With preseason game number two in the books for the Patriots there was a lot of improvement, but there were also a few questions that still need to be answered.
Here are my intial thoughts and reactions following the Patriots 27-23 loss to the Texans.
Last week it was the Jacob Hollister and Austin Carr show, this week it was the Patriots running backs that stole the spotlight.
But, before we get to them, it should be mentioned at the top that both Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski started the game.
Brady started very shaky going 2-4 for 11 yards on his first drive, but as has been proven time and time again Tom bounced back.
After nearly throwing an interception, Brady returned to form and lead the team on a touchdown drive that would end his night.
He finished 6-9 for 67 yards and a touchdown. Not a great start, but Patriots nation shouldn’t worry. Once Brady found his rhythm, he made 40 look like the new 30.
As for Gronkowski, he didn’t have an impact as he wasn’t even targeted.
Now, onto the running backs.
The Patriots backfield looked unstoppable. Every back served a purpose and each one seemed more than willing to contribute in both the run and pass game.
Rex Burkhead got things started early by catching an angle route from Tom Brady in the first quarter that he took 22 yards to the house. Pair that with seven carries for 20 yards, and the former Bengal had himself a good night.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) August 20, 2017
Dion Lewis was next up and would end up leading the team in rushing with seven carries for 34 yards and a nine yard reception.
And the teams leading receiver?
Running back D.J. Foster who amassed four receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown.
Belo touchdown de DJ Foster! pic.twitter.com/fCv5ePgS34
— Patriotas (@nepatriotas) August 20, 2017
The point of all this is that if Saturday’s game was any indicator, any defense that faces the Patriots this season will have sleepless nights trying to figure out how to stop any of the five running backs that could see action.
The receivers had a quiet night, but that isn’t to say they aren’t still potentially the best corp in the league. Unfortunately, we were left with more questions than answers.
The two bright spots were that the great story of undrafted rookie Austin Carr continued as he led the receivers in yards with 31 on 3 receptions.
The other piece of exciting new is that Brandin Cooks recorded his first official catch with the Patriots, even though it was only for seven yards.
We didn’t learn a lot about the receivers, we will have to wait until week three when the starters see extended time, to see exactly how they will function when they get a groove going.
The last note I have offensively is that Jimmy Garopolo showed once again that he is the best back up in the league.
Apart from a poor decision that resulted in an interception, Garopolo looked great going 15-23 for 145 yards and a touchdown.
He showed that he has tremendous trade value or, if the Patriots keeps him, he will make a fine heir when the G.O.A.T. decides to hang up the cleats.
The defense looked much improved this week, but there is still a lot of room to grow.
Once again the defense was plagued by big plays, something that both Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia can’t be happy about.
In week one the Jaguars burned the Patriots defense on plays of 97,79 and 42 yards.
This week the Texans had plays that spanned 37,33 and 63 yards. Smaller yes, but still too big for a defense that, after adding several big names in the offseason, is expected to be near the top in the league.
The biggest improvement for the defense was in stopping the run.
Last week the Patriots gave up 207 yards rushing to the Jaguars. This week only 82.
Such a drastic change should bode well for the Patriots defense and is a sign of good things to come.
Their defensive situation should only be expected to improve moving forward especially once Don’t’a Hightower returns and the entire defense is healthy.
The defense showed improvement at all levels: front line, linebackers and secondary. They looked like a more cohesive unit in week two and should be expected to continue to get better.
There isn’t a lot to report on special teams, which is both good and bad.
Good because that means there were no big plays, bad because there were no big plays being generated.
Though, I guess given what happened in week one and last season, I will chalk this week up to a win for the Patriots.
The struggling Cyrus Jones was able to corral every punt that came his way without a fumble, which is a step in the right direction.
He even had a pretty solid return on one of the punts where he fielded it, reversed field and almost a broke a big play.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) August 20, 2017
As Bill Belichick says, “there’s always room to get better.”
But since there isn’t negative to report on special teams I’ll say it was a win for the Patriots unit and Jones, who needed the confidence boost.
Overall, I saw improvement.
The offense still looks like it is finding its rhythm, but has all the potential to be the best the NFL has ever seen.
The defense seems to be growing stronger and when at full health should be a top 10 maybe top 5 group.
And the special teams unit improved based solely on no turnovers.
Week three should provide us with a more clear answer on how the Patriots will look on all sides of the ball in the regular season, as all the starters will see extended playing time.
However, based on the first two weeks, the Patriots still seem like they have the depth and talent to make a run at a sixth Super Bowl title.
Check out all the stats from the game here:http://www.espn.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=400951795