BOSTON (CBS) — Football returns to Gillette Stadium tonight for the first time since the Patriots trounced the Indianapolis Colts 43-22 in the AFC Divisional Round last January.
The competition and product on the field won’t compare to that performance, but we’re slowly getting back to real, actual football as the Patriots host the Philadelphia Eagles in their second preseason game of the season.
The Patriots kicked things off with a 23-6 loss to the Redskins in Washington, a game that saw very few starters step on the field. That may change tonight though.
Here’s what to watch for in preseason game No. 2 for the Patriots:
If you tuned in last Thursday, you pretty much saw a “Muppet Babies” version of the New England Patriots, as a bunch of rookies and backups took the field and the starters enjoyed their time on the bench.
Things should be different tonight (maybe more of a “The Muppet Show” version of the Pats) as some star players will make their preseason debuts, beginning with No. 12 under center. It may be for a quarter, it may be a series, but Tom Brady will at least make a couple of passes. Hopefully they are in the direction of Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, who are also waiting to make their preseason debut this season. Newcomer Brandon LaFell saw action last week, and has been praised by Brady during camp, so maybe we’ll catch an early glimpse of what that connection could look on Sundays in the fall.
On defense, Darrelle Revis warmed up in Washington last Thursday and got us all excited, but then watched the game from the sidelines. Patriots fans could get their first glimpse of what Revis Island looks like in Foxboro, and a sneak peek of what he’ll look like next to Brandon Browner (we have to wait until Week 5 of the regular season to get the real look).
None of the Patriots starting linebackers, Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, saw action last week. Mayo missed all three practice sessions with the Eagles, so he won’t be suiting up, but expect the other two to get their first taste of football, and likely have their hands full with LeSean McCoy out of the Philly backfield.
QB After Brady
All three of New England’s quarterbacks are expected to play tonight. After Brady has his turn the focus will turn to the backups, mainly who is the first QB off the bench after Brady: Ryan Mallett or Jimmy Garoppolo?
Mallett got the start last week in Washington and went a disheveled 5-for-12 and appeared to hurt himself on one of the most awkward slides to the turf you’ll see. He said Thursday he’s healthy and “good-to-go,” but it may not be health that drops him on the depth chart, but rather his inability to run the offense.
Things turned around in the second half when Garoppolo stepped in, and the Pats’ offense actually moved down the field. A lot of that could have been the fact that the defense on the field was made up of mostly future practice squad guys and free agents, but the rookie made some impressive deep passes and was able to manufacture a few solid drives.
So who gets takes the field when Brady calls it a night? Whoever it may be might give a look as to how the depth chart looks now. But all that really matters is how both Mallett and Garoppolo do when they take the field. That will mean much more than who gets on the field first.
First Team D vs. Explosive Offense
Chip Kelly brings his high-flying offense to Gillette, and it’s a perfect summer test for the new Patriots defense.
Revis and Browner won’t have to deal with the 1-2 punch of Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, with Maclin likely out with a bad hamstring. That might be good news, because all the reports out of camp this week said Maclin was constantly beating Revis (who may or may not have been Randy Moss-ing it in practice).
But they’ll be matching wits with an excellent passer in Foles, who also has one of the best and most dynamic running backs on his side. McCoy will test the Patriots in the run and passing games, while Foles will be looking to bounce back from a 6-for-9, two interception showing against the Chicago Bears last week.
Not to mention, after McCoy the Eagles can trot out Darren Sproles — a mini version of McCoy.
Can Tyms, Butler Repeat Performances?
One of the fun parts of the preseason is watching some of the younger players fight and battle for a roster spot, and make a name for themselves in the process.
Brian Tyms and Malcolm Butler both did just that last week in Washington. Tyms caught five passes for 119 yards and a touchdown, and could have been credited with a second score for a lovely juggling catch that was ruled an incomplete pass (it wasn’t challenged, being the preseason and all). He showed a great connection with Garoppolo, and while it will be tough to crack the roster with a deep receiving corps in place, he may find his way onto the practice squad or another team.
Butler was impressive against the Redskins, finishing with seven tackles and two pass deflections, and has been turning heads in practice with a few picks of Brady. With Browner out the first four weeks, Butler could secure a spot on the team if he keeps it up in the secondary.
BONUS: Mark ‘Buttfumble’ Sanchez
Sanchez is now backing up Foles, and will probably find his way onto the field. He probably won’t find his way into his own offensive line again, but you never know.
Tune in to Friday’s Patriots-Eagles preseason game on 98.5 The Sports Hub and WBZ-TV — the flagship stations of the New England Patriots. Pregame coverage begins on 98.5FM with Patriots Preview at 4:30pm, and on WBZ-TV at 7pm with a special edition of Patriots All Access. Stay tuned after the game for postgame shows on each station!
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