Friday, August 15, 2014

Balanced Patriots roll over Eagles, but still much work to be done

Quarterback Tom Brady uncorks a deep ball in the first quarter of New England's 42-35 win over Philadelphia
If you came into the New England Patriots' Friday night preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles looking to be entertained, then mission accomplished - but if you came in looking for any clarification as to who's going to be where when the 53 man roster is announced in two weeks, then you came away disappointed.

Jonas Gray rumbled for 98 yards on 12 carries while Ryan Mallett bounced back nicely after the debacle against the Redskins last week with a solid second half showing as the Patriots outlasted the Philadelphia Eagles 42-35 on a perfect summer evening for football at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

New England quarterbacks combined to go 21 of 33 for just 226 yards, but also threw for four scores, rookie Jimmy Garoppolo with two of them in a little over a quarter of work - the only miscue a pick-six off Tom Brady on a miscommunication with freshly signed tight end Steve Maneri who zigged when he should have zagged...
Jimmy Garoppolo spelled Brady in the middle of the first quarter

...Philadelphia cornerback Carey Williams - of all people - taking the easy interception down the sideline for the opening score of the game, but that was only freebie the Eagles would get as New England scored touchdowns the next three times they had the ball and the starters on defense yielded no points to the Eagles in a quarter-and-a-half of work.

As expected, the Patriots featured their power running game, plowing for 250 yards on 46 carries for the game,closing out the game on Gray's brutish downhill running, gaining his game-high 98 yards on just 12 punishing carries as he made a case for himself as New England's clock killer in the four minute offense, a position vacated by LeGarrette Blount's defection to Pittsburgh.

New England's run defense, abysmal in the preseason opener, showed statistical improvement, partially because the starters played until midway through the second quarter, yielding a miserly 19 yards on six LeSean McCoy carries, with only four yards up the gut, which was a point of blame for the run woes last Thursday.
Stevan Ridley started at tailback and rushed for 45 yards in 9 carries

The second and third team defenses continued to struggle up the middle, however, giving up 70 yards on 15 carries as the defensive line couldn't keep the guards off of the linebackers, causing contact to occur four to five yards into the second level.  The only reasons the rushing total wasn't higher for the Eagles is that their receivers were finding big chunks of yardage underneath, and they were in a shootout with the potent Patriots' offense.

Philadelphia quarterbacks went an absurd combined 28 of 34 for 330 yards, with second-stringer Mark Sanchez doing most of Philadelphia's damage, going 11 of 12 for 117 yards and two of the Eagles' four scores.

Rookie Jordan Matthews paced all receivers with a game-high nine catches on as many targets, the second round pick out of Vanderbilt going for 104 yards and a score, while the Eagles' tight ends and their screen game had their way with the Patriots' reserves.

After Williams took Brady's errant pass to the house from 77 yards out, Brady came back with a surgical nine-play, 53 yard drive capped by a gorgeous back shoulder toss to Kenbrell Thompkins to tie the score at 7-7 - then Garoppolo came on and led the Patriots to two quick scores, hitting James Develin in the right flat and the H-back rumbled in from 15 yards out...
Brady and Thompkins after the first score

...the same distance a sizzling Garoppolo rocket traveled to find Brandon Lafell in the back of the end zone for a two touchdown lead.  The rookie showed once more that the offense wasn't too complicated for him and the spotlight not too bright.

The two score lead would evaporate quickly however, as Philadelphia starter Nick Foles victimized Patriots' safety Patrick Chung with tight end Zach Ertz, the second year load out of Notre Dame hauling in a six yard strike a play after having his helmet dislodged by a vicious Chung hit over the middle, holding on to the pass to set up the score.

Then on the next Eagles' series Sanchez would take advantage of Patriots' linebacker Chris White in coverage of wide receiver Arrelious Benn out of the backfield where he was lined up as a running back - Benn slashing into the flat and taking the pass in stride for a quick hitter and a 21-21 tie going into the locker room at halftime.

A Ryan Mallett six-yard scramble for a touchdown was matched by another Sanchez scoring toss and made the score 28-all before Roy Finch sliced for a 10 yard score and Brian Tyms went up high to snag a Mallett offering in the corner of the end zone to give the Patriots back their two score lead in the third quarter, then Gray closed out the Eagles with his powerful bursts into the heart of their front seven.

Four Philadelphia turnovers didn't help their cause but helped the Patriots' immensely as three of the four set up Patriots' touchdowns - and the number of penalties didn't help anyone, as 21 accepted penalties - mostly illegal contact and hands to the face infractions - netted nearly 170 yards and at a couple of points slowed the game to a crawl.

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