After rewatching the second half of the Patriots' preseason win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday night, here are some picked-up notes and observations:
1. On just the second play of the second half, the Bucs tested the Patriots' secondary deep with a throw down the field from strong-armed quarterback Mike Glennon. Rookie cornerback Justin Green had the coverage of David Douglas, with safety Tavon Wilson over the top in deep coverage. The throw was put in a decent spot, and the coverage was fine, too. What the most important aspect from this view was that Wilson was in the vicinity of the play, tracking the throw and getting to his spot. That's an area he struggled in last season. If he wants to contribute defensively with the Patriots, he'll need to be accountable to patrol the deep part of the field.
2. Facing a second-and-6 on their opening drive, the Bucs handed the ball off to Peyton Hillis for an off-tackle run to the left side of his line. The Patriots were in a 3-4 alignment with Marcus Forston at the nose tackle spot, head-up on the center. At the snap, Forston was jarred back and failed to anchor in his base, got washed back and then laterally down the line. Forston has showed up as an interior rusher during one-on-one drills (and he had a nice tackle for loss last night, too), but in order to cement his status as the third defensive tackle, he needs to consistently hold up in the running game. That means being able to anchor at the line of scrimmage and give his linebackers room to run and hit behind him.
3. The defensive play of the evening went to rookie cornerback Logan Ryan, who undercut a quick out, intercepted Glennon and took it back for a score. The defensive play call appeared to be Cover 5 (man coverage with two deep safeties), and Ryan had head-up leverage on his receiver. He worked to jam his receiver at the top of his route, rotating his eyes back to the quarterback to read his progression. Ryan quickly diagnosed the underneath route and throw, picking the ball off and sprinting down the sideline 53 yards. This came just a week after he dropped an easy interception against the Eagles. He led all defensive players with 66 snaps.
4. Tim Tebow had just one completion on Friday night in a performance that he'll look to improve upon in future preseason action. He tried to hook up with Zach Sudfeld on a seam-stretching throw with 6:14 left in the third quarter, a common theme from the Patriots offense thus far in camp. One aspect to this play is that the quarterbacks have been able to throw to an area as much as they throw to a specific target because Sudfeld has a big catch radius and good length to reach above or around defenders (as he did on his second-quarter score). Tebow put the ball in the vicinity of Sudfeld, but the linebacker chasing him in coverage got his hands up on the throw, which was too short. He needs to put it in a spot where Sudfeld can use his frame to make a play on the ball.
5. Seventh-round linebacker Steve Beauharnais hasn't necessarily flashed in an overly positive or negative way during camp, but he showed some glass-eating toughness as a run-stuffer on Friday night. For example, with 5:00 to go in the third corner, the Bucs looked to run a lead isolation play with a tight end serving as a blocker from the backfield. Beauharnais ran downhill to meet contact with contact, squaring up the tight end and jarring him backward. That's the kind of stacking the Patriots want from their 'backers in the running game, as it frees up fellow defenders to seek the ball and make tackles.
6. There's been a lot of talk about whether the Patriots will be a 3-4- or 4-3-based team this season, but the truth probably lies somewhere in between. Starter Rob Ninkovich is the pivot player, as he will be used from either a stand-up or hand-in-the-dirt alignment (Belichick has previously called Ninkovich an end-of-the-line player). What the variety of fronts means is that players who are used to working as edge rushers, such as Chandler Jones and Jake Bequette, are going to have to play in a reduced front on certain calls (a 5-technique on the tackle's outside shoulder). Bequette took a few snaps in reduced fronts on Friday night, and he'll have to prove he has the strength and base to hold up at the point of attack. He was mostly an edge rusher in college at Arkansas.
7. During his Saturday conference call with reporters, head coach Bill Belichick backed kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who has missed three kicks already this preseason. Part of his answer included an allusion to the fact that field goal makes or misses are a team operation (including the snapper, holder and protection). Not to absolve Tebow of his fourth-quarter interception, but, in a way, the play relates to a missed field goal. A shotgun snap from Matt Stankiewitch nearly sailed over Tebow's head, disrupting the rhythm of the play. Again, Tebow's throw was not nearly good enough, but Stankiewitch did his quarterback no favor, either.
8. We touched on this during our postgame takeaways, but it became even clearer after a second viewing: Zoltan Mesko was substantially better in the punting competition last night, landing one punt on the Bucs' 9-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Ryan Allen has been good -- at times very good -- in practice, but he's had two pedestrian game showings. Though Mesko carries a big salary for this season ($1.323 million), he's giving the Patriots no reason to think he isn't worth it.
9. A general thought that applies to both sides of the ball: The Patriots have solid starters in place, but the depth is an area that might need to be addressed. On the offensive line, it appears that the team feels good about seven players (the starters, plus Marcus Cannon and Will Svitek), but we feel like there's a drop-off after that point. Defensively, the third tackle spot appears to be wide open.
10. We said this last week, and we'll reiterate it today: would love to see more of running back Brandon Bolden. He was on the field during the opening drive of Friday's game and got some carries later in the game as well. He's typically productive with each touch he receives, showing good bounce to get to the edge, speed and vision. In our estimation, he's just behind Stevan Ridley as the team's most natural runner. Perhaps we'll see more of Bolden as the preseason continues.