The Patriots hit the field on Gillette for their last home preseason game tonight as they’ll take on the World Champion Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2 of the preseason. The game will be televised on WBZ-TV 4 with Bob Socci on the play-by-play, Scott Zolak doing color commentary with Rob Ninkovich the sideline reporter and Andy Hart and Paul Perillo providing commentary from the studio.
The stakes are much lower for both teams since they last met in February for the Super Bowl where the Eagles won 41-33 for their first Lombardi Trophy. But although it is just preseason and the score ultimately doesn’t mean anything at the end of the day, each team is looking to accomplish several things and solidify their rosters. WIth the limit at 90 players right now (the Patriots have 89), the teams will have to get down to 53 in just a couple of weeks now. Each team has several spots up for grabs.
Neither Tom Brady, Carson Wentz or Nick Foles played in their team’s preseason opener but all three should see some playing time this week as it is time for the QBs now to work off the rust.
There have been some interesting newsworthy stories this week, especially so since this is a preseason game. Lane Johnson continues to talk smack about and to the Patriots as well as Patriots fans. His “look at me” schtick will no doubt continue after the game as regardless if he plays a down, as he’s a self-styled expert on all things about the Patriots locker room although he’s never played here.
And Philadelphia fans have purchased a billboard on Route 1 leading into the stadium in a hilarious dig at the Patriots similar to the 28-3 trolling New England did to Atlanta. Crazy to see these things before a preseason game.
So from a Patriots perspective, as there is a football game to be played here is our list of things we’ll be looking for this week as the Patriots play the next preseason game against a very good Eagles team.
How Long Will Tom Brady Play? Brady after having his snaps reduced in training camp for about a week has been right back at it this week, looking like he got a typical workload for training camp.
Jim McBride from the Globe reported that Brady was suffering from a sore back last week, although Brady probably could have played if it had been a regular season game, he sat out the 1st preseason contest. He typically doesn’t play in the first one anyway so he was a cheerleader on the sidelines for Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling.
I would expect Brady to play about midway thru the first quarter and try to get some chemistry going with his wide receivers, several of whom are banged up right now. But it is important that Brady gets his own work in before the regular season. This week and next are his two games to knock off the rust. The final preseason game is usually a final look at guys on the bubble and one he normally doesn’t play in. We expect to see him hook up with Rob Gronkowski a bit this week as Gronk sat last week as well.
Wide Receiver Reps Time For Stepping Up: Kenny Britt hasn’t been a full participant all summer and at the end of practices both Phillip Dorsett and Julian Edelman came up limping a bit. So the WR position has yet to look like the coaches have envisioned it for the regular season thus far. It is imperative that all of the wide receivers get some work in with Brady and build up their chemistry, timing and trust factor with the starting QB. Britt probably won’t play again and it will be interesting to see if Edelman and Dorsett make it on the field this week.
Of course, it is also an opportunity for everyone to showcase their talents, especially those players who are on the bubble. And in the case of Eric Decker, whom the team brought in just a couple of weeks ago, it should be a very important week. Decker is a player who has been very productive in the league but after a couple of serious injuries and at an age where it is fair to wonder if his best days are behind him, Decker is far from a lock at this point. Especially considering that he was just brought in. He doesn’t know the offense well yet and was plagued earlier in the week with several drops. Tonight’s game and next week will be a big measuring stick for him.
Cordarrelle Patterson is another guy who has had a strong camp but hasn’t had a ton of reps with or catches from Brady during the practice sessions. Tonight would be a prime opportunity for him to build some of the trust factor with #12 and work into an integral role in the offense. Ditto for young guns Devin Lucien, Braxton Berrios and Riley McCarron.
Will To See See More From Ju’Whaun Bentley and J.C. Jackson: The two rookies both had strong outings in the first professional, albeit, preseason games. Both got off to impressive starts last week against the Redskins and this week, we’ll see if they can continue to build off of that against a much better football team in the Eagles.
Bentley showed the type of physicality on the goal line that the coaches love, where he read the play, and then flew up into the hole and blew up the play for no gain that we expect from Dont’a Hightower. But for a rookie, he showed a surprising level of comfort within the defense to call the plays and wear the green dot communication device. That shows a level of trust from the coaches and also that his development is coming along quickly, something Hightower alluded to early in training camp.
Jackson began turning heads at OTAs this spring and has carried it thru minicamp, training camp and the first preseason game. The UDFA rookie from Maryland has been impressive with his technique and compete level from Day 1 and was thrust early in the process opposite of Stephon Gilmore to show what he could do. The results have been very impressive thus far. He’s definitely in line to earn himself a roster spot on this year’s team and he’ll be a player to watch tonight.
And we could say the same thing about young RB Ralph Webb who looked strong in his professional debut last week. He still has a long way to go, can he parlay a strong performance into added reps and production two weeks in a row.
Jason McCourty’s Time to Shine is Now: Speaking of cornerbacks, the case of Jason McCourty has been a strange one thus far of his time in New England. He has been a regular member of the second rotation at the corner so far during training camp but didn’t play a snap against the Redskins. If the absence was injury related, McCourty didn’t say anything to the media about it.
Of course, Bill Belichick isn’t going to say much on the subject. He waxed mid-season form Bill when approached on McCourty’s lack of playing time last week.
“The guys we play, we play. The guys who didn’t play… didn’t play,” Belichick said on Monday. “We’ll play other guys this week, and we’ll see how it goes.
“We all know I’m not talking about anybody’s injuries, so there’s no point in bringing that up or going through that. Can’t look at everybody every week. There’s just too many guys. Some guys will play one week, some guys will play more the other week.”
We expect to see a lot more of McCourty this week against Philadelphia and perhaps get an extended amount of reps. He did practice with the first team unit on Monday so perhaps it was just a case of Belichick knowing what he has in some players and letting them sit to that he has an opportunity to gauge other players. Tonight will be an interesting one to see what McCourty brings to the table.
Eddie Pleasant or Jordan Richards: Most Patriots fans every summer have Richards circled on the cut list but he’s now in his fourth year with the team. He has been a good STs performer but has struggled mightily when asked to play defense. Last year, because of injuries, he played an extended role defensively and things didn’t go well at all for him, most notably in the Super Bowl. That carried over to the first preseason game against the Redskins where he missed several tackles due to taking a poor angle, something we’ve mentioned time and again here.
Pleasant is an established veteran who played for several years with the Texans as a player who fits the same mold. He’s been a solid STs presence who can fill in defensively when needed. Pleasant has looked better than Richards defensively so far, although that is almost like damning with faint praise. If he can pick up the STs role as well as Richards, he may supplant the veteran from the roster.
Both may see the intriguing rookie tight end Dallas Goedert on the field tonight. We really liked Goedert during the draft process, the rookie from S. Dakota St. had a very impressive debut of his own against the Steelers last week, he caught 4 passes on five targets for 66 yards and a touchdown.
Strong Play on the Edge From Wise/Rivers: The two second-year players on the edge had very solid games a week ago against Washington and we are looking to see more from them as they continue to progress this summer. With Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn, the Pats are looking to build a solid rotation on the edge, something that was woefully missing last season.
Wise has looked very solid in his second season and appears stronger with a better array of moves in rushing the passer this season. He had a good rookie campaign in 2017 and it was expected that he’d make a big jump in production with a year in the system and getting bigger and stronger in the strength and conditioning program.
Rivers seems completely recovered from his ACL surgery and looks bigger and stronger than he did a year ago after being the team’s top draft choice after coming from a small school in the NFL Draft. He showed good explosion off the line and good speed to power, pushing the offensive tackle backward on roller skates. It was a very encouraging sign that he’s all the way back.
If the team can keep getting similar production from their two 2nd year edge players, one of the bigger worries about the defense, their pass rush should be significantly better in 2018.