal with this double-headed monster.
The Eagles front 7 is anchored by the older duo of DT Fletcher Cox and DE Brandon Graham. It was reported that Shaq Mason and Trent Brown played them tough and neutralized them in Tuesday’s workout. That should be something to watch Thursday night. Also, look for some payback to Philly DE Derek Barnett who took a real cheap shot on TE Matt LaCosse on a crossing route. On the play, Cam Newton led LaCosse right into the hit. Newton has a tendency to hold onto the ball and wait for receivers to clear defenders. That was the play LaCosse was hurt on.
The secondary is led by CBs Darius Slay and Steve Nelson. Avonte Maddux is the slot corner that N’Keal Harry burnt this week in practice. Safeties are Kvon Wallace and Anthony Harris. Wallace is the mouth that has been taunting Newton during practices.
DeVonta Smith WR Alabama is a dynamic player and one to watch. DT Milton Williams from Lousiana Tech had phenomenal numbers at the combine but his play on film didn’t show his athleticism. RB Kenneth Gainwell Memphis is a good receiver out of the backfield. He was targeted 61 times last year at Memphis with 26 of those targets coming from either the slot or out wide.
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