With 15 starters combined on both sides of the ball sitting out the exhibition opener against the Jaguars, there was some good and some bad for the younger Patriots in their 47-12 victory last night.
Here’s a breakdown of how each positional unit fared overall in the game.
QUARTERBACKS (Rating: 3.5 out of 5)
When you combine to complete 27 of 40 passes (67.5 percent) for 335 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions, that’s a pretty good day at the office. But let’s be honest, there wasn’t a very high degree of difficulty both in pressure faced, and coverages. The Jaguars blitzed just three times in 40 dropbacks (7.5 percent), and those were all five-man pressures. They zone blitzed once with four rushers. And the Jaguars played a ton of soft zone. Brian Hoyer had three plus throws, and another plus decision when he audibled into a better play. He certainly knows how to run a team. The only thing holding him back at this point are little mistakes that you would like to see get cleaned up. Minor accuracy things like not hitting an open Julian Edelman, or throwing it behind Aaron Hernandez instead of leading him at the goal line. Some NFL scouts watching the game thought that Hoyer missed some open receivers. The touchdown throw and catch from Hoyer to Taylor Price was something else. Both Nate Solder and Steve Maneri gave up pressures on the play, but Hoyer hung in and delivered a pass that allowed Price to tiptoe the back of the end zone. Ryan Mallett had about the same kind of night as Hoyer, but got more comfortable as the night went on. On his first pass he held the ball for 4.82 seconds, which just can’t happen. Then he and Taylor Price hooked up on a very nice quick out. Then on Mallett’s third pass he left the pocket too early, and that caused the pass to Darnell Jenkins to be late. Sometimes you just have hang in and take the shot. Mallett had a delay of game penalty, and two throws that were off target after that, but on the whole he showed a lot. And the more he stayed in designed rhythm of this offense, the better he did. Mallett’s 15-yard laser beam to Price with 14:37 left in the fourth quarter showed his immense promise. All in all, a very good first outing.
RUNNING BACKS (Rating: 4 out of 5)
Out of the four running backs: Danny Woodhead, Stevan Ridley, Richard Medlin and Sammy Morris, they combined for two miscues: Woodhead’s fumble (which he recovered) and Ridley allowing a QB pressure. That’s it. Other than that, I had them for 12 plus plays. And they didn’t leave many yards out on the field. The got what was blocked for the most part. Ridley was sensational his first time out with six broken or avoided tackles. While he did give up a QB pressure, Ridley picked up the only blitz he faced — a very alert and tough move across the front of Hoyer — which is a huge key for a young running back. Medlin continued his good camp three very good runs, including a late 8-yard run when he froze the free DE by continuing to press his point of attack. A lot of young running backs would have stopped and tried to juke, but Medlin stayed with the play. (Someone asked me to explain this. The play was designed to go over the right guard with a possible cutback around the LT if the RDE continued up the field, which he did. A young running back would have gotten scared by a big charging defender and hesitated or tried to lose him deep in the backfield. Instead, Medlin continued with the play — pushed the point of attack (hole) for the play — which lost the DE and then cut it back. Wonder if Medlin has a background in the zone blocking scheme. That was typical zone play)
TIGHT ENDS (Rating: 1.5 out of 5)
Not a very good night for his group. Aaron Hernandez started things off poorly with his fumble, which drew Belichick’s ire. Hernandez did have a broken tackle, but he also failed to execute two run blocks, which is his only weakness. TE Lee Smith did not show up as we expected him to in the running game. He had a few very nice drive blocks, but he also got pancaked and allowed a quarterback hit and pressure, in addition to not lining up correctly for a penalty. Smith, who has terrific hands, could not get separation and was not targeted. If Carson Butler is going to make this team, he is going to have to do better on special teams, where he missed blocks on the first two kickoff returns. He did have two very good run blocks, before giving up a bad run (those of 1 yard or less) on the Patriots’ final true play of the game. That being said, undrafted Will Yeatman let it be known that he’s in this battle for the final TE spot on the roster. He had two outstanding run blocks, and he caught two of the three passes thrown his way. They were all tough to make. Yeatman has more shake than Smith, and Yeatman surprised by blocking better against the Jaguars. We think the game is on between these two for the roster. Or maybe both make it.
WIDE RECEIVERS (Rating: 3.5 out of 5)
Taylor Price (5 catches, 105 yards, 1 TD) continued his ascension, just like he’s shown in practice. He’s become a dependable target, and he showed some punt potential (if he can catch the ball) on a nice return that was called back by penalty. The touchdown catch was sensational, he had outstanding yards after the catch on his 50-yard hookup with Mallett, and made a tough catch in traffic. Price did have the only drop of any receiver. Matthew Slater had an outstanding leaping grab for 43 yards. Darnell Jenkins and Jeremy Ross didn’t get many opportunities, and had one poor run block each.
OFFENSIVE LINE (Rating: 2.5 out of 5)
Patriots started with the group of LT Nate Solder, LG Thomas Austin, C Rich Ohrnberger, RG Mark LeVoir and RT Steve Maneri. Including the backups that also played, the group allowed six quarterback hits, eight pressures, 0 sacks and three bad runs. An OK night, but you’d probably like to see a little better since the Jaguars hardly blitzed and did not have their “A” team on the field. Solder had a very good outing going up against backup Jeremy Mincey. Solder only allowed one hit, a half pressure and didn’t execute on one running play. Ninety percent of the time, Solder did his job solidly and showed a real knack in the running game. Solder can definitely move. Ohrnberger continued his improved play from the start of camp with only one poor run block. LeVoir was solid on the right side with 1.5 quarterback hits, and one poor run. Maneri did a very good job when he was just left at RT (1/2 QB hit, 1.5 pressures). He had a few issues settling in at RG (2 pressures), and then had two fantastic run blocks in the fourth quarter. Austin was up and down throughout the game. He allowed two bad runs and two quarterback hits, but also had two very good run blocks later in the game when he was at center. Austin seemed comfortable there. The reserves did a decent job: Jonathan Compas (QB hit, bad run), Mark Wetterer (QB pressure, plus run block), and Corey Woods (QB pressure, two plus run blocks).
DEFENSIVE LINE (Rating: 3.5 out of 5)
Eight players combined for 14 total pressures: four sacks, eight pressures and two quarterback hits. That’s a pretty good night’s work considering the Patriots only blitzed four times (13.3 percent): two five-man pressures, and two seven-man all-out blitzes. The rating would be better if we knew whether or not the Patriots’ coaches even coached the players to worry about gap control against the run. They might not have cared in this game. Didn’t look like it. There seven total blown gaps or contains among the group: Eric Moore 3, Darryl Richard 3 and Kyle Love. Again, the coaches might not have even cared. Other than that, this group got after it. Love had a missed tackle, but had two good plays against the run and a pressure. Moore had two pressures, and a nice play to force the run back into the middle. Cunningham had a sack when the tight end failed on his chip, and Blaine Gabbert didn’t get rid of the ball. That was Cunningham’s lone impactful play. He also didn’t have any negative plays. Richard had two sacks and a pass deflection. When he wants to squat on the run, he is a load to move. Mark Anderson, as mostly a third-down end before playing two down in the second half, had three pressures, a QB hit and one missed tackle. Landon Cohen had the grand slam: sack, hit, pressure and a plus run play. Kade Weston had a pressure. Alex Silvestro had two plus plays against the run.
LINEBACKERS (Rating: 2 out of 5)
Thank goodness for Dane Fletcher. He was outstanding playing the Mike position that would likely go to Brandon Spikes. Fletcher had a QB hit, two tackles for a loss and a tackle for no gain. He was instinctive, fast and surprisingly strong at the point of attack shedding blockers. Rob Ninkovich had a pressure, and Jeff Tarpinian had a nice play against the run, but that was about it for the group. The two weakside linebackers in the Patriots’ new scheme, Gary Guyton and Tracy White, left a lot to be desired. Guyton showed why he’s known only as a cover linebacker as he continued to get swallowed up by blockers against the run. He was passive, and couldn’t get off blocks. When the starters get back, it will be interesting to see where the Patriots view his long-term position in this scheme. The weakside LB should be a playmaker. Guyton is terrific in coverage – he did show that against the Jaguars – so he can carry the TE on the strong side. But teams are going to try to run at him. Having Vince Wilfork, Albert Haynesworth et al should take up a few blockers. White had one plus play in pass coverage, but had a minus against the run and a missed tackle. Christian Cox is normally a Mike, but went out with a head injury. That forced Tarpinian to play the Mike. He is normally a Will in this scheme.
SECONDARY (Rating: 2.5 out of 5)
Really hard to rate this group because the Patriots were very basic in the back end, and Gabbert wasn’t very sharp. Brandon Meriweather and Leigh Bodden combined for a tackle for a loss. Meriweather and Kyle Arrington each had a missed tackle. Patrick Chung dropped an interception, but was a sure tackler once he got used to the contact. Darius Butler allowed a receiver to cross his face and couldn’t make a deflection. Receiver Buddy Farnham had the group’s lone interception.
SPECIAL TEAMS (Rating: 1.5 out of 5)
Other than punter Zoltan Mesko (53-yard punt with 4.72 seconds of hang time) and K Stephen Gostkowski (field goals of 46 and 43 yards), and the terrific kickoff tackle by the emerging Malcolm Williams, this group was a mess. Matt Katula was on target for five of his six snaps, but his one miss was high and behind Mesko on the botched extra point. Even with the rules changes to help the coverage teams, the kickoff team allowed six kicks to be returned an average of 32.5 yards, with one going for 84 yards. Meriweather, Darius Butler and Aaron Lavarias all missed tackles on kickoffs. Carson Butler missed two blocks on kickoff returns. Chris Koepplin had a kick out of bounds. Richard Medlin gave up a first down when he jumped on a punt. Scotty O’Brien will be all over his guys this week.