New England Patriots-Atlanta Falcons: 10 Observations for the Patriots
Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots have started off the preseason red hot, but who cares? It's the preseason; get back to me when they win games in September.
The preseason is like the prologue to a wonderful novel, only bad part is, you can't skip the preseason to get to the stuff that matters.
Cuts are coming up in a week, but everyone's in a position battle even if you're not on the bubble. The preseason helps teams evaluate who should be starting for them when it matters, so let's take a look at some things that stood out during this game:
Fred Taylor Got Most Of The Carries
Bill Belichick mentioned that he was going to give each of his running backs a chance to be the featured back in the preseason. BenJarvus Green-Ellis got his turn against New Orleans, and Fred Taylor got that opportunity tonight against the Falcons.
It seemed almost scripted; just as Troy Aikman talked about the Patriots needing to become mentally and physically tough, Taylor pounded two Atlanta defenders on his way to a 28-yard touchdown run.
Taylor showed that he still has it, albeit against a hapless Falcons defense in the preseason. It helps that the Falcons looked flabbergasted on defense in general, but Taylor ran with his signature authority and looks like he's raring to go.
...But The Patriots Are Still a Running-Back-By-Fivesome
If two heads are better than one, then how about five?
Four of New England's five backs have rushed for at least one touchdown in the preseason already, and Laurence Maroney (of all people) has two.
The Patriots look ready to be more balanced in 2010 than recently, especially in the red zone, where they've run the ball quite frequently.
Patriots Offensive Line Played Admirably
Of course, leading the way for the improved rushing attack has been a patchwork offensive line.
The Patriots have been called thin on the offensive line; down Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins and right tackle Nick Kaczur, it's easy to see why.
The group has done well in the first two games, keeping defenses away from Brady and Hoyer, but also showing a lot of muscle in the running game, especially in the red zone.
Solid play on the offensive line will be of prime importance for two big games against the New York Jets, so it's important that these players are performing well now to help gain experience and build confidence for the regular season.
Jonathan Wilhite Makes His Case For The Roster
Amid the idea of Devin McCourty, Darius Butler, and Leigh Bodden sharing time as the top cornerbacks, it's easy to forget that Jonathan Wilhite started eight games for New England at cornerback last year.
But Wilhite just won't let you, will he?
On New England's 37-yard line, Wilhite had an interception to kill a late drive in the second quarter.
It's doubtful that the one play solidifies Wilhite's spot on the 53-man roster, but it probably saves him from being cut, and if nothing else, it keeps him in the Patriots' coaching staff's recent memory.
This is the type of play that the Patriots need from their defense: a clutch drive-killer that allows them to be the "bend-don't-break" defense they've become notorious for.
Ron Brace Played Well, Forced a Fumble
The Patriots have had their own Albert Haynesworth as of late, with Ron Brace missing the first 22 practices after failing a conditioning test.
After a disappointing 2009 campaign that held high expectations for the second-round pick out of Boston College, many were wondering of Brace could indeed be on the bubble.
Three tackles and a forced fumble will certainly help his case in the long run. So will a thin Patriots defensive line, that may need him to step up quickly if another injury should befall one of the current starters.
Patriots Defense Picked Apart Underneath
The Falcons quickly found a weakness in the Patriots defense, as New England gave up several completions underneath to Matt Ryan. One went for 14 yards as Jason Peele broke free from a tackle and made his way past the marker.
The Patriots gave up a lot of big plays last year, so keeping things in front of them may actually be a good thing.They covered the plays well, making good tackles, but too many of those small plays can have bad results if the chains keep moving.
I'm sure this is an issue that Bill Belichick will address in practices coming up.
Zoltan Mesko Is At It Again
Mesko showed consistency once again, landing two of his four punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line, and booting one punt 50 yards.
It appears the Patriots may finally have a punter they can rely on for good field position. We all know how seriously Bill Belichick feels about field position.
Youth on Defense Looks Great
Patrick Chung, Jerod Mayo, Devin McCourty, and Brandon Spikes have a grand total of three years of NFL experience between them, but the group had a combined 15 tackles last night.
These were the guys that were contributing to the team in a positive way early and often.
I'm really excited about these guys moving forward. They are the future faces of the Patriots franchise, and all of them look ready to play at a high level.
Both Rookie Tight Ends Had an Incredible Game
The tight ends don't usually see a lot of action in New England's offense, but that looks like it's going to change in a hurry. The two have had a pretty remarkable training camp and preseason thus far.
Both had four receptions against the Falcons, Hernandez for 46 yards, Gronkowski for 38. Both had touchdowns.
Hernandez's touchdown grab came on a four-yard strike from Tom Brady in the back of the end zone. The rookie dragged his feet smoothly in front of the stripe and maintained possession as he fell out of bounds. Brady went up to him and congratulated him after the play.
Brady to Hernandez could be the duo of the future.
Gronkowski's was the last touchdown the Patriots scored, and it came off a Brian Hoyer throw in the fourth quarter. Gronk hasn't had as spectacular a preseason as Hernandez, but figures to be the more well-rounded of the two in the long run.
Wes Welker: Two Receptions, 20 Yards in Return
Yes, seven months after surgery to repair ligaments in his left knee, Wes Welker was back to his old tricks. The "Slot Machine" had two receptions to give the Patriots a first down after facing 1st-and-20.
The first, a six-yard pass on a quick curl inside, proved that Welker isn't afraid of playing in the middle with his knee. It also proved that he can still work that signature quickness underneath that made him effective enough to reel in 123 passes last year.
The second, a skinny post inside, provided another look at further signature Welker talents: adjusting to the ball, finding the marker and moving the chains. He dove for a first down after taking a hit to his legs from Falcons cornerback Chevis Jackson.
He's back, ladies and gentlemen.