Well, we’ve finally made it.
The Patriots are returning to the field for the first time since winning Super Bowl 51. There will be plenty of interesting things to pay attention to this week. Although they are playing the Jacksonville Jaguars, who aren’t exactly a contender this year, new players have been brought into the Patriots’ system, and tonight will be the first glimpse into how those players will be used throughout the season. Rookies will have their chance to shine against NFL talent and compete for a spot on one of the most stacked 53 man rosters in the league. Let’s see what we should be expecting in this week’s game.
1. Defense on Display
“Defense wins championships.” That’s the truth. And it appears as though the Patriots defense might be better than last year’s. It will be put to the test early on, with the fourth overall pick Leonard Fournette rushing against them. Blake Bortles might not be a star, but with receivers like Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, it will be important to shore up the secondary early on. Rookies like Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise, and Adam Butler will get to test their pass-rushing prowess, while DJ Killings and Kenny Moore will test their fortitude in the secondary. We will also see linebackers Harvey Langi and Brooks Ellis backing the front seven. I would expect the Patriots to hold the Jaguars to less than 4 yards per carry, while keeping the team under 300 passing yards and collecting 2 or 3 sacks. Allowing 13-16 points would make sense.
2. Third String Strength
We found out what Jimmy Garoppolo was in the 2016 regular season. We saw a glimpse of a young Jacoby Brissett in Weeks 3 and 4 last year as well. While it is uncommon for a backup “project” quarterback to impress three weeks into his career, the first year teaches rookies plenty. They are generally able to build on it in the second year. A third string quarterback isn’t going to be a gamechanger, but it can be fun to see them perform against young players from the other teams. Going against a Jaguars secondary that doesn’t have plenty of studs after their top pairing should allow Brissett to do something for the Patriots. Fans should expect about 150 yards and a touchdown from Brissett, and not much more.
3. Second Year Studs
Many of the Patriots’ starters will not be playing in tonight’s game, but there are some second year players that we should expect to play major minutes. Devin Lucien and new 2017 addition KJ Maye could be the top two receivers for the team, while Glenn Gronkowski will likely get some play as a fullback blocking for impressive sophomore DJ Foster. We can also expect Ted Karras to play a lot of minutes as either a guard or center. Vincent Valentine and Woodrow Hamilton are the top two defensive tackles ahead of the rookies. Valentine was impressive as a rookie, and Hamilton made some moves when he had a chance to play in the regular season. Jonathan Jones will be the starting nickel cornerback tonight, with Cyrus Jones being given a chance as well. Cyrus played was slightly below average as an actual cornerback last season, but as a returner he was abysmal. Giving him a chance to play more defense will be good, as well as allowing some leeway in the return game considering it’s preseason. Reasonably, Maye could have 50-75 yards, while Gronkowski provides good blocking for Foster, who could see 65-100 yards on the ground. Karras should be solid. Valentine and Hamilton will be a force in the run game, and the two Joneses can provide solid coverage in the passing game. Cyrus Jones should provide a few 10-15 yard punt returns, with a muffed punt being very likely.