Nine takeaways from the Patriots’ preseason opener
The Giants brought home on a zero blitz on the key second-and-goal play, giving up a deep safety to bring in an extra blitz. With the pass rush converging on Zappe, he gave Humphrey a shot against single coverage in the seam, and the wide open made the hook. No, there is no quarterback controversy in New England. But Zappe’s performance deserves a closer look in our After Further Review movie breakdown in the coming days.
3. Patriots LB Mack Wilson Game Speed Full Screen
Among the likely major contributors who saw the field Thursday night, offseason acquisition Mack Wilson brought the kind of second-tier speed the Patriots desperately needed at linebacker. Wilson, who showed a closing flurry in coverage and as a blitzer all summer, did the same against the Giants. Wilson recorded a hit from the quarterback as he quickly closed in on an inside blitz from Daniel Jones, then made a quick tackle from his hook zone to stop tight end Daniel Bellinger below the line to win the third try. These are the plays the Patriots were missing at their linebackers a year ago.
4. Patriots rookie LG Cole Strange holds up well in preseason debut
While we’ll have to revisit the tape before drawing any firm conclusions, first-round pick Cole Strange seemed to hold his own in his first game action. In particular, Strange’s run blocking stood out, performing his role and making a key pulling block on a one-back power scheme to clear the way for running back JJ Taylor to move the sticks to third-and-run. Again, we’ll dissect the game’s film on Strange, but it looked like a solid performance from the rookie when he first came out.
5. Participating in Patriots Secondary is eye-opening
Outside of seventh-rounder Andrew Stueber who is on the non-football injured list, rookie cornerback Marcus Jones was the only freshman Patriot not to play Thursday night. For one thing, Jones could still be coming back from offseason surgery on both shoulders. But on the other hand, Jones isn’t training with a non-contact red jersey at this point. The other theory is that the rookie corner and punt returner, who was filling in with the starting defense over the past week in practice, is already considered a key contributor.
Of all the corners that took part on Thursday night, Shaun Wade’s competitive ball skills stood out watching the game live. Rookie Jack Jones also nearly skipped several passes for interceptions. The fourth round has ball peddling qualities in coverage.
6. A first look at the return competition
After James White retired earlier today, the Patriots now have a hole to fill in the receiver role. Based out of training camp, veteran Ty Montgomery has the inside track to fill that role, and Montgomery was among the offensive starters who sat out Thursday night, signaling coaches view him the same way. Rookie running back Pierre Strong Jr. is a future contender for the role of James White. But Strong struggled to protect passes against the Giants, which is often where rookie running backs with potential as pass receivers struggle growing. Look no further than White, who spent his rookie season in a redshirt as he learned under Shane Vereen. Strong’s burst came on a smooth nine-yard run late in the game, where he cut clean-cut left guard Arlington Hambright’s block on an inside zone pattern.
7. Patriots DB Myles Bryant returns punts for the first time since high school
Speaking to reporters after the game, Bryant told Patriots.com that Thursday night’s contest was the first time he returned punts since his last high school game. Bryant then credited the coaching staff for identifying his initial quickness as a trait that would translate into punt returns and added that he had a habit of carrying the ball since he was a running back in high school. . It’s safe to say that Bryant has a knack for returning punts with returns for 30 and 16 yards against the Giants.
8. Patriots Young Pass-Rushers Flash vs. Giants
After rewatching the film, we’ll get the official quarterback pressure tally, but a trio of Patriots passers had some good times Thursday night: Anfernee Jennings, Josh Uche and rookie Sam Roberts. Roberts, in particular, was someone who grabbed attention beyond what he has done in practice thus far. We had the Pats rookie with three quarterback pressures and a shot hold, including setting up Uche for his sack with the initial rush on Daniel Jones. Roberts’ first-pitch explosiveness to get under blockers and push the pocket is NFL-caliber.
9. Patriots WRs Kristian Wilkerson, Tre Nixon and Lil’Jordan Humphrey lead the way
Leading in the air were a trio of wide receivers who also had practice moments. Wilkerson, who has played four games for the Pats over the past two seasons, is in a tough spot. With a team-best eight catches and 99 yards on 12 targets, it’s clear Wilkerson can hold his own against NFL-caliber competition. But its path to being more than a depth chart option backend is murky. Outside of a third run, Nixon continues to show enough gust and acceleration through his road breaks to create separation at this level. Although the fall stings, the route itself was a snapshot of Nixon’s ability to quickly create separation on the lower routes. As we know, this is a valuable skill in the Patriots offense. As for Humphrey, he also beat the Pats secondary for a similar touchdown in practice earlier this week. At 6-foot-3, he could find a role as a giant slot machine or, at the very least, could be a valuable practice squad receiver to emulate bigger targets.