Picked-up pieces from reviewing the first quarter of the Patriots’ 30-7 preseason win over the Panthers:
1. The Patriots’ first sack of the game, by defensive end Rob Ninkovich, was more a result of the coverage. Outside linebacker Chandler Jones dropped about 10 yards into coverage and it seemed like that might have contributed to Cam Newton holding the ball longer. The Patriots had a four-man rush with Ninkovich, Tommy Kelly, Joe Vellano and Vince Wilfork (strong inside push on Chris Scott), dropping seven into coverage as the Panthers released four players into routes. With the extra time, Ninkovich was able to beat tight end Ed Dickson off the defensive left side.
2. On the second sack, by Chandler Jones, the Patriots brought their sub defense on to the field and rushed four (Jones, Wilfork, Will Smith, Ninkovich) while dropping seven against four Panthers’ pass-catchers. Jones decisively beat left tackle Byron Bell to the inside to record the sack. After the game, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Bell should have taken away the inside from Jones because there was help from pass-protecting running back DeAngelo Williams on the outside. This could have been an example of what Jones talked about when it comes to adjusting his rush based on what he sees instead of going in with a pre-determined plan.
3. On the third sack, by Jones, it was another decisive victory against Bell. Jones lined up in a two-point stance and ripped under Bell with a powerful move to the inside; doing it while also having Bell’s hands illegally in his face for a brief moment. Just a case of one player winning his one-on-one battle with authority.
4. Jones was on fire in the quarter, using a swim move over tight end Greg Olsen to drop running back Williams on a 2-yard gain. Explosive.
5. Linebacker Jamie Collins showed he can play downhill with force. His tackle on Williams' 2-yard run with 1:34 left in the quarter was bone-crunching.
6. With a shortage of personnel at tight end, the Patriots adjusted by going to more four-receiver groupings. We counted five snaps in which the four-receiver grouping was utilized in the opening quarter, with Kenbrell Thompkins, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell the top four. Tight end Steve Maneri only played two snaps in the first quarter, as the Patriots tapped the receiver position more.
7. Right guard Jordan Devey was knocked out of his stance by defensive tackle Star Lotulelei on the third play, forcing a Tom Brady incompletion. Devey then had his left foot slide on him and make contact with Brady’s foot on the first play of the second drive, which led Brady to fall down while attempting to hand off. That got his night off to a bit of a rocky start.
8. The Patriots used two different combinations along the offensive line over three drives in the opening quarter:
Drive 1: Solder-Mankins-Wendell-Devey-Cannon
Drive 2: Solder-Mankins-Connolly-Devey-Cannon
Drive 3: Solder-Mankins-Connolly-Devey-Cannon
As the combinations show, the Patriots continue to look at both centers as the competition continues to evolve. Not sure the team is any closer to having an answer at that spot, or right guard.
9. No. 2 quarterback Ryan Mallett made a decisive read on his 7-yard hookup with Julian Edelman to set up Stephen Gostkowski’s 47-yard field goal. The decision had to be made quickly because there were two free rushers coming off the defensive left side.
10. Nice work by snapper Danny Aiken to lead the coverage charge on the team’s first punt, limiting Philly Brown to a 1-yard return as safety/personal protector Nate Ebner helped clean it up. The punt team was an issue last week, but was much better Friday night, with Ebner also drawing a block in the back penalty. Looked like Matthew Slater got a raw deal on the penalty in which he was ruled to have run out of bounds.