The Patriots lost to the Washington Redskins 23-6 on Thursday night at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. The game was of little star power as Patriots stars Tom Brady, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Rob Gronkowski, and Darrell Revis did not make it to the field.
After a much hyped week of joint practices with the Redskins, backup quarterback Ryan Mallett started the game. The fourth-year pro is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Whether Mallet’s somewhat surprising start was to showcase his talents for teams interested in trading for the quarterback or if the Patriots simply wanted to get a better look if Mallett would be worth resigning, the question still remains.
Another New England highlight in the Redskins’ shellacking was their continually porous run defense. The unit ranked 26th against the run last season and was continually gashed by Pro Bowler Alfred Morris and rookies Lache Seastrunk and Silas Redd. Granted, Wilfork was not in the lineup but there was still a reason for concern especially with last year’s hidden gem Chris Jones going down with an ankle injury.
Newcomers Brandon LaFell and Brandon Browner made their first appearance in a New England uniform.
LaFell was a consistent target for Mallett, catching two passes for 16 yards. While he provided a veteran presence on the field, he also displayed the inconsistent hands that has plagued him over his first four seasons in Carolina.
Browner continued to bring the nastiness that made him a Pro Bowler with Seattle. While fellow newcomer Revis was not on the field, it is presumed that Browner was out there to get as much work as he could before his suspension kicks in at the start of the regular season. He will miss the first four games.
Browner, also showcased the leagues intention to call more penalties on the defense via illegal contact and pass interference. He was flagged early due to his physical play. Expect more of that this season.
Here are some other points to note:
Garoppolo vs Mallet: Battle of the Backups
Mallett was the hype man entering the game and for good reason. He was a top talent entering the 2011 draft, but off-field concerns pushed him down into the third-round. Since then, talk of his rifle arm has continued but his production (read consistency) hasn’t been there in the regular season or preseason. He completed five of 12 passes for 55 yards against the Redskins.
Then there is the rookie Jimmy Garoppolo. The much hyped FCS quarterback, fell to the second-round of this year’s draft. There was much speculation as to his selection by the Patriots, most looked at Mallett being traded because of it, which has not happened…yet. In training camp Garoppolo has gotten off to rough start, being intercepted regularly and unable to make some throws. Then the lights came on Thursday night and Garoppolo shined completing 9 of 13 for 157 yards and a touchdown. This battle is far from over.
Head coach Bill Belichick knows what he is getting from his starters. It is the depth that has been a major concern in recent years. Belichick took the first preseason game to give some of the youngsters an opportunity to shine and some took him up on the challenge.
Backup linebackers Darius Fleming and Steve Beauharnais started and made their presence known. Fleming had six tackles in the match-up and Beauharnais tallied nine.
Fleming was selected in the fifth-round of the ’12 draft by the San Francisco 49ers, and in the next two seasons tore the same ACL. He was cut and the Patriots signed him. If healthy, Fleming could be a free agency steal. Beauharnais on the otherside is a prototypical Belichickian player. Drafted in the seventh-round from Rutgers, Beauharnais cut his teeth on special teams and is now being groomed for a bigger role on the defensive side.
Michael Buchanan was another standout. He played most of the team’s first preseason game and displayed the versatility that Belichick loves. Buchanan was delivering a pass rush from a linebacker position and with his hand in the dirt. He tallied seven tackles and a sack.
Undrafted rookie free agent Malcom Butler was impressive in the defensive secondary. The cornerback led the team in solo tackles with six and was routinely in place to make a play on the receiver he covered, nearly coming away with two interceptions.
Unfortunately for Brady no young players stood out on offense.
Over the past few seasons Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia have rolled out a 4-3 defensive front and playing quicker athletes due to the offensive game progressing more and more to the air.
However, on Thursday night the Patriots deployed a 3-4 defensive front. The same type of defense that they showcased on their way to winning three Super Bowls in four years. The Patriots showed some specific 4-3 packages as well. With the offensive game continually evolving, many teams are turning to hybrid defensive systems and the Patriots look like they could be in line to do the same.
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