The New England Patriots were verbally abused by the Las Vegas Raiders on Friday night and nothing positive came out of the game. Hopefully I can find one or two, but it was a terrible game to watch.
Anyway, let’s get into the last 10 preseason takeaways and New England’s 23-6 loss.
The First Team Attack Battle: The Raiders didn’t play most of their starters on defense, but the Patriots still looked terrible on the offensive side of the ball. From a terrible Mac Jones interception to the offensive line again failing to open careers, it was just an absolute mess.
Hunter Henry was tackled in space by a backup linebacker and couldn’t even fight for a first down. Michael Onwenu seemed to struggle once again on the guard, and there should be a real concern about his ability to play into these types of fouls.
There were also a few bright spots. When Mac Jones ran forward, not 20 yards back, he looked pretty fast and even made a nice throw on the run to Henry. Kendrick Bourne finally got back on the field and had a few catches as he tries to get back to where he was at the end of last year. There have been many questions about what the attack would look like this year, and the training camp and preseason have done nothing to allay the concerns of Patriots fans.
Let’s hope things look a lot better in two weeks.
The first team defense also struggles: The Raiders also didn’t play their starters offensively, but just like the offense, the Patriots’ first-team defense still struggled. The unit struggled at every level and struggled against the run and the pass. It wasn’t all bad as you still saw some of their players flash, but it was pretty ugly overall.
Kyler Dugger was beaten pretty well on a pass, but then made some nice action in the run game. Jahlani Tavai continues to show virtually nothing and is smoked on another pass by another backup tight end. There is a lot of optimism for the defense this year, but they will have to play significantly better in the future.
One of the reasons they struggled is that there was almost certainly no game plan and they were playing against a play-caller and quarterback, Jarrett Stidham, who knows the system quite well. Either way, that shouldn’t be able to happen if alleged starters are playing against backups.
Mac Jones’ Year 2 jump on hiatus? Mac Jones looked uncomfortable for much of training camp and that trend continued Friday night. He certainly wasn’t the only one to play badly, but he looks more like a rookie this year than he may have all of last year. He just doesn’t seem comfortable with this new-style offense, and at some point you might wonder if that change of schedule was the right decision.
I trust Bill Belichick is doing the right thing, and this might be the best offense for this team in the long run, but right now it’s getting harder and harder to see how this is the right move for 2022.
JJ Taylor steps up: You never like to see an injury, but certainly not in the preseason. Ty Montgomery had a great camp and looked to play a big part in the Patriots’ attack this season. However, he went down in the first quarter with what appeared to be a serious ankle injury, so that may not happen this year.
On the other hand, JJ Taylor has worked his butt off and looked good in the preseason. However, with two young fullbacks behind him, he seemed to be on the outside looking at the initial 53-man roster all summer. The Montgomery injury could certainly have opened up a spot for Taylor and given him another chance to prove that he can contribute here.
Jack Jones pops (literally): Jack Jones has been pretty solid in the coverage and continued to show that on Friday night, but it was his blow that really jumped off the screen. He had a tackle on the sideline that forced a fumble, and had another that knocked off a pass. He’s not a big guy, but this is the stuff that’s all over his school band, and I think it’s something we can expect to see him progress.
He will definitely make the roster because of his fourth-round stature, but I think we could see Jones play a lot of snaps towards the end of the season as well.
The offensive line is a mess: The offensive starting line had a really rough time this preseason, but the backups weren’t much better. The zone runs are tough, as one missed block, even at the back, means what could have been a solid run turns out to be a loss or a no-win run. Micheal Onwenu has struggled with this kind of play in particular, but they just can’t get a consistent play from almost everyone on the line.
The other problem is that guys like Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn have a history of not being able to stay healthy. With Justin Herron looking pretty rough and Yodny Cajuste looking good, but finally able to stay healthy since he was drafted in 2019, there should be real concern about the protection around the edges of the O-line.
I think it will look better as the season progresses but it will have to look a lot get well soon or else the Patriots will be in trouble early in the season.
Kevin Harris almost argues for the selection: I had thought Kevin Harris would get a red shirt season, in part because I thought he was very similar in style to Damien Harris’ roster. While that may still be true, he continues to look impressive and has also shown good hands coming out of the backfield.
He has been outplayed quite consistently throughout the camp against fellow rookie Pierre Strong Jr. (which, in all fairness, has been delayed by injury recovery). The biggest problem with Harris on Friday night is that he put the ball on the ground twice.
In his long run, the ground caused the fumble, so the Patriots held onto the ball, but he later lost a fumble toward the end of the game. Fumbling is something the Patriots don’t mess with, and so his rushing and receiving may not be enough to get him on the roster.
A few roster spots are locked up: There are a lot of questions at the back of the roster, but it looks like at least two guys have been locked up for this season. Those guys are uneducated rookies Brenden Schooler and DaMarcus Mitchell.
Schooler has played in almost every special team unit and has done a great job there. Mitchell has done the same in special teams, but has also shown a real flash in the defensive line. We always like to talk about UDFAs, but it seems these two have played a part for themselves this season.
The dream seems over: Everyone knows my prominent position on the Tre Nixon Hype Train, but I just don’t see how he got on the 53-man list. For the second week in a row he dropped a deep pass and this week the defender couldn’t even get his hand in it. Nixon should have no trouble getting back into the practice squad, and I still think there’s a chance for him to impress in New England at some point. However, it looks like it won’t be this season.
The regular season is almost here: This off-season was tough for the Patriots. It started with losing a lot of their coaches, with Josh McDaniels going to Las Vegas and taking several assistants with him. Bill Belichick decided to replace McDaniels with Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, and for now that seems like a questionable decision at best. I keep saying it, but I trust Bill Belichick knows what he’s doing, so I will never disregard this team. It hasn’t been great though.
They also decided last season to switch from both JC Jackson and Stephon Gilmore and go into the season with a bunch of unproven players on the defensive side of the ball. These moves have left the patriots with a lot more questions than answers right now, but I hope they start to look better once the games really count and game planning comes into play as well.
The good news is that it looks like they’ve had another very good draft, so they’re replenishing their pool of young talent. I’m not sure how much the rookies can help this year, but knowing that there is young talent and athleticism in the pipeline is a good thing.
The training camp and preseason were hard to watch at times, but I think, as with anything, there are some positives to take away from what the Patriots have been up to this spring and summer. Fortunately, the next time I write one of these will be the regular season, and I think that might be the best part of last night’s game: the preseason is finally over.