The Patriots started their season in frustrating fashion with a 7-20 loss to the Dolphins, one that certainly causes worry, but also provides some valuable lessons for the team.
While it was overall a poor showing, there were certainly positives and negatives, and here, we look at three players who are trending up, and three who are trending down for the Patriots.
Up: WR Jakobi Meyers
While the Patriots offense as a whole sputtered for most of the game, Jakobi was an exception. He led the team in both receptions and yards, with four receptions for 55 yards. He continued right where he left off last year, and was running impressive routes, showing his sure hands and not dropping any balls. His sure hands and reliability make him an important target for Mac Jones that he and the Patriots can depend on in tough situations.
Jakobi also showed a flask of potential ability in the deep passing game with an impressive 27-yard leaping catch in the second quarter, while continuing to be reliable in the short to medium range routes. He even got a first round for the Patriots on an end-around running play. In a small range of targets, he showed considerable agility, versatility, and dependability that can be very useful for New England moving forward.
Up: S Kyle Dugger
Dugger’s athleticism has been apparent from the day he walked into Foxborough. However, he has clearly made some big improvements to his level of awareness and his tackling ability. Not only was he effective downfield in the passing game, but he was also able to read shorter plays and get into the backfield. The Patriots have a group of safeties with varied skill sets, and clearly Dugger, so far, is showing himself to be the versatile one in the group who can play a variety of roles.
Overall, he had six tackles, two of which were for loss, and he was effective both in defense and special teams situations. He was always able to get into the general area where the play was taking place and seemed to be able to sense the play’s progression. Furthermore, his open-field tackling form is impressive and saved some important yards. This is certainly something to build on for the young safety.
Up: LB Matthew Judon
Judon looked much more like the player he was in the first ten or so games of last season, which led him to a Pro Bowl last year. He showed great anticipation of the play, an excellent ability to rush the passer and shed his blocks, and just an imposing presence and poise that added a dimension to the Patriots defense. Overall, it was a good performance from the defense and he was a major reason why.
Judon had five tackles in the game, including a sack, and got four hits on Tua Tagovailoa during the game. With the Patriots coming up against a number of excellent quarterbacks in the coming weeks, having a potent pass rush will be extremely important, and Judon will be an integral part of that.
Down: Offensive Line
The offensive line has been a weak spot for the Patriots since the departure of Dante Scarnecchia, but this offseason, after losing Shaq Mason, and with a new set of coordinators, they have looked even worse. Unfortunately, this carried over to the opener. Mac Jones often had very little time to work with, and running backs didn’t often have holes to run through. Skill positions are certainly important, but at the end of the day, football is still played in the trenches, and Mac and the offense will only be as good as that line.
On a player-by-player level, Trent Brown was the most solid player on the line but even he had a holding penalty. Cole Strange was a mixed bag, showing his talent and athleticism with some impressive blocks, including an instrumental one on a big Damien Harris run, but also his inexperience with some breakdowns. Wynn and Herron had a number of issues, as they have the entire offseason. David Andrews was otherwise solid, but had a chop block that went on to cost the Patriots of possession. Overall, whether it was penalties or missed blocks, too much went wrong on that side.
Down: Offensive Playcalling
While the offense struggled a lot as a whole, it was hard to isolate a player as the reason why. The prevailing questions that were asked by Patriots fans were “Why did the Patriots call this?” or “THIS play at THIS time?”. These sorts of issues lie in playcalling. Like a bad offensive line, poor playcalling can prevent the best of the skill positions from being brought out.
The split playcalling situation between a guy in Joe Judge who is an adept quarterbacks coach but had struggled as a Giants head coach, and Matt Patricia, who is switching sides of the ball, is diametrically opposed to the stable offensive coordinating situation they had last year with McDaniels. Multiple times, the Patriots passed on an obvious running down, or vice versa, and it just seemed like there were a number of bad decisions being made. Long passes on third and fourth-and-short situations were very confusing, as was the hesitancy to go after Miami’s weaker corners and instead continue to target Xavien Howard.
The split decision making alone gives confusing signals to the second-year quarterback and really makes it hard to construct a cohesive game plan and a more rigid structure, and improvement/adaptive adjustments to the opening games will be needed to get more from the offense.
Down: CB Myles Bryant
Myles was someone I had on the fringe of the roster, just barely making it, but I was surprised at the amount of playing time he got. There is no question that he’s an athletic player, and someone with potential, but he hasn’t been able to anticipate the better receivers in the game, and this cost him big time against the Dolphins.
He blew a few coverages and caught himself on the wrong end of a number of first-down plays and dropped a fairly easy interception that could have altered the course of the game. Furthermore, he was not too effective from the returning end, and with the success that Marcus Jones had in college (nine return touchdowns), it does seem that there is a better option on that end.
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