BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots practiced with the Philadelphia Eagles twice this week, and now the two teams will clash in a preseason tilt in Philly on Thursday night. In this new three-game preseason, Thursday’s game is the most important of the games that don’t count.
Most of the important work was put in on the practice field on Monday and Tuesday, with both Patriots quarterbacks having up and down days on Monday before the team focused on red zone work on Tuesday. Now, they’ll take all of that to the field on Thursday night in an important dress rehearsal for the regular season.
Here’s what we’ll be watching for when the Patriots and the Eagles kick things off Thursday night in Philadelphia.
Does Cam Look Better?
Newton got two series in the first preseason game, and other than hitting Jonnu Smith on a nice crossing route, he looked a lot like the Cam Newton of last season. His throws were nothing special, he held on to the ball forever, and he nearly fumbled one away when Chase Young blew up his blind side. Mechanically speaking, it was pretty uninspiring.
We’re grasping at straws here, but it was only two series — and the first two series of a preseason game at that. He was also going up against one of the better defensive units in the NFL. Those are some of the excuses to fall back on if you still have faith in Cam Newton.
He will get a bigger workload Thursday. With only three preseason games, this is the big one for the starters, who should play well into the second quarter and maybe the entire first half. Cam should get in plenty of reps with his new receiving corps — including former Eagle Nelson Agholor, who did not play last Thursday — though he likely won’t have any of those shiny new tight ends that Bill Belichick threw heaps of cash at this offseason, as both Hunter Henry and Smith are nursing injuries.
Whoever is out there with him, Cam has to be better. He needs to have a better command of the offense, his throws need to be crisper, and he needs to take care of the football. He may not have to convince Bill Belichick, but he has a lot of people on the outside clamoring for the young gun to take over at QB. It’ll take more than a solid preseason showing to silence those critics, but Thursday night would be a start.
More Steps Forward By Mac
Mac Jones was solid in his debut, showing his ability to check down and get rid of the ball quickly. He made quick decisions for small gains, and showed off some zip on his deep ball. Now we’ll see if he can take everything that he did against Washington, and be even better against Philadelphia.
How much Jones plays will also be a fascinating part of the preseason equation. If Newton struggles and Jones looks like a stud, it will make that quarterback decision all the more debatable.
The Rest Of The Offense
The Patriots are going to be a running team, and the run game did not disappoint against Washington. Patriots backs rushed for 179 yards, though some of that is inflated because of Rhamondre Stevenson’s 91-yard touchdown run in the final minute of the game. The rookie got a giant hole and took advantage of it, and then outran a bunch of players who likely won’t be in the NFL much longer. Still, the run was impressive. This week will feature a lot more Damien Harris and Sony Michel, and likely a few more targets for James White. J.J. Taylor, who hauled in five catches last week, should also get some more run and targets as he tries to make the roster.
The wide receiving corps was so-so against Washington, with Kristian Wilkerson leading the way with six receptions for 39 yards. He had a nice snag for a first down on Jones’ first completion, but then he let a beautiful deep bomb by the rookie fall off his fingertips in the end zone. He’s hunting to make the roster as the No. 4 receiver, and needs to haul in such passes if he wants to make the team. But he does have a leg up on N’Keal Harry, who was targeted just once last Thursday. Harry should get more of a look this week, but if he doesn’t, his future with the team will be in jeopardy.
We’d love to get a look at all the tight ends, but none of them appear to be healthy. Matt LaCosse joined Henry and Smith on the sidelines Monday after a bone-crushing hit in practice ended his day. To exacerbate the issue a little further, Troy Fumagalli was released on Tuesday, leaving New England with just Devin Asiasi and fullback Jakob Johnson on the tight end depth chart. It appears the Patriots will be ridiculously thin at the position Thursday night, which they should be used to after going a full season without any tight end production last year.
Progress From Pass Rush
Matt Judon was as-advertised last week in his brief appearance before taking a helmet to his left knee. (Luckily it was nothing serious and Judon returned shortly after.) But in his limited time, it was obvious that he is going to be a problem for opposing offenses this season, as Judon racked up a tackle and QB hit against WFT. As long as there are no bumps this week, he should be out there chasing Jalen Hurts for quite a while on Thursday.
As a unit, the Patriots defense had just four QB hits last week. That should increase as more starters play longer Thursday night, including the likes of Kyle Van Noy and Josh Uche. Uche showed flashes of being a solid QB seeker last season, and there are some big expectations that he’ll make a giant leap in Year 2 of his NFL career.
Everyone on the defense will get a great test Thursday night when they get to chase around Hurts for a half. It may be their last action ahead of Week 1’s opener against the Miami Dolphins.
Tune in to Thursday’s Patriots-Eagles preseason game on WBZ-TV and streaming on CBSBoston.com (Boston area only). Pregame coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Patriots GameDay, kickoff is set for shortly after 7:30 p.m., and stay tuned for full postgame coverage after the game on Patriots 5th Quarter!