What We Saw: Patriots at Eagles

The Patriots' running game is going to be very, very good this season

Patriots @ Eagles

Final Score: Patriots 35, Eagles 0

Writer: Ben Brown (@BenBrownPL on Twitter)

 

After a contentious couple of days in joint practices where both sides were chirping and yapping at each other, some of the excitement of this matchup got sucked out of the building before the game even started when the Eagles announced that most of their starting defense would be inactive for the game. Meanwhile, it was pretty much full-go for the Patriots who suited up basically everyone who will be starting the opener in three weeks.

 

 

The game was played in hot and humid conditions but it looked like it only had an effect on the home team. New England dominated the Eagles on both sides of the ball pretty much all night long, even late into the game when both teams were trotting out their reserves. Cam Newton was the star of the show in this one as he solidified himself as the QB1 in New England heading into the season. Mac Jones had a couple of rookie moments but he was really good as well. On the flip side, the Eagles really couldn’t get anything going offensively except for one drive by Joe Flacco deep into Patriots’ territory that ended on a near-interception on fourth and short. The Patriots’ ground game once again looked solid, as did their backup offensive line against a depleted Eagles defense. It was an old-school butt whoopin’ by New England all night long.

 

 

New England Patriots

 

Quarterback

 

Cam Newton: 8/9, 103 yards, TD

Mac Jones: 13/19, 146 yards | 1 carry, 3 yards

Brian Hoyer: 2/3, 30 yards | 3 carries, -3 yards

 

Cam Newton solidified himself as the QB1 of this team in his short time on the field. I’ve been a critic of Cam pretty much since he signed with New England last year, and even I was impressed by what he did on Thursday night. He was stepping into his throws, feeling pressure and evading it well. He showed off his athleticism by moving around in the pocket and throwing on the move. He was more accurate than we’ve seen him in the past and he had more zip on the ball as well.

 

 

He really only had one bad throw, which was off-balance after evading some pressure. James White bailed him out, but the fact that this was his worst throw of the night was a testament to how good he was.

 

 

Cam’s most impressive play was on a 28-yard touchdown to Jakobi Meyers. The play-action fake absolutely sold this play and opened Meyers up. Watch the linebacker move up and then hesitate, allowing Meyers to sneak behind him into open space.

 

 

Cam did not sell any play fakes like this last week – it was one of my main criticisms of him. The little details have bit Cam in the butt in his Patriots career and tonight he looks like he’s fixed most if not all of them. If this sticks, we may see a wildly different and more dynamic Cam Newton for the Patriots in 2021. We still haven’t seen any designed runs for him, but that’s likely a result of the team just trying to keep him on his feet and off the injury list before the season even starts. Barring a catastrophic injury in the Meadowlands next week, Cam is your starter for Week 1.

Mac Jones came on for the Patriots’ fourth series and immediately drove them down the field on a 17 play, 91-yard scoring drive. He converted a 3rd and 13 to N’Keal Harry deep in his own zone to extend the drive and also used his legs to keep the drive alive as well.

 

 

 

Yes, Jones was wearing a knee brace this week and got up a little slowly after this run, but he was fine. He dinked and dunked a lot last week, and I wondered if he would come out slinging it tonight. I figured the coaching staff would want him to throw it downfield more often and test the defense. Boy, did he.

Mac was 13/19 last week for 87 yards. This week, Mac was 13/19 for 146 yards. He was taking more time in the pocket and checking down less. He looked for receivers downfield and hit them. This throw to Gunner Olszewski was as good of a throw as we’ve seen all preseason from any quarterback in the league.

 

 

Jones drove the Patriots down the field for three touchdown scoring drives, but he still couldn’t get a touchdown of his own. He had a couple of chances though. After an awesome interception by linebacker Harvey Langi with under a minute remaining in the 1st half gave the Patriots decent field position, Jones threw a deep ball to N’Keal Harry that was allllmost perfect. It may have been a hint too long, but Harry still should have come up with the ball.

 

 

Later in the game, Jones had TE Devin Asiasi open in the end zone and Asiasi couldn’t come down with the ball.

 

 

Probably the most impressive part of the night was that Jones once again came out of halftime running the no-huddle offense. Not only did he drive the team down the field to score, he did so by calling all of his own plays and making adjustments and pre-snap reads at the line of scrimmage. That’s something many veteran QBs aren’t able to do effectively, yet here he is in his second preseason game doing it. He’s the most impressive rookie QB in the NFL so far and it’s not even close.

 

Running Back

 

Damien Harris: 6 carries, 14 yards, TD

James White: 3 targets, 2 receptions, 13 yards

Sony Michel: 7 carries, 34 yards | 4 targets, 4 receptions, 37 yards

J.J. Taylor: 12 carries, 93 yards, TD | 3 targets, 3 receptions, 18 yards

Rhamondre Stevenson: 15 carries, 66 yards, 2 TD, Fumble (Lost) | 2 targets, 1 reception, 8 yards

 

Ah, yes. the running backs. This group is the deepest and most talented group of RBs in the league, bar none. When the season starts and they’re running behind the #1 offensive line in football, watch out.

After a turnover on the Eagles’ first drive that gave the Patriots great field position, they ran the ball twice with Damien Harris and pounded it into the end zone. He made a great cut and bulldozered his way in.

 

 

Harris is the RB1 on this team and he looks as good physically as any RB ever has in the Belichick era.

Sony Michel came in next and was dancing all over the field. Once again he looked really good, running with power and making moves whenever he had open space to earn more yards. This is the 1st round pick the Patriots thought they were getting when they drafted him a few years ago.

 

 

Now, remember, this game was played entirely against the second and third-string defense of the Eagles, but the backfield did what they had to do and came out swinging. They hit a home run.

James White got involved on a few plays and caught a few screen passes from Cam Newton. It was clearly an emphasis this week after they failed to connect a handful of times last week, because he was targeted three times on the screen. One of the passes was an awkward, on-the-run throw from Cam that was high and off-target. White went up and got it and converted the first down. White is a known commodity and he’s mostly being rested ahead of the regular season, but it looks like he may have more involvement this season after being an afterthought for most of 2020.

Rhamondre Stevenson and J.J. Taylor were once again the story of the Patriots’ backfield this week. They were literally all over the field. Stevenson even came in for a few series in the 2nd quarter and he held his own, running with the same power and quick, shifty moves he displayed last week. He lined up out wide a handful of times and was targeted through the air. He did catch a screen pass, get hit hard, and drop it, but it was ruled incomplete after review. Stevenson scored two touchdowns for his second straight game and looked the part of a starting RB.

 

 

 

 

 

It was not all positives though, as Stevenson did fumble the ball late in the game on a play where he was simply trying to do too much without protecting the ball. This will be a good coaching moment for him.

 

 

In fact, he learned from his mistake and went out there and protected the ball on the very next drive. This is a good sign as it shows he’s coachable and can recover from his mistakes.

 

 

In my eyes, J.J. Taylor was the most impressive player on the night. He was a dynamic weapon in the 2nd half and tore up the Eagles’ defense.

 

 

He capped off a scoring drive on the Patriots’ first drive in the second have with two back-to-back runs that were simply jaw-dropping. First, THE SPIN MOVE.

 

 

 

Then he broke a tackle and was able to dive into the end zone for the score.

 

 

He kept hitting the holes given to him by his veteran offensive line and making the Eagles’ defense pay.

 

 

 

He was all over the field. He’s the clear replacement for James White after the season, and as a Patriots fan, I am so excited to see what this five-headed monster of a backfield can accomplish in 2021.

 

 

Wide Receiver/Tight End

 

Jakobi Meyers: 3 targets, 3 receptions, 56 yards, TD

Kristian Wilkerson: 3 targets, 3 receptions, 36 yards

Kendrick Bourne: 2 targets, 1 reception, 23 yards

Gunner Olszewski: 4 targets, 4 receptions, 57 yards

N’Keal Harry: 2 targets, 1 reception, 19 yards

Isaiah Zuber: 1 target, 1 reception, 12 yards

Devin Asiasi: 1 target

 

Good QB play meant a good night for Patriots receivers. Jakobi Meyers continues to impress whenever he gets the ball in his hands, as he took a great throw from Cam Newton to the house, making a slick cut on the sideline to stay inbounds and get in the endzone.

 

 

 

Meyers looked good in this one, breaking into his routes sharply and impressing with his speed. He looks light years better than when he debuted two years ago.

The de-facto #1 receiver, Nelson Agholor did not receive a target. However, he was involved on the opening drive by contributing with his blocking skills to help Damien Harris get into the end zone. New England requires their WRs to be good blockers so it’s good to see Agholor already getting his hands dirty out there.

 

 

Kendrick Bourne had a nice reception on a scoring drive where he caught a bullet from Cam Newton and then scampered for extra yards. Later on, he was targeted in the end zone on a two-point conversion attempt and the ball went right through his hands and hit him in the facemask before hitting the ground. It was the type of ball he has to come up with.

 

 

We know that Agholor and Meyers will be targeted often in this offense when they throw the ball. Bourne is a bit more of a wildcard as the #3 receiver, but if Cam Newton is able to consistently move the offense through the air Bourne may end up being rostered all over the place on fantasy rosters this season.

N’Keal Harry made an appearance and it was a Jeckyl and Hyde sort of deal. He made a nice catch to convert a long third-down conversion deep in their own end zone that sparked a 17 play drive.

 

 

And then there was that perfect deep throw that Mac Jones threw him that he got injured on. My Twitter mentions were blowing up after this play, with many people calling out Harry for jumping too early and others blaming Jones for overthrowing the ball. The more I watch it, the more I think it’s on Harry. He does seem to jump just a little too soon, but whether he jumps or not the ball still hit his hands and he needs to come down with it.

 

 

Harry was seen in a sling later after the game and, while there is no word as to what the actual injury is (and we may never know), his season is now in question.

 

 

Devin Asiasi was maybe the biggest disappointment of the night (besides Harry). With Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, and Matt Lacosse out of the lineup due to injury, this was Asiasi’s golden opportunity to grab the moment and finally prove that he can play in this league and was worthy of a third-round selection. Well, he didn’t do that, and if anything he went backward. He was nowhere to be seen for most of the night and despite being the only healthy and active tight end on the roster he was only targeted once, and even then he couldn’t come down with the grab. For a team struggling with injuries as much as the Patriots are, it’s really a sad state of affairs that Asiasi can’t play in this league.

 

Philadelphia Eagles

 

Quarterback

 

Joe Flacco: 10/17, 83 yards, INT, sack, fumble (Lost) | 2 carries, -1 yard

Nick Mullens: 5/10, 27 yards, INT, 3 sacks, fumble

 

Joe Flacco started this game because Jalen Hurts was surprisingly scratched despite participating in pregame workouts. We didn’t know what happened until after the game, and it sounds like a serious situation may have been averted.

 

 

 

Hopefully, he can get out there for Week 3.

Let’s face it – both Joe Flacco and Nick Mullens were bad. They were continually under pressure, especially early on when Matthew Judon was on the field. Judon forced a Flacco fumble after the snap soared over Flacco’s head, and then Jalen Mills (returning to Philadelphia after playing with them since 2016) recovered it.

 

 

Flacco looked uncomfortable all night long. He did drive the team down the field but nearly threw an interception on fourth down deep in Patriots territory.

 

 

Nick Mullens threw an interception late in the game. It was his most notable play of the night. Neither he nor Flacco will be fantasy-relevant at any time this season.

 

 

Running Backs

 

Miles Sanders: 2 carries, 13 yards

Boston Scott: 3 carries, 10 yards

Kenneth Gainwell: 5 carries, 21 yards | 3 targets, 3 receptions, 21 yards

Jordan Howard: 3 carries, 8 yards | 1 target, 1 reception, 9 yards

Elijah Holyfield: 4 carries, 31 yards | 2 targets, 2 receptions, 5 yards

 

This was an uninspiring group overall, save for a handful of runs that stood out. Miles Sanders had a nice 10-yard run to begin the game, but he was taken out for the next series and never returned. He was replaced by Jordan Howard, who had a nine-yard reception on a 2nd and 18 play. Kenneth Gainwell had a couple of nice runs but didn’t light the world on fire. He looked good, but he didn’t look like the type of late-round sleeper that everyone seems ready to pay up for in drafts this year. He’s the clear #3 in this backfield in my eyes.

 

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

 Jalen Reagor: 3 targets, 1 reception, 5 yards

Quez Watkins: 1 target

Jack Stoll: 7 targets, 4 receptions, 33 yards

DeVonta Smith: 4 targets, 2 receptions, 19 yards

Richard Rogers: 3 targets, 2 receptions, 16 yards

Travis Fulgham: 1 target

J.J. Arcega-Whiteside: 1 target

 

The story of the Eagles’ receiving corps heading into this game was whether Quez Watkins could build on his stellar performance in Week 1 and what DeVonta Smith would look like in his first appearance of the preseason. Quez was essentially a no-show – I don’t even remember watching his one target. I think it may even be a typo, honestly. He was nowhere to be seen.

He was absolutely overshadowed by Smith in this one… and not for a good reason. We were all waiting to see what Smith could do with the ball in his hand, and he finally had his first opportunity to catch a pass while Joe Flacco was being absolutely assaulted by Matthew Judon

 

 

… except he dropped it. Guess he’ll fit right in, huh?

 

 

Then, on their next drive, Flacco dropped an absolute dime to Smith’s back shoulder…

 

 

… that was once again dropped. Okay, 0/2, surely the third time is a charm, right?

 

 

Yeah, that’s a no, dawg. Three drops on three catchable balls. Not a good sign. He did finally catch one after all, though.

 

 

And then he caught another one.

 

 

This play is exactly the reason why he was a first-round pick. The move he made to get open is an elite move. Combine that with his elite speed and he certainly has the tools to be a star in this league. You can easily see it. But if he keeps dropping passes left and right? Boy, it’s gonna be a tough year for the Eagles and their fans. This offense will run through Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert this season while the receivers are nothing more than a change of pace/home run option until one of either Smith or Jalen Reagor figures something out.

 

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

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