The Patriots second preseason game of 2018 will see New England welcome the Philadelphia Eagles into Foxboro in a Super Bowl “rematch”. The game will likely see more work for the Patriots starting offense, including the preseason debut of reigning MVP Tom Brady. In addition, the Patriots starting defense will be looking to have a better performance than they did last week against the Redskins.
Here are five things to look forward to when the Patriots welcome the Eagles on Thursday night:
1. Chemistry Between Brady and his Receivers
This is only preseason game number two, so the schemes that Patriots offense employs will still likely be relatively basic compared to what they will use during the season. However, even with basic plays, Brady’s chemistry with his receivers will be on display. Chris Hogan is the only receiver who Brady will be able to know and trust completely. While Brady’s experience with Edelman is unmatched, the star receiver’s return from an ACL injury may alter their connection on timing routes. Brady worked with Phillip Dorsett last season, but the former Colt’s expanded role will mean that Brady needs to trust him with different routes and in different situations. Brady will also have to develop relationships with new receivers such as Eric Decker, Cordarelle Patterson, Braxton Berrios, and Riley McCarron. Although Brady will not be playing too long, and it’s still early in the preseason, this will be a good indication of the progress that Brady and his receivers have made so far in camp. Overthrows, underthrows, and missed throws on crossing routes may all be indications of poor communication and chemistry.
2. Cornerback Battle Continues to Heat Up
The Patriots secondary was inconsistent last season, which is likely why Bill Belichick brought so many cornerbacks into camp this year. Over the first few weeks of this camp, rookies JC Jackson and Duke Dawson made the biggest impressions at the cornerback position, with sixth-round pick Keion Crossen making a number of plays as well. Veteran Jason McCourty had a decent spring and start to training camp, but did not play during the team’s first preseason game. However, his playing time increased dramatically during camp this week, and he will likely see the field against the Eagles. This will be one of the team’s tightest and most exciting position battles over the next month, as Crossen, Jackson, and McCourty compete for the Patriots third outside cornerback spot.
3. New Look Offensive Line?
After spending the first few weeks of camp as the second string left tackle, Patriots first-round pick Isaiah Wynn practiced at right tackle for much of the past week. With Marcus Cannon still out with an injury, LaAdrian Waddle was getting top reps at right tackle throughout the beginning of camp, including during last week’s preseason game. While Waddle did not seem to have any glaring mistakes, Wynn’s time at the position during practice may indicate some displeasure with Waddle from the Patriots coaching staff. If Wynn performs well against the Eagles, the team may look to him as a viable option at right tackle in Cannon’s absence.
4. Ja’Whaun Bentley May See Time With Pats First Team Defense
As I mentioned earlier this week, Ja’Whaun Bentley looked impressive during the Patriots first preseason game against the Redskins. He made a number of noteworthy tackles and looked better than one would imagine in coverage. He also had the role of signal caller in the Patriots second defense. Naturally, Belichick read my work because Bentley spent much more time working with the Patriots first team defense this week. His role will be important to watch in the upcoming game. If Bentley can take over the role as middle linebacker from Elandon Roberts or Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower could be freed up to have a more expanded role as an outside rusher.
5. Do Patriots Actually Have a Pass Rush?
While the Eagles had arguably the best offensive line in the NFL last season, the Patriots complete and utter lack of a pass rush in the Super Bowl was embarrassing and was one of the biggest reasons why New England lost. The first quarter of Thursday’s preseason game will help indicate whether the team has made any steps forward. Deatrich Wise, Adrian Clayborn, Derek Rivers, and Trey Flowers will be in the spotlight as they face the same Eagles offensive line that absolutely decimated them in February. If the Patriots defensive ends can get pressure on Nick Foles early, then it may actually be a good sign for the team moving forward. It will also be important to see if Dont’a Hightower’s return as an edge rusher makes a difference in the amount of pressure the Patriots can create.
The Patriots used a number of different returners in both the punt and kick return game last week against the Redskins. Riley McCarron and Braxton Berrios will likely be the main return men again. While they each had a decent return last week, neither seemed to separate themselves in their fight for a roster spot. Thursday will give the pair another chance at making a splash in the return game.
Until next time – B$