Some final thoughts ahead of the Patriots final preseason game tonight against the Titans:
Bailey Zappe Needs to Finish Strong
Zappe finds himself in an odd place heading into Thursday night’s finale against the Titans, facing what could potentially be his final meaningful snaps under center for 2023.
Given how his preseason has gone, he really needs to make them count.
The second-year quarterback certainly isn’t in any kind of danger when it comes to his roster spot, but the former Western Kentucky standout needs to finish strong after what’s been a tough couple of appearances.
Having won over fans in New England thanks to his time in relief of Mac Jones last season, many had hoped Zappe could potentially come into training camp and push Jones for the starting job. Instead, Zappe has been somewhat inconsistent in practice, and also hasn’t quite been able to put together a complete performance under the lights in each of their two preseason contests.
In his first outing against Houston, he didn’t exactly have much to work with. Zappe faced unbelievable pressure in that game after New England started a mish-mash of players in front of him.
With Trent Brown, Cole Strange, and Michael Onwenu sidelined, the Patriots marched out Conor McDermott at left tackle, rookie Atonio Mafi at left guard, James Ferentz at center, Kody Russey at right guard, and rookie Sidy Sow at right tackle.
The result was a mess, forcing Zappe to try and make the best out of what was absolutely a tough situation.
He took safe throws on most of them. Zappe completed 12-of-14 for 79-yards, with his two incompletions being balls he intentionally threw away. His biggest throw of the night came on a ball to Tyquan Thornton, with Zappe throwing a pretty good ball that hung up on him a bit, with Thornton making a nice leaping grab for the 27-yard completion.
But one thing that stood out in that game was the fact that Zappe spent a lot of time trying to move around and create throwing lanes, which was needed because Houston brought a fair amount of inside pressure in that game.
Having dealt with batted passes during camp, something that the Bears seemingly caught on to in his fourth appearance last season, Zappe told reporters after that game it’s been a focus for him this preseason.
“You’ve got to keep up with the new trends around the league, I guess,” joked Zappe. “It’s kind of something this offseason I worked on with QB Country, the people I trained with with. Just being able to throw around guys instead of trying to throw it over, try to prevent knockdowns or incomplete balls and just being able to move in the pocket and really just throw around guys. I mean, that’s really as simple as it can be. Just trying to get it as easy as I can to the receivers and let them do what they’re best at.”
However, against the Packers, Zappe battled even harder in that game, going through a stretch where he completed just 5-of-16, with his best throw over that span coming on a strike he fired in the second quarter to rookie Kayshon Boutte between defenders, which saw Boutte take off for a 42-yard touchdown with just 0:56 left to play in the first half.
He eventually finished things off with another scoring drive late in the game, where he completed five of his final six throws during a 17-play, 88-yard drive that took nearly 9 minutes off the clock.
Zappe capped it off in solid fashion, taking it in from 6-yards out for the touchdown after the Packers sat back and dared him to throw it, but left him with a wide-open area to run it in.
He’s had some good moments, but he hasn’t quite been able to put together the type of performance from start to finish many had hoped to see from him. This could be his final chance to see game action in 2023, so it would be nice to see him end things on a high note.
Sokol Seems to Have the Edge at 3rd TE
After seeing Mike Gesicki suffer a shoulder injury in camp, it was a reminder that the Patriots will still need to make sure they get some quality depth at the position heading into the season.
The big question is who that might be. Matt Sokol has gotten the lion’s share of the snaps in each of the two preseason games, with Anthony Firksher, and Scotty Washington, and Johnny Lumpkin rounding things out.
But given how things have played out, it seems like Sokol may have the edge on the depth chart. He’s done a good job in his limited snaps, including the block he had during Rhamondre Stevenson’s touchdown run.
The veteran got a nice endorsement from teammate Hunter Henry earlier this week during his weekly appearance on WEEI’s Gresh and Fauria, where he was asked who might be the best option to fill in during Gesicki’s absence.
“Sok has done a great job,” said Henry. “I’ve actually been with Sok a long time. We’ve had some years … he was actually a rookie with me out with the Chargers in my third or fourth year. We go way back, man and I’ve been kind of along the ride for his journey throughout the league, for sure.”
“He’s done a great job this camp, filling the void, and stepping up in different situations, making plays when the ball comes his way. I mean, he does everything that you ask and he’s a fun guy to have in our room, for sure. He brings a lot of energy and I’m happy for Sok.”
Ryland Needs To Seize His Opportunities
Rookie kicker Chad Ryland seemed to be well on his way to unseating Nick Folk at the kicker position during this training camp, but he’s had a tough week and seems to have lost some momentum heading into the end of this preseason.
Knowing how important that position tends to be, how he performs tonight could end up playing a key role in whether or not he’s handed the keys, or if the Patriots will end up being forced to figure out a way to keep both guys on their roster.
Give Folk credit. Despite the Patriots continually bringing in guys to push him, he’s quietly remained fairly consistent. His biggest knock is that he doesn’t have the strongest leg, which has been an issue both with long field goals and kickoffs.
However, when New England has needed a field goal, he’s been pretty automatic.
As a result, this will likely be something to watch as Ryland will potentially need a strong finish to win what is obviously an important role for a team that will need to convert every scoring opportunity it can in 2023.
Uncertainty Up Front Leaves Door Open For Roberts
Second-year defensive lineman Sam Roberts heads into tonight with what’s potentially a big one for him.
With some uncertainty up front at that spot, Roberts has a chance to prove he can be the disruptive player he was in college while hopefully providing some depth inside against the run on New England’s defensive line.
He seemingly caught a break this week after the club claimed Marquan McCall on waivers, which initially felt like it could have been bad news for the former Northwest Missouri State player.
Instead, after McCall failed his physical and was released, it left the door open for Roberts but it’s still a reminder that the Patriots aren’t necessarily comfortable with who they currently have.
Roberts had a tough night in Green Bay where he was called for two penalties, including a roughing the passer penalty that led to the Packers’ first touchdown, followed by an illegal use of hands penalty in the red zone that also played a role in another Packers score.
Still, he’s had some nice moments this preseason, and he’s definitely come a long way from the player he was a year ago. Based on what we’ve seen, he’s built up some confidence within the coaching staff but it’s clear he’s still got some work ahead of him.
If he can put together a solid outing tonight, it would be a great way to potentially help carve out a role for himself heading into this season.
Cunningham has had a good preseason for the Patriots. (PHOTO: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports)
What Will the Patriots Do With Cunningham?
Rookie Malik Cunningham played 31 snaps on offense Saturday night, all of which came at wide receiver after the game was cut short due to Isaiah Bolden’s injury.
The Packers game ended with over 10-minutes left to play and not long after Zappe had put together his scoring drive, which likely meant Zappe’s night was over. The only question from there would have been whether or not Cunningham would have seen any time under center, or if it might have been Trace McSorley.
Cunningham will likely end up as the third quarterback on the roster when the team makes its final roster cutdowns, and he’ll have to be given the designation of being a quarterback to comply with the third quarterback rule that the league has set in place, which the NFL elaborated on earlier this week.
According to the rule, the third quarterback has to be an active player on the 53-man roster, although that player won’t count against the game-day limit. However, he’ll only be able to play if the other two quarterbacks aren’t available.
But the next part complicates things, especially when it comes to Cunningham. According to ProFootballTalk.com, the memo that was sent out to all the teams on Monday said that whoever the third quarterback is must be a “bona fide” quarterback, not a player at some other position, to be the emergency quarterback.
That means the days of using players like Jakobi Meyers or Julian Edelman, both former college quarterbacks who were each receivers for the Patriots, is apparently no longer an option.
It felt like the club was trying to establish another role for Cunningham, both at receiver and special teams for the sake of keeping him around and developing him, especially given what he showed at quarterback against the Texans.
Instead, things may have changed, and it will be interesting to see if Cunningham continues getting reps at receiver or if the team will simply play him under center tonight.
Kickoff for tonight’s game is currently set for 8:15 ET.
Posted Under: Patriots News
Tags: Bailey Zappe Chad Ryland Malik Cunningham Matt Sokol Nick Folk Sam Roberts