Tim O’Sullivan: What to look for in Patriots’ preseason game vs. Philadelphia
New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis (24) during an NFL Football training camp scrimmage of New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles in Foxborough, Mass., Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws as Jimmy Garoppolo watches during an NFL Football training camp scrimmage of New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles in Foxborough, Mass., Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo scrambles with the ball during the second half of an NFL football preseason game against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Md., Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Richard Lipski)
Final scores don’t really matter in preseason games, but the 23-6 final tally was an accurate portrayal of the Patriots performance in their loss to Washington last week. Like Bill Belichick said after his team’s preseason opener, “I don’t think we did very many things the way we wanted to do them tonight … Overall, we have a lot of work to do. That is obvious.”
That result, however, really shouldn’t cause alarm. After all, the game featured backups from start to finish. What it should cause is an eagerness to see better play from New England in tonight’s game against Philadelphia. There certainly seems to be some excitement coming from the players.
“We always look forward to the games,” Tom Brady said on Wednesday. “You play the game, you don’t work the game, so that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to go out and play and have a lot of fun. We’ve got a day of prep tomorrow, and then we’ll go out and let it rip (today).”
With that in mind, here are six things to watch for tonight against the Eagles.
Return of the Brady
After not playing last week against the Redskins, Brady will start tonight. Belichick normally has his starters play extended minutes in the third preseason game, so Brady may only see action for a couple of series tonight, but having the future Hall of Famer under center even for a few snaps should calm any nervous fans and help boost an offense that looked lackluster in the first perseason game.
Brady was his usual accurate self during the joint practices with Washington last week and with the Eagles this week, going 100-for-138 (72.5 percent) during the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. And he is anxious to make some of those completions in a game setting.
“It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been doing it, you’ve got to get out there and play under game situations and get your body going at the level that it needs to be at,” Brady said.
Arrival of Revis Island
There’s been a heightened sense of anticipation for this season to begin ever since Darrelle Revis signed with the Patriots back in March. But Revis was one of seven projected defensive starters not to play against the Redskins, so tonight will (probably) be the first chance for fans to watch the heralded cornerback in game action.
Seeing Revis play in a Patriots uniform will feel like unwrapping the toy you wanted on Christmas morning, but it will also be interesting to watch him go against Philadelphia’s Jeremy Maclin (should he play after hurting a hamstring). The two were matched up for the majority of the joint practices, and Revis struggled against Maclin, getting flagged for three holding penalties on Tuesday and getting beat deep on Tuesday and Wednesday. Asked about the matchup, Revis insinuated he may not have been going full speed and that he knows how to turn it on when it counts. We’ll see if tonight is one of those times.
A leaky line
The most glaring trouble spot in the preseason opener was the offensive line. The Redskins were able to pressure the quarterback and stuff the run against a New England line that was resting Logan Mankins but did have Nate Solder, Dan Connolly and Marcus Cannon for the entire first half.
With a new position coach (Dave DeGuglielmo) and questions about who will start at center and right guard, there is legitimate reason for concern here. The line will have to play better tonight against an aggressive Eagles front seven to allay those concerns.
Can the Butler do it?
One of the highlights from the game in Washington was rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler. A free agent out of Division II West Alabama, not much was expected of Butler, but he blanketed Redskin receivers and followed that with an impressive two days of practice against the Eagles.
Butler still has work to do to make the team, but at this point he’s pushing Logan Ryan, who led all NFL rookies with five interceptions last year, for a roster spot. The Patriots were already very strong at corner with Revis, Brandon Browner, Kyle Arrington, Alfonzo Dennard and Ryan, and Butler is making them stronger.
Brady backup battle, part 2
Backup quarterbacks are always under scrutiny in the preseason, and that’s especially true this year in New England. Incumbent backup Ryan Mallett impressed during the first week of camp and seemed ready to improve his trade value, but then he went 5-for-12 for 55 yards against the Redskins and looked like the same sloppy passer he’s been during the previous three preseason.
Rookie Jimmy Garoppolo struggled during the first week of camp, but then he showed why the Patriots used a second round pick on him by going 9-for-13 for 157 yards and a touchdown when he took over for Mallett in the second half in Washington. Garoppolo displayed mobility, a quick release, good touch on long passes and some guts when he dove into a pile hunting for a fumble. If he keeps that up, Mallett may find himself looking for work in the near future. Expect to see both of them play after Brady departs.
Tight end turnover
The top three tight ends on the roster – Rob Gronkowski, Michael Hoomanawanui and D.J. Williams – have all been limited by health issues and will not play tonight. The Patriots have been absurdly busy trying to find depth at the position, making seven roster moves in the last five days. They released Justin Jones and Asa Watson, signed Ben Hartsock, Steve Maneri and Terrence Miller, waived Miller, and released Hartsock yesterday.
Expect James Develin to play some tight end and to get a long look at Maneri, who also played with the Patriots in 2010. This may not offer ay insight into what happens at tight end during the regular season, but it’s one of those keystone cop situations that can make preseason games kind of fun.
(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)