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Tyquan Thornton heats up and and 21 other takeaways from the Patriots’ preseason opener – Boston Herald



If you watched the Patriots’ preseason opener Thursday night, you noticed a trend.

All the familiar faces, from Bill Belichick to Mac Jones and Devin McCourty, were on the sideline.

Belichick opted to sit most of his starters and a few key reserves against the Giants, partly to protect them from the unnecessary injury risk of the preseason. Studying his personnel decisions — while also weighing players’ respective contract situations — 32 Patriots should currently be considered roster locks. Including players who saw action and are virtually guaranteed to make the final 53, from rookies Cole Strange and Tyquan Thornton to kicker Nick Folk, that number rises north of 40 locks.

That leaves roughly 10 roster spots up for grabs, jobs that will be determined by how players perform in games like Thursday’s and the joint practices Belichick has scheduled over the next two weeks.

Think the preseason doesn’t matter? Think again.

Here are the Herald’s complete film observations from the Patriots’ preseason opener:

Offense

  • Talk about vanilla. The Patriots hardly substituted, trotting out three receivers, one running back and one tight end virtually the entire game. They called zero play-action passes, and only a few run concepts. Belichick and Co. went the extra mile to shield their hand Thursday, even by preseason standards.
  • The only peek they provided of the new offense came on the first snap of the fourth quarter, when quarterbacks coach Joe Judge called a run-pass option (RPO) that paired a bubble screen with a Power run. Under former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the Pats largely eschewed RPOs.
  • Part of the vanilla play-calling was no doubt influenced by the Giants defense. The Giants blitzed rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe on half (!) his dropbacks. Zappe handled himself well under pressure, going 12 of 16. He threw a live ball, particularly on far-hash throws that needed extra zip.

How the Patriots expertly hid their new offense in Thursday’s preseason opener

  • It’s unclear yet whether Zappe’s aggressive approach, including firing 30-yard back-shoulder throws on second-and-5, was a reaction to the Giants’ pressure or his preferred playing style.
  • New York’s high-pressure defense also forced the Patriots receivers to constantly combat man coverage, a weakness last year. Ranking the receivers by their success against man-to-man Thursday, the list goes Kristian Wilkerson, Tyquan Thornton, Tre Nixon and Lil’Jordan Humphrey.
  • Thornton is sneaky strong. He successfully fought off Giants defensive backs downfield and was twice used as a primary blocker on two run plays. Thornton held his own, save for missing a crashing safety that resulted in a run stuff.
  • Thornton is also obviously, remarkably sudden. His combination of acceleration and long speed is unique to this roster, something the Pats must maximize if he cracks the top four of their depth chart. He’s a big play waiting to happen
  • All of Humphrey’s six catches were in the second half, context that puts a small damper on his overall production. Still, the Patriots’ depth at wideout is the best it’s been in years, meaning the competition — even without top-shelf talent — should be fierce through the end of camp.
  • On the ground, the Patriots struggled with their projected base outside zone scheme. They called seven outside zone plays, which averaged fewer yards per carry than man-blocked runs, their more common calls under Josh McDaniels.
  • Most of those problems with the outside zone are fixable: properly identifying who’s responsible for frontside linebackers and sealing off backside defenders trying to chase the play down. Once the Patriots begin calling bootleg play-action fakes off the outside zone, that should keep backside defenders honest instead of crashing the backfield.
  • Because of the blocking, rookie running backs Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris had quiet debuts. Harris had one breakdown in blitz pickup, while Strong was perfect in a tiny sample.

Bill Belichick explains why Matt Patricia, Joe Judge both called plays in Patriots’ preseason opener

  • Solid showing for first-round rookie left guard Cole Strange, who lasted only two series. His run-blocking outshone his work in pass protection, a continuation of training camp.
  • Rough night for offensive tackles Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste and Yasir Durant, injuries aside.
  • Broken tackles: Wilkerson 3, J.J. Taylor
  • Sacks allowed: Team
  • QB hits allowed: Team 2, Bill Murray, Kevin Harris
  • Hurries allowed: Team 2, Yasir Durant, Kody Russey
  • Run stuffs allowed: Durant 2, Yodny Cajuste, Tyquan Thornton, Team
  • Holding penalties: Cajuste
  • Drops: Tre Nixon, K. Harris

Defense



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