Anyway, let’s move on to the final 10 takeaways from the pre-season and New England’s 23-6 loss.
The first team attack struggles: The Raiders didn’t play most of their starters on defense, but the Patriots still looked terrible on the offensive side of the ball. From a terrible Mac Jones interception to the offensive line again unable to open any lanes, it was just an absolute mess.
Hunter Henry was tackled into space by a backup linebacker and couldn’t even fight for a first down. Michael Onwenu appeared to be struggling to keep guard again, and there should be real concern if he can play in this type of offense.
There were also a few bright spots. When Mac Jones ran forward, not 20 yards back, he seemed quite quick and even made a nice throw while running towards Henry. Kendrick Bourne finally returned to the field and had a few catches, as he tries to get back to where he was at the end of last year. There have been a lot of questions about the look of the offense this year, and training camp and the preseason have done nothing to allay the concerns of Patriots fans.
Let’s just hope it will be much better in two weeks.
The first-team defense is also struggling: The Raiders also didn’t play their starters on offense, but, much like the offense, the Patriots’ first-team defense still struggled. The unit struggled at all levels, struggling against the run and the pass. It wasn’t too bad, as you still saw some of their players flashing, but it was pretty lousy overall.
Kyler Dugger was pretty well beaten on a pass but then made a good play in the running game. Jahlani Tavai continues to show next to nothing, getting smoked on another pass by another backup tight end. There’s a lot of optimism for the defense this year, but they’re going to have to play a lot better going forward.
One of the reasons they may have struggled is that there was almost certainly no game plan and they were playing a player and quarterback, Jarrett Stidham, who knows quite well the system. Either way, this shouldn’t be able to happen when supposed newbies are playing against saves.
Year 2 of Mac Jones is jumping on hiatus? Mac Jones looked uncomfortable for much of training camp, and that trend continued Friday night. He certainly wasn’t the only one to play poorly, but he’s looked more like a rookie this year than he did maybe all of last year. He just doesn’t seem comfortable in this new-style offense and at some point you might start to wonder if this change of regimen was the right move.
I trust Bill Belichick to do the right thing, and that might be the best offense for this team in the long run, but, right now, it’s getting harder and harder to see how that’s the right decision. for 2022.
JJ Taylor intervenes: You never like to see an injury, but certainly not in pre-season. Ty Montgomery had a great camp and looked set to play a big part in the Patriots offense this season. He suffered what appeared to be a serious ankle injury in the first quarter, however, and that may not happen this year.
On the other hand, JJ Taylor worked his butt and looked good in preseason. With two young fullbacks behind him, however, he appeared to be on the outside chasing the initial 53-man roster all summer. Montgomery’s injury could have certainly opened up a place for Taylor and given him another chance to prove he can be a contributor here.
Jack Jones appears (literally): Jack Jones was pretty solid in his coverage and continued to show it on Friday night, but it was his striking that really came off the screen. He had a sideline tackle that forced a fumble, and had another that knocked down a pass. He’s not a big guy, but that’s all over his college tape, and I think that’s something we can expect to see from him moving forward.
He definitely makes the roster due to his fourth-round draft status, but I think we could see Jones playing a fair amount of snaps by the end of the season as well.
The offensive line is a mess: The starting offensive line has really struggled this preseason, but the backups haven’t been much better. Zone runs are tough because a missed block, even from the back, means what could have been a solid run turns out to be a loss or a no-win run. Micheal Onwenu has struggled on these types of plays in particular, but they just can’t get consistent play from almost anyone on the line.
The other problem is guys like Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn are used to not being able to stay healthy. With Justin Herron looking pretty rough and Yodny Cadjus looking good but finally able to stay healthy since being drafted in 2019, there should be real concern about protection around the edges of the O line.
I think it will get better as the season goes on, but it will have to watch a lot better very quickly, or the Patriots are going to have problems early in the season.
Kevin Harris almost makes the case for the list: I had thought Kevin Harris might have a redshirt season, partly because I thought he had a very similar style to Damien Harris. While that may still be true, he continues to look impressive and also showed good hands coming out of the backfield.
He pretty consistently outplayed fellow rookie Pierre Strong Jr. (who, in all honesty, has been slowed by recovering from injuries) throughout camp. The biggest problem with Harris on Friday night is that he grounded the ball twice.
During his long run, the ground caused the fumble, so the Patriots held on to the ball, but then lost a fumble late in the game. Fumbling is something the Patriots don’t mess with, and so his rushing and receiving may not be enough to land him on the roster.
Some places on the list are locked: There are a ton of questions at the back of the roster, but it looks like at least two guys have locked in spots for this season. Those guys are undrafted rookies Brenden Schooler and DaMarcus Mitchell.
Schooler has played in almost every special teams unit and has done a great job there. Mitchell did the same on special teams, but also showed real flash on the defensive line. We always love to talk about the UDFAs, but it looks like these two have carved out a role for themselves this season.
The dream seems over: Everyone knows my top position on the Tre Nixon Hype Train, but I just don’t see how he makes the 53 man list. For the second week in a row he dropped a through pass and this week the defender didn’t even get his hands on it. Nixon should have no trouble returning to the practice squad, and I still think he has a chance to make an impact at some point in New England. It just seems like it won’t be this season, though.
The regular season is almost here: This offseason has been tough for the Patriots. It started with losing a ton of their coaches, with Josh McDaniels going to Las Vegas and taking several assistants with him. Bill Belichick has decided to replace McDaniels with Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, and, for now, that seems like a questionable decision at best. I’ll keep saying it, but I hope Bill Belichick knows what he’s doing, so I’ll never count this team. It hasn’t been great, however.
They also decided to leave JC Jackson and Stephon Gilmore last season and come into the season with a ton of unproven players on the defensive side of the ball. These moves have left the Patriots with a lot more questions than answers at the moment, but hopefully they’ll start to look better once games really matter and game planning also comes into play.
The good news is that it looks like they once again seemed to have had a pretty good draft, so they’re adding to their stockpile of young talent. I don’t know how much rookies can help this year, but knowing there’s young talent and athleticism in the pipeline is a good thing.
Training camp and preseason have been tough to watch at times, but I think like everything, there are positives to take away from what the Patriots have been up to this spring and summer. Fortunately, the next time I write one will be the regular season, and I think that might be the best thing about last night’s game: the preseason is finally over.