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Six Key Takeaways from the New England Patriots’ First Preseason Game of 2023

Six Key Takeaways from the New England Patriots' First Preseason Game of 2023Six Key Takeaways from the New England Patriots' First Preseason Game of 2023

Six Key Takeaways from the New England Patriots’ First Preseason Game of 2023

Publish – 11 aug , 2023

The New England Patriots kicked off their 2023 preseason campaign on Thursday night as they faced off against the Houston Texans. Despite a 20-9 defeat, the game primarily featured backup players throughout its duration. The defense carried forward its strong performance from the previous season, making an impact with Jalen Mills’ interception of rookie C.J. Stroud on the opening drive – one of the two takeaways achieved in the first half.

During the game, Bailey Zappe took charge of the quarterback position, managing the entire first half and part of the second. The second-year quarterback had a significant amount of playing time. Regrettably, the offense struggled to gain significant yardage or put up points, a challenge exacerbated by the offensive line’s difficulties in providing protection and creating openings.

Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that the preseason prioritizes experience over wins, losses, or statistics. A multitude of young players had the opportunity to gain valuable playing time, and the impressive debuts of rookies Christian Gonzalez and Keion White offer reasons for optimism.

Below, we delve into other pivotal insights extracted from the initial game of this summer’s trio of preseason matchups.

 

Mills Feeling Picky, Rookies Getting Ball

“When it comes to reliable aspects of the Patriots’ defense, generating turnovers is undoubtedly at the forefront. Jalen Mills took the initiative, setting a positive tone by intercepting Houston’s opening drive pass. Positioned as a safety, a transition he’s made during the training camp after switching from cornerback, Mills strategically positioned himself as a robber, capitalizing on a poorly-thrown pass by rookie second-overall pick C.J. Stroud.

Unfortunately, reminiscent of the non-complementary plays that plagued much of 2022, the offense couldn’t convert the turnover into a touchdown. Instead, they advanced merely a yard in three attempts and settled for a 44-yard field goal, credited to Nick Folk.

Nonetheless, the defense showcased a robust start. Noteworthy moments included Daniel Ekuale’s sack, along with impressive pressures from Anfernee Jennings and newcomer rookie Keion White. Jennings also induced a holding penalty in the second quarter, while White disrupted a mishandled handoff, contributing to the ball’s recovery by Calvin Munson.

Taking on the cornerback roles were Christian Gonzalez and Jack Jones, with the rookie first-round pick, Gonzalez, gaining substantial experience. He forced a fumble that, regrettably, rolled out of bounds, yet managed to display his playmaking abilities in his NFL debut. Gonzalez also contributed to the kickoff team before exiting the game midway through the second quarter.

While Mills executed the eye-catching initial play, it was the top two selections from the April draft who sustained the momentum of creating turnovers. Gonzalez and White marked a promising entry into the NFL, showcasing a strong initial step.”

Six Key Takeaways from the New England Patriots' First Preseason Game of 2023
credit – USATSI

 

Thornton Elevates to Secure the Ball

Tyquan Thornton Shines in Early Offensive Moments, Securing a 27-Yard Reception from Bailey Zappe Along the Sideline

Amidst his return to the lineup following an injury in the second week of training camp, Tyquan Thornton stood out as an early beacon of offensive prowess. He demonstrated his rapport with Bailey Zappe, connecting for a 27-yard reception along the sideline. Thornton’s adept play saw him leap to grasp the ball before the safety could intervene.

Adding to his contributions, Thornton secured another catch for a modest four-yard gain later in the first half, concluding his performance for the night. In a game that presented limited offensive highlights, Thornton’s acrobatic catch undoubtedly provides a foundation to build upon.

 

Offense Shows Limited Activity

Bailey Zappe led the offense through the initial half, facing a makeshift offensive line that included two rookie players. However, the offense struggled to establish a significant presence both in the rushing and passing aspects. Merely 65 net yards were gained during the first half, with 27 of those attributed to a single pass to Thornton. Scoring only two first downs in the first half, the offensive efforts were met with challenges, reminiscent of lackluster performances witnessed last season.

Zappe encountered two sacks and persistent pressure throughout his first-half appearance. The regular season might witness one or two members of this starting line, considering the team’s prevailing concerns during training camp, which were once again evident in their inaugural preseason match. Conor McDermott, who had limited left tackle exposure during camp, held the position throughout the first half, briefly shifting to the right side in the second half.

Pop Douglas participated in a sole series, while the primary receivers in the opening two quarters were Kayshon Boutte, Tre Nixon, and Thornton. In the backfield, both Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris received early touches; however, their collective effort yielded a mere two yards across five carries throughout the initial four drives of the game.

 

Situational Defense Falls Brief

Despite an impressive start to the game with three punts forced and two turnovers secured, the Patriots’ defensive momentum waned as Houston executed a seven-play, 62-yard touchdown drive to close out the first half, granting the Texans a 7-3 lead at halftime. Veteran quarterback Davis Mills spearheaded this drive, flawlessly completing all five of his pass attempts. The Patriots’ secondary encountered challenges containing rookie receiver Tank Dell, who claimed four of the five receptions during the drive. Backup slot cornerback Rodney Randle found himself tasked with containing the Houston rookie, presenting a considerable challenge.

Regrettably, this conclusion marked a letdown at the end of an otherwise promising first half for the defense. Undoubtedly, it serves as a valuable situational lapse to analyze and learn from.

 

Zappe Goes Into Second Half

Zappe retook the field to open the second half, and the offense displayed signs of life, spurred by a 26-yard kickoff return from Isaiah Bolden. A well-executed catch-and-run sequence by Tre Nixon was followed by a standout run by Kevin Harris, who capitalized on open space to gain seven yards. However, the momentum fizzled thereafter.

Opting to go for it on a fourth-and-one from the Houston 44-yard line, the Patriots attempted a conversion, but Kevin Harris was thwarted, resulting in a one-yard loss and Houston regaining control.

Compounding matters, Kody Russey limped off the field, further amplifying the attrition experienced by the offensive line.

The decision to have Zappe continue into the second half was somewhat unexpected. Given the offense’s struggle to gain traction, his snaps remained restricted. He participated in merely 28 snaps across seven drives, including the initial possession of the second half. Zappe made way for Trace McSorley after one second-half possession, and later, Malik Cunningham stepped onto the field in the fourth quarter. Cunningham implemented read-option plays, akin to recent practices, injecting a spark during the mop-up phase. His contribution led to the team’s most impactful drive of the day, encompassing 14 plays and culminating in his own nine-yard touchdown run.

 

Six Key Takeaways from the New England Patriots' First Preseason Game of 2023
(Staff Photo/Nancy Lane/Boston Herald)

 

Six Key Takeaways from the New England Patriots’ First Preseason Game of 2023

The Season is in Full Swing

With the Houston game now concluded, the Patriots have officially set foot on their 2023 game journey. In the upcoming week, they are set to journey to Green Bay for significant joint practices with the Packers, followed by a direct trip to Tennessee after their Saturday night game against the Packers. The Titans await for another round of practice sessions.

The forthcoming four joint practices and two games will undoubtedly yield a wealth of insights. Reflecting on the current state of affairs, gleaned from 11 training camp sessions and a single preseason game, it’s evident that the offense requires substantial effort to find its rhythm and consistently advance the ball. While glimpses of progress have been observed over the past 10 days during practice, they’ve been less prominent during the game, particularly with the involvement of mostly backup players.

The upcoming challenges against the Packers and Titans will serve as rigorous examinations, providing a clearer picture of the offense’s capabilities. Simultaneously, the starting defense seems to be aligning with its characteristic disruptive nature, though formidable adversaries in the Packers and Titans will test their mettle in the forthcoming two weeks.

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