September 27, 2016

Washington at Patriots Second Look

Patriots Second Look
by Greg Doyle
greg_AT_bostonsportsmedia.com

A second look at this game on tape was even more revealing, in terms of how badly the Patriots dominated Washington Saturday night at Gillette Stadium, than it was the first time live. Again, Dean Pees work with the defense, and admittedly its very early to draw any definite conclusions, continues to impress. In addition to that, stellar play could be found among numerous players at every position on the field.

QUARTERBACK: Tom Brady is in midseason form. He did miss a couple throws he could have made, but overall he picked apart the Redskins with accuracy and good decision making. Its amazing, for a basically slow footed quarterback, how he can slide and step up in the pocket to buy just the amount of time he needs to make a play. A healthy Brady and the Patriots are automatically among the favorites for the Super Bowl this year. Matt Cassel had a very good performance. It does come with the slight caveat that he was playing against Redskins backups that, in addition to being overmatched, didn’t look too interested by the time Cassel came in. Still, Cassel made some good throws, in particular an out pattern to Reche Caldwell for a first down throw in the fourth quarter that was as good a throw as you’ll see any quarterback make in the NFL this year.

RUNNING BACK: Not much work for Laurence Maroney, but he did display some power on his touchdown run that shows there is more to him than mere shiftiness. Corey Dillon ran hard, but hasn’t broken away as Maroney has this preseason. There is an obvious difference in quickness between the two, but Dillon still looks to have well above average power in his running. Kevin Faulk looks healthy for the first time since 2004 and that can only be a bonus to the team this year.

WIDE RECEIVER: Another disappointing night, to some degree, from this unit. Troy Brown was good and Bam Childress showed some things again late. But Reche Caldwell had a couple drops early on. I still feel Caldwell will be a good player this year, but it appears he’s coming along slightly slowly on his new team. He did make some nice catches later in the game and displayed some nice hands on catches from Matt Cassel. No one else stood out and in fact, John Stone had a difficult time doing much of anything even with extended playing time.

TIGHT END: Obviously a completely dominating performance by Ben Watson. Brady appears to look to him first on big plays where they need to convert. Not sure that trend will continue, Brady has never been one to lock onto a single receiver consistently, but its clear Watson is primed for a breakout year if he can stay healthy. A review of his tape reveals his blocking is much improved this year as well. He at times blew the man he was blocking several yards downfield, even at times bigger guys. Speaking of blocking, Daniel Graham was his usual force in this area as well. Its says something about how good at tight end the Patriots are when Graham is somewhat of an afterthought in the passing game. This is a guy who can be a very effective weapon in that area, as he displayed on the one nice down the seam catch he had from Brady. Opponents are going to forget about Graham this year worrying about Watson and he has the speed and hands to burn them for big plays.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Extremely impressive debut from Dan Koppen. He showed no ill-effects at all from his shoulder injury and opened some gaping holes up the middle for Patriots runners, while also stonewalling any pass rush up the middle on passing plays. Ryan O’Callaghan had another nice game. All in all, the line has gelled better than at any time in recent years with Matt Light, Stephen Neal, Logan Mankins and Dan Koppen all pretty much in the prime of their careers. Add in one of the bigger, more physical and talented linemen they’ve had at right tackle in O’Callaghan and it appears Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli have developed their best line seven years into their tenure. Rookie Dan Stevenson did some nice blocking later in the game and appears to be another draftee with good long-term potential

DEFENSIVE LINE: Another very encouraging performance from Ty Warren. He is on the verge of becoming a near Pro Bowl player if he keeps up this level of performance. But the story of the game on the d-line was Mike Wright. The Patriots really have found a diamond in the rough with this undrafted free agent from last year. He was a load to handle on both running and passing plays and caused a ton of disruption for the Redskins. He even showed up on special teams on the Patriots top coverage units and had a tackle there as well. Its unusual to see a defensive lineman covering kicks, but Wright does a nice job. Expect to see him receive regular playing time this year.

LINEBACKER: A nice debut from Junior Seau. He seems to be picking things up quickly and plugged his lanes and made any running difficult for Washington. He also did a nice job in coverage. Roosevelt Colvin had a dominating night and looks to be picking up this year where he left off last year during an outstanding season.

DEFENSIVE BACK: Eugene Wilson is back to playing at Pro Bowl level. Maybe its the return of Rodney Harrison that has taken the weight off his back, but he is back to his 2004 form after a so-so season last year. Ellis Hobbs had a nice night, he’s earned a starter position and Asante Samuel has had a nice camp too. He’ll have his occasional hiccups, but is a good player overall and a solid starter. Of the backups, Randall Gay and James Sanders stood out the most. There will be good players cut from this group, it looks like Gay and Sanders have gained an upper hand on making the roster.

KICKING: Nothing spectacular here of note, but as of yet, no reason for concern either.

It would be easy, I suppose to get caught up in a completely dominating performance. But it is, afterall, only preseason. It will mean nothing in a month. But its a good sign to see the team relatively healthy, with most of their players out there playing at a high level. It just reinforces that if they can avoid an inordinate amount of injuries, they’re probably a better pick for the Super Bowl than any other team in the AFC. But its a long season. Injuries will happen. A few players won’t play as well as they are now. But that will happen to every team and, at least for now, the Patriots are clearly functioning at a higher level than they did for much of the season last year. Or at least seem to have potential to do so.

The last preseason game will likely not be too revealing. I expect very limited playing time from the starters. It may help to decide some of the last spots on the roster though, such as at linebacker, defensive back and defensive line. So it will be interesting to watch those battles Thursday night versus the New York Giants.

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