1. Mallet outplays Hoyer
Brian Hoyer is currently listed second under the quarterback position on the Patriots depth chart, but Coach Bill Belichick opted to give third-string quarterback Ryan Mallet a chance to start against a quality defense on Monday Night Football. He did not disappoint.
Mallet had a shaky start, throwing an interception early on that was taken away from the Eagles due to a roughing the passer penalty. He also overthrew a few receivers during his first two drives while trying to show off his arm strength [which, by the way, is incredible].
However, once he got acclimated and comfortable he turned those laser passes into completions and led the Patriots on a few scoring drives. He completed 10-of-20 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown during the time he played [which was roughly a half]. Those 10 incompletions also included three drops, so his numbers could have been better.
Hoyer, on the other hand, was 5-of-17 for 55 yards and a fumble. Not his best day. Hoyer may still emerge from tonight as the teams backup quarterback, but Mallet clearly won the night.
2. Offensive line still a major concern
Hopefully the line looks better once guard Logan Mankins and tackle Sebastian Vollmer are back on the field, because tonight it was pretty ugly. It was not quite as bad as it was in the first preseason game, but both quarterbacks were still under duress for much of the night and running back Shane Vereen was tackled in the backfield multiple times [in the first quarter]. The tackles, Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon in particular, struggled more than the guards and centers as most of the pressure was coming off of the edge.
It will not matter how many weapons this team has at receiver and tight end if the offensive line cannot give quarterback Tom Brady time to throw the ball. Coach Belichick still has some work to do across the offensive front over the next few weeks.
3. Defense shows up yet again
After the Patriots solid outing against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints last week, many people wondered if they could do it twice in a row. More questions arose when fans found out the players like Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork and Devin McCourty would not be playing tonight, and the Eagles would be playing their starters for nearly three quarters.
The defense did a good job overall, and until the special teams unit turned the ball over in the middle of the second quarter they kept this explosive offense out of the red-zone. Rookie linebacker Donta’ Hightower did a solid job in pass coverage and looked fast against the run. Middle linebacker Brandon Spikes made his presence felt on the very first drive with a hard hit on Eagles running back LeSean McCoy. Rookie defensive end Chandler Jones had an up-and-down night, while Jermaine Cunningham had a beautiful hit on Eagles quarterback Michael Vick [which unfortunately injured Vick’s ribs].
The secondary played well too. Cornerback Sterling Moore had a tough time with Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson at times, but other than that no one was decisively beaten on any route. It was not a perfect performance by any stretch, but it was another step in the right direction for this defense.
4. Shane Vereen makes the most of his opportunity
He only had 20 rushing yards on 10 attempts, but running back Shane Vereen did a nice job making the most of the chance he was given. He was hit in the backfield, nearly right after he was handed the ball, on multiple occasions, and he made something-out-of-nothing every time he made contact with a defender. He also had a nice rush for a two-point conversion at the beginning of the second quarter.
5. Deion Branch outplays Dont’e Stallworth
A big storyline entering this game was who would start at wide receiver. With wide receivers Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney, and Wes Welker sitting this game out it looked like Deion Branch and Dont’e Stallworth would start at the position and battle it out for a roster spot. However, in a somewhat surprising move, Belichick opted to start Branch and receiver Julian Edelman [possibly because Edelman fit the offensive game plan better as a pure-slot receiver].
This tells me that Branch, as of right now, is beating out Stallworth for a roster spot. He showed it too, catching 3 passes for 51 yards while Stallworth had only 1 catch for 20 (and not to mention many more targets too). After tonight, if I had to pick one of those two players to make the final cut it, would be Branch.
6. Patrick Chung injures shoulder, severity unknown
Starting safety Patrick Chung, who has had a history of injuries, was injured during the first quarter of play. The severity of the injury is unknown, although he was listed as “questionable” to come back into the game after the injury. He did not return. This will be a storyline to monitor because the team is already relatively thin at the position and he is clearly the best defensive back the team has on the roster.