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Extra Points

Words With Frenz Mailbag: Putting Preseason Week 1 Loss in Context

The 2008 Detroit Lions went 4-0 in the preseason. They also became the first NFL team to go 0-16 in the regular season.

Just remember that the next time you want to throw something at your television set while watching the New England Patriots struggle in the preseason.

Side note: consult your doctor the next time you want to throw something at your television set while watching a preseason game.

A lot of things went wrong for the Patriots to lose, 23-6, but one performance will not make or break anyone's status on the roster. The first wave of cuts (from 90 to 75 players on the roster) are not due until August 26 at 4 p.m. The Patriots will play two more preseason games before that time comes, which gives everyone plenty of time to move the needle before a decision has to be made.

One of the major storylines coming out of the game was the performance of quarterback Ryan Mallett. The fourth-year backup got the nod as the starter, and ran an offense with a mix of starters and backups to 87 yards of total offense, five first downs, and no points.

Mallett was inconsistent, with inaccurate passes and sloppy footwork marring his night, but he didn't get much help from an offensive line that yielded plenty of pressure to Washington's front seven, and receivers who ran wrong routes (wide receiver Josh Boyce) or flat-out weren't looking for a pass (running back Roy Finch).

There's plenty of blame to go around, but there were some players who stepped up on Thursday night. With all this in mind, let's get to some of the questions on the minds of Patriots fans.

Ideally, Chris Jones would fit into the rotation as a situational defender. He struggled against the run last year, but could be brought in as a defensive tackle in a four-man line on passing downs. On Thursday, Jones got the start at right defensive end in a 3-4 front, and would be an interesting fit in that spot — he may fare better holding the edge than he did against burly offensive guards.

Bear in mind, though, that many starters were benched for this game. Also remember that rookie first-round pick Dominique Easley has yet to suit up for practice, and could factor into the rotation as well (or could be slowly brought along, as he has missed most of the offseason workout program with rehab).

The Patriots have been giving Roy Finch every opportunity to make an impression in practice, having him as their primary punt returner and kickoff returner most days. His first NFL action was far from what anyone was expecting, but it was his first NFL action.

Truth be told, the Patriots have been missing a dynamic kickoff returner for years. LeGarrette Blount provided a spark at times, but he was serviceable far more often than he was dynamic. They ranked 11th in kickoff return average last year, with 24 yards per return (935 yards on 39 returns). Take away Blount's two returns against the Buffalo Bills for 145 yards and that average dips to 21.4, tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for 26th in the NFL.

Finch's skill set is good for the return game, because he is a shifty athlete with good top-end speed, vision, and a keen ability to bounce off tackles. We got a glimpse of all those positive traits on his first return, before he put the ball on the ground. It was shocking to see him bounce effortlessly off the tackle, then fumble the ball with no one around him.

He didn't help himself later on with his failure to look for the ball on a swing pass where he probably wanted to run a wheel route (he was dashing up the sideline when the ball hit him in the back of the arm), or with his muffed punt in the second quarter.

Finch is not the only one returning kickoffs and punts in practice. Wide receiver Derrick Johnson, running back James White, defensive back Travis Hawkins, and others have earned opportunities returning kickoffs, and wide receiver Brandon LaFell has fielded some punts in practice as well.

Not yet, Eric. I thought Tyms had a great performance, albeit against Washington's backups, but Boyce made some nice plays as well. His catch between two defenders was as brilliant as Mallett's throw to thread the needle between them.

Tyms has looked good in practice, though. He has long legs and seems to glide through his routes effortlessly but precisely, and he has good speed that frequently shows up in 1-on-1 matchups against defensive backs.

Tyms and Boyce have been practicing against similar competition throughout training camp, and that should continue. If the Patriots end up keeping six or seven receivers, the competition will likely come down to those two and Kenbrell Thompkins for the last spot.

Could we see Cannon at right guard? Definitely. He has practiced there several times since training camp opened.

Will we see him there? I'm not sure. They've been playing with a lot of different personnel groupings up front, as evidenced by their starting lineup of Jordan Devey at left guard, Dan Connolly at center, and Josh Kline at right guard. Cannon has played every position but center at some point in practice, but started last night's game at right tackle.

Cannon filled in at right guard last year when Connolly got a concussion during the Patriots game against the New Orleans Saints; other than that, he has been primarily an offensive tackle. The beauty of having a player like Cannon is that the Patriots have a sixth man on the offensive line who can play any spot they need in a pinch.

I think, getting back to my previous answer, the offensive line had a lot to do with the struggles of the running game in general. The different combinations led to several players playing together for the first time in game action, including the starting group.

I expect this to clean up when the Patriots have all their starters up front, and also when they get their best backs more involved — Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley combined for three rushes for nine yards.

The "poor offensive line play in the preseason" storyline is not a new one, and in the past, it has been dispelled rather quickly. This year, however, they are without former offensive line guru Dante Scarnecchia. Newcomer Dave DeGuglielmo has plenty of experience, but big shoes to fill in Scarnecchia's stead.

Got room for one more.

It's already had an impact. The Patriots ran mostly a 3-4 defense on Thursday, and making the switch would open the playbook for them to bring pressure in new ways that they hadn't done previously.

Darrelle Revis is gifted enough at cornerback to do anything you ask of him, and do it well. He was still one of the best cornerbacks in the league last year despite playing in a zone scheme that was not a true fit for his skill set — he can play zone, but is at his best when covering a receiver man to man.

He can either blanket a team's best receiver, or a whole side of the field. In either case, a player or area that would normally require two defenders may only require one, which would help tip the numbers game in favor of the defense. This means more pressure schemes, coverage calls, and overall diversity for the defense.

Thanks for the questions, everyone, and anything else can be directed to me via Twitter at the link below.



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