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Random Observations from Preseason Game 2: Pats vs Texans

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I’m not going to rip the Houston Texans for celebrating a Tom Brady interception that actually turned out to be a Tom Brady non-interception. Yes, there was less riding on this one than a game of Chutes and Ladders with your kid. Yes, if it were up to me the scoreboard would be turned off for all preseasson fauxball games. And yes, JJ Watt was more excited than Brady was in the same building back in February. But at least they didn’t have lettermen jackets made up. Progress.

–You don’t need to burn a lot of synapses to come up with the breakout player of this one. Rex Burkhead had a night for himself. He looked good running the ball out of 22-personnel groups. He hits the hole fast. Seems to be an instinctive runner, making quick, decisive cuts. And on his touchdown catch and run, he totally pantsed Zach Cunningham with a jab step move that is mitigated only by the fact DJ Foster got Cunningham with the exact same move out of the same route later in the game. So maybe that’s his Kryptonite. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to seeing Burkhead when the games matter and the inevitable slew of nicknames (Sexy Rexy?) to come.

–While we’re talking running backs, since the beginning of camp the hotness has been speculating that Dion Lewis won’t make the cutdown. So much for that nonsense. For the second straight game he showed what a rare talent he is. Making guys miss. Yards after contact. Receiving out of the backfield or split out. Sure he needs to be managed and getting 16 games out of him would be a low-grade miracle. But you don’t find guys with his skill set at the Swap Shop at the town dump.

–The biggest area of concern on the Patriots gave us some hope. The defensive end roles were mostly manned by Kony Ealy and Harvey Langi. And the results were much better than that sentence would lead you to believe. Ealy looked the best he has, by far. Operating mostly against Houston’s starting LT Kendall Lamm, he showed he can set an edge to turn outside zone runs back inside, had a handful of pressures and got at least one QB hit in. And Langi showed why he’s gotten so much camp buzz, mostly out of the Rob Ninkovich RDE spot, but also flipping sides a few times. And while I’d rather spend Monday staring at the eclipse through binoculars than have to rely on Caleb Kidder to win us a Super Bowl, he made the most out of his reps as well.

–The situation on the interior of the line looks very solid. Malcom Brown is starting to develop into that space-eating two-gapper they hoped he’d be when they drafted him. Alan Branch looked 100 percent, stuffing holes and batting down a pass. And Adam Butler continues to be an impressive pass rusher, including one filthy spin move from the outside-in to come in untouched,. Plus adding a tackle for no gain in the red zone. Throw Vince Valentine, Lawrence Guy and Woodrow Hamilton in that mix, and while there are no stars there, it’s as solid and deep a unit as there is on the roster.

–In the 2nd quarter, Belichick declined a pass interference penalty on a 2nd & 15 incomplete pass. I spent way more time trying to make sense of the decision than any man should. And the only explanations I can come up with are: A) He just wanted to get out of there.  Or B) He’s practicing making confounding moves the rest of us mortals will never understand. Either way, I’m good.

–There’s no polishing this turd: Malcolm Butler had a terrible night. He didn’t defend a pass in the five times he was targeted. He couldn’t get his hand on a 37-yard completion. And hit the deck in the end zone to give up a touchdown. Interestingly, he did get some snaps in the slot inside Stephon Gilmore, an indication we might see more of that, with Eric Rowe on the wideout. And making up for Butler’s off night was Justin Coleman, who had two PBUs. A couple of seasons ago I thought Coleman being on the field was a plot by the agents of terrible quarterbacks to trigger their clients’ performance bonuses. But he’s really come on.

–Cyrus Jones is making progress as well. He had one bad decision fielding a kick at like the 5 and getting planted where he stood. But he’s finally learning to handle the ball cleanly instead of treating it like a wasp flying in his face. He made a couple of plays in coverage. Made a nice tackle on a little arrow route, holding Riley McCarron to zero YAC. He was on the field for that long catch and run, but that was all on Damrius Travis, who slammed into Jones twice like he was playing Simpsons Hit & Run. In all, Jones is making progress. And at the very least he’s in the lead for starting punt returner.

–The quarterback play was pretty much a Dunkins assorted dozen, with way too many plains in there. Brady for the most part was opting for checkdowns to the running backs, apart from the nice out route he hit Brandin Cooks with and the near interception. Jimmy Garoppolo had too many overthrows, especially that interception, which floated like a Frolf toss. And if Jacoby Brissett doesn’t reign in his overthrows, OSHA is going to make the Militia wear safety helmets and protective eyewear next week.

–In fairness, the protection was an issue most of the night. And Jimmy G in particular showed some solid ninja skills avoiding hits. The one he never saw coming – the strip sack by Tony Washington – was a total whiff by James O’Shaughnessy. He’s probably got a Figure 4 Leg Lock on the third tight end job. But if he has another mental lapse like that, Dante Scarnecchia will banish him to north of the Wall.

–I actually like the Texans. And could actually see them making a legit playoff run, depending on how fast Deshaun Watson develops. I admit it might just be seeing Bill O’Brien, Romeo Crennel, Mike Vrabel and Larry Izzo all on the staff. So I like them for the same reason people like Fuller House. But that’s an AFC team I can get behind

@jerrythornton1