The most significant thing that appeared when reviewing last week’s exhibition game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Patriots was how agressive new defensive coordinator Dean Pees was. Considering this was an exhibition game, one wonders how agressive with the blitz and mixing up defenses he’ll be when the regular season begins. But the thing that stuck out in watching the tape of this game, Pees is much different in style than former coordinator Eric Mangini. Pees, it appears based on the early returns, will come after offenses more than Mangini was willing to and mix things up more often as well. If the Patriots can take this approach on defense this year, while also avoiding the big plays that plagued them last year, even with Mangini’s conservative scheme, they could be very tough for opposing offenses to deal with and create some big plays more often.
Lets take a look at the individual units:
QUARTERBACK: A very proficient showing by starter Tom Brady. The Brady we have all grown to know was on display….spreading it around, moving well in the pocket, good decisions, good accuracy. He looks like he is in fine form. Matt Cassel came in next and was better than last week. He still occasionally held the ball too long before deciding to throw it and other times took off running way too quickly, but he was improved and ran the offense efficiently for the most part. Too many of his plays are coming on broken, exhibition type situations where pure athletic ability is allowing him to get things done, however. He needs to show he can consistently sit in the pocket, move just enough to buy time and let the play develop as it was drawn up. There is clearly improvement and athletic ability there to work with. Its just still an on-going project.
RUNNING BACK: Another impressive performance from Laurence Maroney. Corey Dillon ran hard again, without much room. He did have a touchdown, however. Garrett Mills slipped a little bit at fullback from his debut. He struggled pass blocking at times, including getting called for holding to negate one completion. He did show some potential as a blocker though, throwing one great block to help Dillon score his touchdown. Patrick Cobbs showed some decent hands, which is surprising for a guy from a running school like North Texas. However, he was inconsistent and mishandled a screen pass almost causing an interception. He also had a fumble in the red zone and hurt his chances at a practice squad spot overall for the night.
WIDE RECEIVER: Another fairly quiet night, but Bam Childress had a nice game. He showed an ability to sit down in zones and got some nice separation from coverage on several ocassions. He had a nice night. The rest of the crew was average, nothing spectacular.
TIGHT ENDS: A good night for Ben Watson. He is turning into a great tightend. Dan Graham also was close to one hundred percent and was his usual outstanding blocking self. David Thomas needs to work on his blocking a bit, however, and got manhandled several times. When he got himself into good position, he did a nice job blocking, however. He also showed the ability to sit down in zones and get open.
OFFENSIVE LINE: An outstanding debut as a starter for Ryan O’Callaghan. He had a dominating night both run and pass blocking. Watching him closely, he displayed some of the best right tackle play the Patriots have had in the coach Bill Belichick era. All in his debut appearance on the first team. This bodes very well for his future. Others who had a good night include Russ Hochstein, who has really taken well to the center position since Dan Koppen got hurt and another youngster in Wesley Britt. Britt played with the second team and also held up well at right tackle on both running and passing plays.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Jarvis Green struggled against the Cardinals massive tackle Leonard Davis and got pushed around at times. Davis had a decided size advantage on Green, however. Ty Warren seems to be playing his best football of his career, after a down season last year. If he continues to show what he is now, it would be a big boon for the defense. Nobody else stood out on the line, but everyone was solid and seems to be playing well.
LINEBACKER: Barry Gardner seems to be fitting in nicely. If Junior Seau, recently signed, can contribute and Tedy Bruschi comes back early in the regular season, this unit is shaping up with more depth than initially thought. Perhaps one addition is still needed, but they played much better this week. Tully Banta-Cain was among the best players on defense Saturday. He caused plenty of havoc in the Cardinals backfield while he was in there and looks to be taking to the starter role. Eric Alexander had another nice night on special teams and caused a fumble that was recovered by the Patriots on a kickoff.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Eugene Wilson was back at safety and looked comfortable. Asante Samuel had a mostly good night, though he was slow in coverage on one pass in the flats early in the game which allowed a first down. He followed that up a few plays later with a nice interception, however. He had an overall good night. Hank Poteat had an off night and he’ll need to do better to make the team this year.
KICKERS: A good night for Stephen Gostkowski. His kickoffs were long and he had no problem with any of his kicks. Josh Miller seems in good form and ready to continue his outstanding 2005 season.
All in all, a good night. The Patriots will probably play the next game, Saturday versus the Washington Redskins, as close to a regular season game for three quarters. It’ll be interesting if Pees continues his agressive defensive playcalling, as that’ll be a signal of a much different Patriots defensive style this year from last once the season starts. Watch for that.