Some observations after re-watching the Patriots' 31-22 win over the Philadelphia Eagles:
1. There was a lot of talk of all the weapons the Patriots lost this offseason, but one weapon they kept in-tact was the offensive line, which showed that it can still be a strength of the team right from the opening play. Almost the entire offensive line won their matchup on running back Stevan Ridley's 62-yard run.
Left tackle Nate Solder pancaked defensive end Fletcher Cox, center Ryan Wendell stood up and turned nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga and left guard Logan Mankins got linebacker DeMeco Ryans out of the play with an ear-hole block.
The offensive line came right back with more fantastic blocks on the next play.
This time, right guard Will Svitek pulled across the line for a lead block that sprung running back LeGarrette Blount for a nine-yard gain through the B-gap. Solder, Mankins and tight end Jake Ballard also had solid blocks on the play.
The offensive line was equally effective in pass protection. Solder gave up pressure against Fletcher Cox on the first play of the next series, and quarterback Tom Brady was forced to throw it away, but that was only after doing his best Tim Tebow impersonation holding onto the ball for 4.2 seconds in the pocket.
After that, Brady was not pressured again on the drive. He got the ball out quickly (1.2 and 1.6 seconds respectively) for short completions on his next two throws, but what happened on his next attempt was exactly what we had hoped to see from the Patriots offense this year.
With a clean pocket, the quarterback had all the time in the world to scan the defense. He found wide receiver Aaron Dobson down the seam for a 23-yard gain.
For too long, the Patriots offense has relied on quick throws to move the ball slowly down the field. As long as the offensive line continues to buy time for Brady to make down-field reads, the Patriots offense could be gearing up for more big plays in the passing game in 2013.
2. On the back end of that throw from a clean pocket was a spectacular catch by Dobson, the likes of which we haven't seen in New England for quite some time.
The rookie from Marshall did his best impersonation of another receiver from Marshall by using his frame to win the one-on-one matchup against cornerback Bradley Fletcher. Brady loved it, rushing down field to congratulate his receiver. Early chemistry between Brady and Dobson is a good sign of things to come.
3. The Patriots first-team offense didn't run a single play out of the no-huddle on Friday night. According to Chris Price of WEEI, it was 24.8 percent of their offense in 2012 (294 plays out of 1,191). It would be foolish to expect the Patriots to unveil their full offense in the first preseason game, and we did see them on a few occasions run their typical up-tempo offense by snapping the ball within the first 20 seconds on the playclock and/or fairly quickly after lining up.
It's notable, however, that with so many new pieces in the offense, the ease of communication may not be what it once was with an offense that had been together for three full years. Give it time, and we'll probably see the no-huddle return, but for now, the Patriots can still run plays pretty fast even when huddling.
4. Thought it was an up-and-down night overall for wide receiver Julian Edelman. He finished with three catches for a team-leading 31 yards and had a pair of impressive catches in the second quarter, but he muffed a punt, bobbled another and fumbled the ball on a screen pass from Ryan Mallett. He has the most experience in the Patriots offense of any receiver on the roster, so the Patriots may be looking to him for some measure of consistency in 2013. They didn't get any on Friday night.
5. Nickel defensive substitutions on the first-team defense: Cornerback Logan Ryan came in for linebacker Dont'a Hightower, and defensive end Marcus Benard subbed in for defensive tackle Tommy Kelly as an interior pass-rusher.
6. We've seen Benard line up at defensive tackle in practice, and he's played well in the role Jermaine Cunningham occupied in 2012, but it was interesting that Marcus Forston was not the choice in that regard; he was instead the top choice on the second-team defense. At 260 pounds, Benard is not the ideal frame for plugging the middle, but his activity at defensive tackle was hardly limited to third downs; he was spotted lined up on the inside through the second quarter.
7. There were a lot of eyes on linebacker Jamie Collins, who played 33 snaps on the night — 11 in run defense, 13 in coverage and nine rushing the passer. He created pressure three times, but most notable was his missed sack of quarterback Nick Foles.
There's not a lot Collins could have done differently here, except maybe to take more of an inside angle at Foles, which would have eliminated the angle to escape the pocket. He wouldn't have been able to scramble at all if defensive tackle Cory Grissom (circled in red) hadn't lost his lane.
Collins made an impact by getting into the backfield and on several running plays as well, but was running wild at times. Once he settles down, he'll make an impact.
8. When Collins crashed the line and went into the backfield, he did so primarily from a two-point stance.
He would start off lined up over the tight end or receiver, as if in man coverage, only to shift tight to the line just before the snap. He would then rush into the backfield, whether to stop the run or rush the passer.
Collins hasn't participated in the one-on-one pass-rush drills at training camp, but the Patriots were interested in seeing what he could do in a game situation. That role will most likely be filled by a combination of Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich this year, but Collins could play a part, especially if the Patriots intend on carving Collins into Ninkovich's eventual replacement.
9. There may be a front-runner now in the battle for the fourth running back spot between LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden. Obviously, Blount had 101 rushing yards and the highlight of the night with his 51-yard touchdown carry. He showed the hard running style and impressive athleticism that made him a 1,000-yard back in Tampa Bay. On the other side, Bolden had 14 yards on four carries, and had a nice 17-yard catch on a Tebow screen pass, but he was also flagged for running into the kicker on an Eagles punt, which gave Philadelphia the first down. Both Blount and Bolden missed some practice time, and were considered fairly even heading into the game. The Patriots could still carry five backs, but Blount took a big step toward winning the job on Friday night.
10. If you saw one Patriots practice in training camp, you saw exactly what Tim Tebow showed you against the Eagles. He was tentative as a passer, holding onto the ball too long in the pocket and hesitating to deliver to the open man on several occasions. He showed flashes of arm strength and good reads, and had a pair of nice runs. The Patriots ran the read option with Tebow exclusively.
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