By: Adam Wolpert
The Patriots took home their first victory of the preseason with a win over the Detroit Lions on Friday night, 30-28. While we may have come out with win on the scoreboard battle, we still suffered a big loss on the field.
WR Julian Edelman exited the game with a non-contact knee injury, suffered on his third catch of the first drive. Non-contact injuries are never good to see, and the fact that it was his right knee is concerning. The belief at the moment, per multiple NFL sources, is that he suffered a torn ACL, though there is no confirmation. Edelman will undergo x-rays at some point today, but don't be disappointed if the result is not what we are hoping for. While this was certainly another big loss for a team that already has lost rookie DE Derek Rivers for the year to the same injury, the game was ultimately a win for a number of reasons. In Friday's matchup, we got to see just how potent this offense has the potential to be, fielding a first string offense which is the closest thing we've got so far this preseason to what we will see come opening night. Not only were the starters dominant on the offensive side of the ball, but the defensive side of the ball was also commanding. This was the easiest game yet as far as choosing studs, duds and honorable mentions. So without further ado, here they are...
WR Chris Hogan (WR2): The second-year Patriots deep-threat ruled the field early on in the first quarter of Saturday night's matchup, bringing in 4 catches for a total of 70 yards and 2 TD's. On the first Brady-Hogan TD connection, he ran an option route to perfection deep in the redzone, freeing himself of coverage and easily scoring. The second TD, a an over-the-shoulder grab falling into the end zone, was a thing of beauty. The big-yardage plays are nothing new from Hogan, who was second in the NFL for yards per catch (17.89), behind only DeSean Jackson. After a solid 2016 in which he brought in 38 receptions for 4 TD's, look for 7-Eleven to have a better 2017 campaign, serving an expanded role in an offense presumably missing number 11. He has some valuable slot experience as well, having played 37% of his snaps from there last season and also putting in a lot of work there during training camp. Cooks will be the clear WR1, but Hogan is first in line to step up as the clear WR2.
RB Mike Gillislee (RB1): What a difference a week can make, especially when you're a member of the crowded New England Patriots backfield. Last week in Houston, Rex Burkhead looked to be pulling away with the starting job for week one, but now it's Gillislee's to earn. After sitting out most of the first two weeks of practice with an aggravated hamstring, the offseason signing returned to the field for his first practice this week and suited up with the starters against Detroit. On his first two carries, he scored a 1-yard TD and ran it in to convert a 2-point conversion. Then to start the second, he showcased his burst and vision on a great 27-yard carry. This was a big game for Gillislee and he showed up. The 27-yarder serves as a visual demonstration as to why he led the NFL with 5.7 yards per carry this past season. If he can replicate that production behind a formidable offensive line, and add in some catches as well, he will be a huge addition to this team and an upgrade over Blount, who served almost strictly as a power and goal line back. While I don't think he did enough to earn the RB1 spot for certain, since I think he and Rex will split a lot of carries between the tackles, he looks like a great goal line back and a potential fourth quarter finisher similar to Blount, but more explosive. The hamstring appears to be all healed up, so it's full speed ahead for #35.
Secondary (CB, FS, SS): The Patriots strongest unit on the field during the first half was their secondary. I want to clarify first off that S Jordan Richards played at LB and is not included in this unit. Second off, I want to praise this group for their great playmaking abilities. Butler, McCourty and Chung, namely, are all very capable and intangibly-sound tacklers. Butler supported this notion with a great strip tackle on Detroit's Golden Tate early in the first quarter. Along with Gilmore and Rowe, they are all great ball hawks as well. SS Pat Chung laid out TE Cole Wick after lining up as the down safety, displaying great play awareness. CB Stephon Gilmore was great in coverage and had a nice breakup on the sideline for the second week in a row. Butler added in a nice pass deflection late in the second which was picked off by CB Eric Rowe, who had a solid game in coverage. Lastly, CB Cyrus Jones saw a good amount of playing time at slot corner while Butler and Rowe manned the outside. Jones was pretty solid in coverage and had his best game defensively so far this preseason. He's putting it together little by little, but his athleticism and potential cannot be wasted. Even though I gave him the short end of the stick Game 1, I like what I'm seeing lately. Overall, it was a great performance by a unit that has the chance to be among the best in the league. The only small concern here is that Gilmore has been so good, teams are electing to throw at Butler more often and opposing receivers have been able to get a step on him multiple times this preseason. Look for this to be an area of focus in practice.
S Jordan Richards (FS/LB?): For a guy who really has to earn his roster spot, Richards has not shown up thus far during the preseason. Picked 64th overall in the 2nd round of the 2015 draft, he has always been a reach and continues to show why. He played with every unit this game, taking snaps at LB with the first and second units, and S with the third unit. It looks like Belichick is trying anything to make this guy fit right now, but the LB experiment is too little, too late. He missed a few tackles there and while he could hypothetically serve as LB in obvious coverage situations, he hasn't shown the capability he needs to earn that role. Sadly, this screams Jake Bequette moving from DE to TE all over again. While Richards is a great character guy, it will not be enough to earn him a spot on the 53.
RB Brandon Bolden (Specialist Teams): Brandon Bolden is in a very peculiar position. He is no doubt a talented RB and has displayed his ability in the running and passing game with various flashes over his career as a Patriot. His greatest strength however is on special teams and unfortunately, there are other players who will likely earn a roster spot based on their special teams ability and it will be at the expense of his. I feel bad putting him as a dud, because quite frankly his lack of offensive production is not his fault. DJ Foster has just had a really good preseason and stuck out on offense more than him. Belichick recently talked about how he viewed him as a four down player. If that is the case, he can do so elsewhere. A speedster and pass catcher of Foster's ability could be valuable with the potential loss of Edelman, and he likely would not clear waivers for the practice squad.
DE Kony Ealy (Cut): The offseason acquisition's performance is not even worth dissecting because he was basically invisible in the little time that he saw on the field. He was acquired for along with the Panthers' 3rd round pick in exchange for our 2nd. Ultimately it was a low risk - high reward move since we only moved down a few spots. He was cut Saturday afternoon.
RB DJ Foster (RB5?): If the Patriots do in fact keep five running backs to start the season, the choice of who makes the team at the back end of the unit is becoming easier by the week. Foster has been impressive this preseason running and receiving the football. He got the majority of of the snaps with the second and third units Friday night, while Bolden was relegated to special teams. Before, I assumed Foster would just wind up cut and immediately claimed by a team in need of a receiving back, but if there is a way we can stash he I would prefer we go that route. He finished the go-ahead drive with 6 touches for 36 yards, and had a very important draw on fourth down for 13 yards.
QB Tom Brady (The GOAT): Not much to say here. Tom completely ripped the Lions apart and aside from his interception on a miscommunication with Hogan, he was damn near perfect. Look for more of that greatness during the regular season, even without his favorite target Jules. Brady complete 12-of-15 passes of r174 yards, 2 TD's, and a INT.
K Stephen Gotskowski (K, KOS): The past two seasons have been weird ones for Gostkowski. Once the most efficient kicker in the league, he always seemed to get the job done when needed. He never proved himself to be clutch with Super Bowl winning kicks like Adam Vinatieri, who's still kicking at age 44 thanks to that dome in Indy, but he has faltered with extra points on the big stage. His miss against Denver in the 2015 AFCCG pretty much cost us a win and his miss in Super Bowl LI almost did the same. For Friday night, like most of the preseason and camp, he made all of his FG attempts. He missed pretty bad Game 1 against Jacksonville on a FG attempt and he missed an extra point against Detroit. He was still able to seal the deal with a game-winning 45-yard FG with 2 seconds left, which dare I say almost was wide right. His performance hasn't improved my confidence very much, but he hasn't done enough to lose his job.
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