The preseason is a time unlike any other, where fans tend to leap to conclusions on players based on what they see in a glorified scrimmage. Don't get me wrong, we all do it, but let's try to avoid sizzling hot takes predicated upon what we've seen after two weeks of football.
Bill Belichick's New
The preseason is a time unlike any other, where fans tend to leap to conclusions on players based on what they see in a glorified scrimmage. Don’t get me wrong, we all do it, but let’s try to avoid sizzling hot takes predicated upon what we’ve seen after two weeks of football.
Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots have been one of the most fascinating teams of the preseason thus far. According to the coach, the team has been “outplayed and outreached” back to back weeks now in the first quarter. The makeshift first teams on both sides of the ball have looked sloppy, but, given the personnel, there should be little concern for Patriots fans.
Here are some quick takeaways following the Patriots’ 22-11 loss to Green Bay, and 26-24 victory on the road against New Orleans:
1. Jabaal Sheard Can Bring a New Dimension of Versatility to New England’s Front
Following a chaotic offseason on and off the field in New England, former Brown Jabaal Sheard found his way onto the roster of the defending Super Bowl champions. The 6’2 260lb defensive lineman is a proven talent: he impressed three years straight in Cleveland from 2011-2014 and accumulated 23 sacks in the process.
Although he’s taken a limited number of snaps, Sheard has made his presence felt on the Patriots’ promising front. Having only made three total tackles this preseason, he has still proven to be disruptive on passing and running plays. His versatility has shown as well, as Sheard has lined up both inside and on the edge and been equally as effective in those positions.
In the second quarter when lined up inside, Sheard made a stop for no gain, ultimately leading to the Saints being forced to punt. Later in the game, when lined up outside, he got in the face of quarterback Ryan Griffin and forced an incompletion, subsequently forcing New Orleans to attempt, and miss, a field goal.
While considering the fact that the preseason represents a small sample size against subpar competition, what we’ve seen thus far from Sheard has been promising. Look for Belichick to give Sheard a heightened role against Carolina in week three.
2. The Patriots’ Running Game Remains a Question
Having lost Stevan Ridley to injury last year and to the Jets in the offseason, LeGarrette Blount remains New England’s number one running back. Although Blount has had his moments, especially in the playoffs against the Colts, he has yet to prove himself as a consistent number one option.
Last Saturday against the Saints was no exception, as he ran for 15 yards on 13 carries. He looked at times to be running slow and tall against a Saints front that swallowed him up, even when the inconsistent Patriots offensive line opened up holes for him.
Dion Lewis is an intriguing player that made an impact on the game with an eleven yard touchdown run. His willingness to pick up blitzes and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield impressed the masses as well, as he picked up 36 yards on five catches.
As for Patriots’ newcomer Travaris Cadet, he did not play, but James White did, yet again showing promise with a 20 yard reception and a rushing touchdown following last weeks’ game where he had 50 receiving yards.
New England has many options, but it remains to be seen how this running back corps will be deployed during the regular season. Given the unique strengths of each of these players, Belichick will likely continue with his “running back by committee” method.
3. Jimmy Garoppolo Got Some Protection and Didn’t Look Completely Lost
The thought of anyone named anything other than Brady under center is enough to give Patriots fans goosebumps, but there’s a very good possibility fans will see this soon. After last night’s 28/33, 269-yard game for Jimmy Garoppolo, it seems as though the current week one starter is showing signs of improvement.
The second year quarterback spread the ball around to eight different receivers, many of which may not make the team, and displayed his quick release, mobility, and improved pocket presence.
Having been sacked seven times last week against the Packers, Garoppolo got the ball out of his hands quickly and showcased his ability. When given time, the second year QB can certainly be effective this season.
4. The Linebacking Corps Will Be Just Fine
As mentioned previously, the preseason is a perfect time for football fans to jump to conclusions regarding certain players, coaches, and schemes. The Patriots linebackers have been a point of concern, but it makes absolutely no sense why.
Jerod Mayo has yet to return to full strength but has impressed during camp. Inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower is in a very similar position right now as he nurses a right shoulder injury. Players like Jonathan Freeny, who have failed to impress throughout the course of the preseason, have given the linebackers a bad reputation, but as the group begins to come together at full strength, they will likely prove to be elite.
Among the countless number of Patriot-related headlines this offseason, one of the rare on-the-field stories has surrounded the depleted defensive unit of the Patriots. Many, including myself, have speculated there will be a scheme change and some gaping holes in the defensive backfield as a consequence, and I'd like to touch upon this notion.
Among the countless number of Patriot-related headlines this offseason, one of the rare on-the-field stories has surrounded the depleted defensive unit of the Patriots. Many, including myself, have speculated there will be a scheme change and some gaping holes in the defensive backfield as a consequence, and I’d like to touch upon this notion.
Although cliché, and frankly as irksome as continually listening to analysts praise the“Patriot Way,” the notion that “Bill Belichick always finds a way” seemingly holds water every season. This year, the future Hall of Fame coach has managed to piece together arguably the best linebacking corps in the league to compensate for a potentially disastrous year in the defensive backfield.
The Patriots’ unofficial depth chart lists three starting linebackers, Dont ‘a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Jerod Mayo. Each of New England’s backers are versatile, unique, and battle-tested and are either entering or still in the prime of their respective careers. Among the three, the standout is Jamie Collins, the most naturally gifted of all.
Coach Belichick has praised Jamie Collins publicly more than everyone on last season’s defensive unit combined. The 6’3, 250 pound outside linebacker from Southern Miss possesses the versatility, strength, and football IQ that would impress any coach. Surely that’s why Coach Belichick, when asked about Collins, referred to him in the same breath as Lawrence Taylor when describing his playing style. Collins’4.59 second forty-yard dash and 41 ½ inch vertical are only a few measurables that can help us try to comprehend the 25 year-old’s potential, but it’s what he’s done on the field that has earned him well-deserved praise.
Jamie Collins’ pure athleticism allows us to beg the question: ‘why shouldn’t he be playing cornerback this year?’ And I’m only sort of kidding… as an outside linebacker in NewEngland’s scheme, Collins is asked to drop into coverage on nearly every snap. Here, Collins reads the quarterback’s eyes, maneuvers downfield, and stays with the athletic Jace Amaro to make a phenomenal interception.
To add to that, the Patriots’ young star had a total of four sacks on the season, including this one on Philip Rivers, where he exemplifies his athletic prowess in a more explosive manner. Collins also had an eerily similar sack the week before in Green Bay against league MVP Aaron Rodgers.
With a combined 115 tackles, Collins made his presence felt defending the run as well. His speed allows him to cover an incredible amount of ground in the running game, and having forced four fumbles and recovering two as well, his instincts for the ball are unmatched.
Arguably the most impressive attribute of Collins is his ability to step up in “big game” situations. In his rookie season, Collins started a mere eight games, and truly gained recognition following his stellar performance against the Colts in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. He knocked Andrew Luck down three times, sacking him once and intercepting him, and two of his six tackles were made for a loss.
The following season, Collins’ playoff dominance continued. After an eleven-tackle game against Baltimore, he harassed Andrew Luck for a second year straight in the AFC Championship, and yet again intercepted the Colts quarterback in New England’s 45-7 victory. An eight-tackle Super Bowl saw Collins collect hardware for the first time in his short career, and surely there is more to come. Playing with talents like Dont’a Hightower undoubtedly helps, but Collins’ versatility will prove vital in New England’s 2014/15 questfor back-to-back titles.