The Patriots’ 23-21 Preseason Loss To The Giants Provides Season-Altering Lessons

August 13, 2022

Football is officially back, and the Patriots’ preseason is officially underway. I was lucky enough to attend the game. I took notes and would like to share them.

While the game’s outcome was a Patriots loss, given that it’s a preseason opener, the more significant takeaway is the play of individuals who will become integral parts of the team. While the Patriots’ starters took the game off, this gave an opportunity to assess positional and roster battles and get a complete view of the team.

Here, I proceed rapid-fire through the players that made or worsened their case in our important position groups.

Patriots Wide Receivers

Despite struggling quarterback play, the group looked well-rounded and made some reliable and impressive catches.

Tyquan Thornton

Despite only two catches for nine yards, Thornton was impressive. He showed his vertical speed and ability to get off the line faster than almost anyone in the league. He won his matchup with the cornerback multiple times and had to be flagged to be stopped. He showed his ability to effectively run deep and shorter routes and got in the endzone against a starting defense. He will likely play an integral role on the team this year and will be a massive help in the deep passing game.

The only somewhat suspect play was his offensive pass interference, where he pushed off where it wasn’t necessary and then seemed lost as to the ball’s location. He will have to continue working on that in-game awareness at an NFL speed, but this was an excellent start.

Tre Nixon

Tre has been talked about as one of the hidden gems of the team in training camp. His speed, elusiveness, and catching ability have been turning heads, and it definitely did that last night. Of particular note was a 36-yard back-shoulder catch on an underthrown Bailey Zappe ball that set up the Patriots with a first-and-goal. Overall, the four-catch, 81-yard showing was a positive start to his claim for a roster spot. In addition, he had some impressive returns, as this is an unfilled spot for the Patriots. However, his inexperience and flaws also did show, with a couple of drops, and these four catches were on eight targets.

Kristian Wilkerson

Ol’ Reliable. Who thought we’d be using that nickname for him? Last year in meaningful regular season experience for the Patriots, he showed some great moments and had impressive TD catches. Still, he also had drops and a relatively low catch percentage. Last night, he showed dependability and caught eight balls for 99 yards, with no notable drops.

More importantly, he made catches in big moments, creating first downs off errant passes, and was someone who helped Bailey Zappe stabilize down the stretch. As a result, he’s staked his claim on a Patriots roster spot, likely for some playing time.

Lil’Jordan Humphrey

An under-the-radar signing is now on the radar. The knock on Lil’Jordan was always that raw speed, the 4.75 second 40-yard time. However, he showed game speed that far exceeded that, as well as an ability to change in direction. His numbers last year were hampered by his quarterback situation, but his six-catch, 62-yard outing with a touchdown has put him on the Patriots’ map.

He ran impressive routes, caught passes in traffic, and showed that he could get in the end zone, and his size and toughness stood out. This is certainly something that could be useful for the Patriots, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we find him on the field in 2022.

Patriots Cornerbacks

The unit was a bit of a mixed bag but showed some bright spots in a group that didn’t have Jonathan Jones or Jalen Mills. However, the group will need to improve, as the Patriots leaked a fair number of open passes.

Malcolm Butler

It’s a breath of nostalgic air seeing Butler in a Patriots uniform again. He had a great start to the season, breaking up a pass and being challenging to get past in short-yardage situations. His awareness and ability to read a route served him exceptionally well. We know what we’re not getting in Butler. He’s older and was never the fastest player. However, in red zone situations, the Patriots got precisely what they got in 2014, a player against whom no pass is safe. The Patriots can use him in that way, in red zone and short yardage situations, and get immense value.

Joejuan Williams and Shaun Wade

Neither cornerback looked impressive in a game where they were fighting for roster spots. Instead, they allowed significant yardage against second and third offensive units and leaked openings that made for easy completions. In a deep cornerback group like this, this game likely hurt their chances to make the roster entirely, especially with Myles Bryant’s solid returning giving him a chance to keep a spot.

Jack Jones

Ideally, Jack should have been put earlier so that the Patriots could have gotten a more extended look at him, but when he was in, he was impressive. Immediately, his quickness and his ball-hawking nature were apparent. He would immediately be able to track the progression of the play and made some excellent tackles and an impressive pass deflection. He also just missed a pick-six by an inch. Of course, his reps were against a third-string offense, so it’s hard to read whether he’s starter ready, but he certainly has the skills to get there.

Patriots Linebackers

This is a position group that the end of the 2021 season somewhat exposed for the Patriots. However, several players returning from injury and some acquisitions allow for a fresh start.

Cam McGrone

“Cam McGrone is coming back this season. The Patriots’ LBs will be fine”. Fair or not, that’s the pressure put on this young man drafted in 2021. The reason why? Big hitter, a quick, agile, and aware guy who can change the course of a play. Indeed, with seven tackles against the Giants, he proved these abilities quite well. However, he most notably showed his ability to read a play and quickly get to the ball carrier.

He shows solid sideline-to-sideline speed and enough short-area quickness to get close to two separate tipped balls.

The flipside with McGrone was what he did once he got to the player. He certainly can hit big, but he also missed a couple of tackles (one of which was taken back due to a penalty) and allowed a dead play to extend. Again, clean tackling will be necessary not to repeat last year’s issue of struggling against the run, so this is crucial.

Mack Wilson

Wilson had a great debut in his first game in a Patriots uniform. He displayed some of the Saban-era defensive strengths we’ve seen in Barmore and Hightower, playing with a lot of physicality and discipline. Most importantly, he could get consistent tackles and stop several plays within two to four yards. Furthermore, he could get in the backfield, which happened only a few times throughout the game. While he didn’t seem very effective against the pass, he is someone who could be helpful as a run-stopping linebacker.

Rhonnie Perkins

He’s the other half of what was supposed to be a lethal rookie duo of second-round picks with Barmore but was sidelined by injury last year. Nevertheless, he possessed good athleticism, was one of the cornerstones of the Oklahoma defense in college, and kept an otherwise mediocre defense in games. In addition, he had a great return to football against the giants, showing a solid ability to get to the ball and the ball carrier quickly. He also deflected a pass and, like in college, showed an ability to get involved against both the run and pass.

The Bottom Line

There were the key performers in the most crucial position groups. There were more promising aspects, including Josh Uche’s first-quarter sack against the Giants’ starting offensive line. Furthermore, strong punting from Jake Bailey and his backup Jake Julien showed that the punting game is in a good position. Bailey’s release looked quicker, which is essential to help avoid blocked punts. Cole Strange looked solid in limited action but will need to be assessed further. Myles Bryant and Tre Nixon made their cases to return kicks and punts.

Overall, this was a mixed but ultimately positive game for New England. They looked at several important positions and leaving out the starters allowed them to assess their depth fully.

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