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Random Observations from Patriots Preseason Game 2 vs. the Panthers

Anthony Nesmith. Shutterstock Images.

Let's begin with a reminder that if it were up to me, the scoreboard would be turned off in preseason games, other than to keep the time. The score means less than nothing. I'm no more impressed with the Patriots doubling up on Carolina than I was bothered by them "losing" to the Giants. At the end of this one, what should've been called a safety was ruled an in-the-grasp at the 1. A play later, an actual safety turns out to be a strip sack for a score. That counts if there are standings or point spreads involved. Or even if you're playing Madden. But all that matters in that sequence is the Pats front-7 was applying relentless pressure. Which is what we're all hear for. Watching exhibition games is like going through an art gallery. It's all about impressions. Your reactions to the artists' work. How what you observe makes you feel. Also,very often boring. And speaking personally, both give you a chance to sound smart by pretending to know what you're talking about. That's why I'm here. 

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--The offense was by no means the story, but what the hell. Let's start there. The first couple of possessions were like when you have to start a lawnmower that has been sitting in the shed all winter. It took a few tries. Mac Jones had to push the little rubber fuel primer a few times and give it a couple of pulls before it got going. A rare drop by DeVante Parker on a ball off his back hip. And overthrow of Jakobi Meyers who had made his in-cut and showed Jones his numbers under the deep defender. Rhamondre Stevenson doesn't get his head around on a shallow cross, and so on. It took some time for the motor to fire. And then when the grey smoke burned away, it ran smooth after that. 

--And as has happened so many times before, the key to getting the thing going was the 3rd down back. Who by all appearances seems to be Ty Montgomery, the heir apparent to James White. First with a swing pass. Later, two red zone pitches after short motions, first by Montgomery and then by both Jonnu Smith and Meyers. That latter one for the score. And those plays putting the ball in Montgomery's multi-tool hands were sandwiched around this out and up to Nelson Agholor:

--That is exactly why he was paid the big bucks. Not to do it in August, necessarily. But in the way he shakes the corner trying to play press man on him with some quick chop steps to sell the slant, before releasing outside for an out-and-up. Then Jones drops a 45-yard mortar round right into his abdomen. In 11-on-11s over the last couple of weeks of camp, we've seen more and more of these deep shots. And between Agholor, Parker, and hopefully Tyquan Thornton, there's enough talent on the outside to make secondaries defend the whole field, thereby creating space in the first 20 yards for everybody else. 

--On Thornton's one reception - from Brian Hoyer on the fourth possession, he showed again why we're all so high on him. It's not his Quicksilver speed. Lots of trackletes come into the league, only to be gone and forgotten in no time. It's his precision. His route-running. On his catch, he ran off the corner, came back on the ball, with no wasted steps or motion. Then turned up field for a couple more, rather than just go down at first contact. He's already better at the fine points of the position than N'Keal Harry ever was.

--Thornton, by the way, left in the 4th quarter with a shoulder issue of unknown severity. They haven't reported what actually caused the injury. But I know exactly what did it. Me. Two days ago I ordered his jersey for the Irish Rose to give to me for my birthday. For the obvious reason, and because 11 has always been my number. This is all on me. I'm the Jonah. This always happens and by now I should know better. I apologize. 

--What I won't use as an excuse, however, is the fact the Pats No. 1 offense was playing with a patchwork offensive line. Both tackles were out. Michael Onwenu had to kick out to right tackle. While James Ferentz filled in for him at right guard and promptly got trucked into Jones' front end by a bullrush from Julian Stanford that killed the first set of downs. Having to rely on backup tackles and othewise shuffle the deck has been a disturbing, and all too common part of the Isaiah Wynn era 

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--Still, the whole O-line depth chart handled the job well. Of course there was the obligatory False Start penalties you always get this time of year (along with the Too Many Men calls and assorted other unforced brainfarts). Other than that, they executed. Switching from outside zone blocking (Damien Harris going for 7 on 1st down) to power gap (Montgomery on his goal-to-go runs) with very few hiccups. Even the depth guys had their quality moments. I was high on former Winnepeg Blue Bomber Drew Desjarlais early in camp, but he hasn't done a ton. But against Carolina he sprung Pierre Strong Jr. for a nice pickup and generally held his own. (Not like that; get your mind out of the gutter.) Late in the game, Kody Russey came from the center spot to get out in front of a Kevin Harris screen (one that was set up by a Bailey Zappe pump fake) for quality yards. All in all, a positive night for the entire O-line room.

--Now just to unbury the lead, this was a great night for a front-7 that is very much going through what Jules Winnfield called "a transitional period." And I say again that if they don't demonstrate they can be faster, more athletic and stronger than they were before the transition, nothing else they do on either side of the ball will count for jack squat. Which is why this was so encouraging. In no particular order:

Anfernee Jennings became virtually unblockable late in the game. Even accounting for the fact the guys trying to block him will likely have jobs where they wear a smock and a name tag soon, his ability to come free around the end without getting engaged/run off the play by the tackles was impressive as hell.

Josh Uche has been getting the biggest share of the passing downs reps on the end opposite Matthew Judon, and is showing flashes like he did as a rookie. His sack on that 3rd & 28 came out of a 2-down linemen front where he got his pads low underneath Ikem Ekonwu, who was the sixth player and the first tackle taken in the draft. 

Raekwon McMillan was communicating up a storm with Ju'Whaun Bentley prior to an early 3rd & 4 in the red zone, they ended up running a twist that got pressure and forced a throwaway in the end zone for a stop. On the next possession, a McMillan pressure forced an incompletion. And on the one after that, he smelled out a screen to drop the running back where he caught the ball. On the subsequent play, he used his closing speed to hold a swing pass to a short gain. I'm convinced he's going to play a major role and pay off the gamble they took picking him up injured last year and letting him sit out the season. 

Ronnie Perkins is, like Jennings, a guy they spent a lot of Imperial Credits on in the draft without any ROI so far. But as a lesser member of the off-the-ball linebacker rotation behind Bentley, McMillan and Jahlani Tavai last night, he looked like someone ready to step in an contribute. He chased QB PJ Walker out of the pocket and pursued him all the way to the sideline for a stop. He got what should've been that aforementioned safety on the 1. Along with Jennings he forced that strip sack. 

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**And while we're on the subject, I'll add the name DaMarcus Mitchell to this list. The tackle rotation is going to be all Christian Barmore, Davon Godchaux and Lawrence Guy, all the time. But Mitchell just seems to always be making impact plays. He also plays special teams, which gives him a huge advantage over the competition when it comes to a roster space. And you can't argue with the way he put the exclamation point at the end of this defensive stand. 

--Which brings me to the one touchdown the Panthers scored. There's celebrating (See: Mitchell high-stepping off the field), and then there is celebrating dumbassery (See: the whole Panthers bench coming onto the field) which gets you a nonsensical, easily avoided penalty. Combine that with the way they were yapping and starting fights in joint practices, and I can promise you this is a team that has decided, "We're gonna bring energy!" Which is great if you're a Glee Club, with a punny nickname like Treblemakers, Light My Choir or Post-It Notes. When it's just unfocused punkish bullshit like they've shown this week, that is all the red flags. Carolina has won five games each of the last two years. I'm predicting now they won't get that many this year. 

--Back to the team I do care about, another Special Teamer who can't help but get noticed is Brenden Schooler. Not even for his interception, that was such an easy catch only the Red Sox could've screwed it up into a Grand Slam, but for the way he tore after a punt to the end zone and damned near downed it at the 1. Between the wheels and the hustle and his 6-1 frame, it's hard not to imagine him sticking in that 4th down and goal line safety role left unfilled since Nate Ebner left. 

--Schooler's wasn't an interception. Now here's an interception:

Shaun Wade joins McMillan as yet another Ohio State guy they acquired and stashed last year, playing just 11 total snaps as a rookie after they picked him up in a trade with Baltimore. A potential Day 1 or 2 draft projection who fell to the fifth round due to injuries. That play alone shows why scouts were so high on him. Watching how he earns playing time in a secondary that's also in transition is going to be interesting as hell. 

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--And as a final note, it's still early and the polls haven't closed. But according to our data, it looks as though we can project Jalen Mills at one outside corner, and Jonathan Jones sliding outside from his slot position last year to the other outside spot. I'm predicting the coach's vote will swing the slot corner to Marcus Jones, but it's still too early to tell.