Eagles vs. Patriots: 10 Things We Learned from New England's 17-27 Loss
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However, there is much more that can be taken away from the team's second preseason game than the final score.
Here are 10 things we learned from the Pats' prime-time performance.
The Patriots Err on Side of Caution
With the Patriots playing three games in nine days, Monday night against the Eagles was practically a bye week for the team's top starters.
NFL.com's Albert Breer tweeted about the extra rest for New England's notables:
Our desk at NFL Network reports that word from Foxboro is Brady, Mayo, Lloyd, Hernandez, Welker and Gronkowski won't play tonight.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) August 20, 2012
ESPNBoston.com's Mike Rodak added to that list:
There are 26 players not spotted in uniform for pre-game warmups for the Patriots tonight.— Mike Rodak (@mikerodak) August 20, 2012
It's hard to blame head coach Bill Belichick and Co. for holding the team's prized possessions out of tonight's game. Why risk an injury when the starters will likely play three quarters of football on Friday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?
Jermaine Cunningham Shines on Passing Downs
Jermaine Cunningham harassed the Eagles tonight—something he must continue to do in order to ensure himself a roster spot.
The Pats' 2010 second-round pick led the team in quarterback hits with three and also added in a solo tackle.
In the first quarter, it was Cunningham who drilled Philadelphia's dual-threat quarterback, Michael Vick. On that play, Vick hurt his ribs and left the game to get X-rays, according to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com).
If Cunningham can keep fighting offensive tackles with a high motor, it will do wonders for his job security, and for the Pats' pass rush.
Nate Ebner Making Case for Job at Safety
New England's special teams-minded rookie made an impact elsewhere on Monday night: safety.
Nate Ebner was in the game as a defensive back as the Eagles were moving down the field at the end of the second quarter. Then Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles took a shot, and Ebner moved in front of receiver Jeremy Maclin for the interception.
The Ohio State sixth-rounder returned the pick 34 yards, saving a would-be touchdown drive and perhaps his chance of making the 53-man roster.
In addition to his pick, Ebner made two tackles and deflected a pass.
Patrick Chung Injured
Patriots starting strong safety Patrick Chung left the game due to injury in the first quarter.
According to ESPNBoston.com's Mike Rodak, Chung hurt his shoulder while making a tackle on Eagles running back LeSean McCoy.
Over the last two years, the 2009 second-round draft choice has played in just 22 of 32 regular-season games.
However, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweeted good news about Chung's shoulder:
Good news for the #Patriots that S Patrick Chung's shoulder injury is nothing serious. Exited game, but it's precautionary.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 21, 2012
Fortunately, Chung should be just fine. But sooner or later, the former Oregon Duck will have to shake the injury-prone tag as the Patriots certainly need his leadership in the secondary.
Shane Vereen Not an Afterthought
Garnering the bulk of the first- and second-quarter carries, Vereen finished with 20 yards on 10 handoffs. The shifty ex-California Golden Bear also made four catches for 29 yards.
Last week's starter, Stevan Ridley, didn't get any work until the second half—something that should be taken with a grain of salt.
At this time, it appears as though the coaching staff wants to give both promising rushers an opportunity to face off against some first-string defenses.
Gap Between Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer Closing
The Pats' backup quarterbacks got plenty of reps against the Eagles since Tom Brady did not suit up. And Ryan Mallett looked like the more improved signal-caller.
Mallett made the most of the extended action and was comfortable in the pocket. When the 2011 third-round draft choice was on the field last week against New Orleans, he was only 8-of-19 for 89 yards and an interception. This time around, Mallett got the start and was more productive, completing 10-of-20 passes for 105 yards, no interceptions and a touchdown.
Incumbent No. 2 QB Brian Hoyer was less impressive than he was in the Saints' tilt. Last game, the undrafted vet was 8-of-15 for 45 yards and a score. But against the Eagles, Hoyer completed just 5-of-17 passes for 55 yards.
Mallett still needs to work on his accuracy, because a 50 percent completion rate isn't going to cut it. Nonetheless, he made great strides on Monday evening.
Brandon Bolden Not An Ideal Punt Returner
Undrafted tailback Brandon Bolden showed the coaching staff he can be effective out of the backfield and on special teams units, but his abilities as a punt returner are raw.
In the second quarter of Monday's game, the Ole Miss alum muffed a punt and Philadelphia recovered his fumble. Surprisingly, Bolden got another crack at a return but caught the punt in traffic and was nailed almost immediately.
Bolden can do a lot of things and has a good chance of making the Pats' final roster, but his struggles fielding punts puts a slight dent in his versatility.
New England's Offensive Line Woes Continue
The Patriots looked sloppy in terms of pass protection against the Eagles.
ESPNBoston.com's Field Yates broke down what he saw from an ugly play in the second quarter:
On Hoyer's second play of action, Philip Hunt dusted past right tackle Marcus Cannon for a strip sack. On the opposite side of the line, left tackle Nate Solder was cleanly beaten by defensive end Darryl Tapp.
On several snaps, second-year right tackle Marcus Cannon was beat by the Eagles' pass rush. He needs to start progressing, otherwise the Patriots will have to consider putting another reserve tackle on the 53-man roster.
After plays like the Brian Hoyer strip-sack, the Patriots look wise for not playing Tom Brady.
Alex Silvestro Makes a Name for Himself at Tight End
The Patriots' tight end corps is known for the prowess of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. But neither man logged time in the Philadelphia game.
Alex Silvestro sure did.
The converted defensive end caught two passes for 18 yards and capped off a second-quarter possession with a touchdown reception.
Undrafted rookie Tyler Urban was the only other tight end who was thrown to against the Eagles, yet he failed to record a catch.
To matter matters more intriguing, Daniel Fells and Visanthe Shiancoe didn't play after missing a significant amount of practices of late, per the Boston Herald.
Could Silvestro become a dark horse for a spot on the final roster? If the Patriots want to implement a blocking third tight end, he can't be ruled out.
Donte' Stallworth and Deion Branch Getting Plenty Of Looks
Yet Branch was the one who looked like the more consistent option. The 33-year-old hauled in three passes for 51 yards on four attempts. He may not have the same burst that Stallworth has, but he still knows how to get open.
On the other hand, Stallworth was thrown to deep and couldn't gain separation on his defenders. He finished the game with one catch for 20 yards on six targets.
Whoever shows more from here on out will likely clinch the No. 4 receiving gig. Right now, Branch is making the decision a tough one.
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