Friday, August 12, 2011

Ridley, Young QBs Shine In Patriots Win

Just some quick analysis of the best and worst Patriots players in the team's 47-12 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night. As you might expect, there was a lot more good than bad in the blowout win.

The Good

Running back Stevan Ridley impressed with 111 total yards (64 rushing, 47 receiving) and 3 touchdowns. He showed good balance and determination on two touchdown runs, and speed and good hands on his touchdown reception. However, the most important thing he did was blitz pickup. New running backs on pass-first teams often can't get playing time because they can't read the blitz. But Ridley picked up blitzers flawlessly twice in the game, which shows an aptitude beyond his two+ weeks with the team.

Quarterback Brian Hoyer started and played against the Jaguars first string defense. And even though the Patriots sat most of their offensive starters, Hoyer completed 15 of 21 passes for 171 yards and a 111.4 QB rating. He showed poise and a good pocket presence (zero sacks), and after the first two drives stalled, he led the Patriots on four consecutive scoring drives to finish the half.

Rookie quarterback Ryan Mallett might have been even more impressive than Hoyer. Mallett showcased a rocket arm and though some of his throws were high, he made good reads and hit several receivers in stride for long gains. His QB rating wasn't quite was Hoyer's was, but Mallet led the Patriots to four straight touchdown drives, before the kneel down to end the game.

Wide receiver Taylor Price was the surprise of the game, with 8 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. He has the speed to beat teams deep, but did most of his damage on quick slants and outs, one of which he turned up field for a 50 yard gain. He made tough catches over the middle and returned two punts. Price's 2010 rookie year didn't give much hint that he'd be the deep threat the Patriots needed; but this game made him the immediate front-runner for that role.

Offensive lineman Landon Cohen did a great job pulling around end on running plays. He got multiple blocks on three different plays. He did a credible job in pass protection, picking up stunts and clogging the middle when needed.

Linebacker Dane Fletcher was all over the place in the first half. He notched two tackles for a loss, one when he shot a gap, ran over a blocking back, and took down the runner before he got started. If he continues that level of play, he could work into the starting lineup next to Jerod Mayo.

Kicker Stephen Gostkowski only did field goals and extra points. Surprisingly, he was even more accurate than he'd been in the past, grooving 46- and 43-yard field goals right down the middle, with plenty of distance to spare. His leg strength will continue to be an unkkonwn until the Patriots have him kickoff again, but this was a very encouraging start to his comeback from injury.

The Bad

Tight end Aaron Hernandez fumbled twice (one lost) in six catches. To put that in perspective, the 2010 Patriots had 9 turnovers all season long. Suffice it to say it was not the best game of his career, and he got the death-stare from head coach Bill Belichick.

Linebacker Jermaine Cunningham didn't make the kind of progress many fans hoped he would during the off-season. He ran himself out of several running plays, got pushed around by tight ends, and looked semi-lost out there. The Patriots will play more 4-3 this year, which could relieve Cunningham of pass-rushing responsibility. That might be a good thing, because it's clear he is guessing run or pass, and when he guesses wrong the play can go for a long gain.

Cornerback Darius Butler was even more disappointing, because he let up catches to third- and fourth-string players and got pushed out of several plays by guys who won't even make the Jaguars this season. It's been sad to watch his play deteriorate through the years, from part-time starter to a guy apparently fighting to stay on the team. Butler simply never got better at the position, and it appears he will never be the starter the Patriots hoped he might become.


This was only the first pre-season game, so final judgments would be premature. But it appears the Patriots hit on a few offensive weapons in the 2011 draft, and that they might have their desperately needed home run threat in Price.
With just three more games to make an impression, expect Price, Ridley, and Fletcher to see more playing time. And it wouldn't surprise me to see Butler get cut (or traded or put on the DL) before the season started.
Keep the faith,
- Scott

PS.  0-0!

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