Student assistant Mike Rodak takes a look at the television copy of Thursday night’s preseason game against the Falcons and offers some of his first-quarter observations:
1. The Falcons used multiple tight end formations for most of their opening drive. This put the pressure on ILBs Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes to read the routes by the tight ends and running back and stay disciplined within their zones. The quick start the Falcons got to the drive – completions to TEs Tony Gonzalez and Justin Peelle – was a result of Mayo being slow to react and being caught out of position.
2. In the middle of the opening drive, the Patriots defense altered its alignment for one play. Outside linebacker Derrick Burgess, who is known for playing on the left side, switched to the right OLB position. Meanwhile, normal nose tackle Vince Wilfork moved to end, while regular end Gerard Warren saw time at nose tackle. This is a common occurrence in practice and a way of cross-training players to play multiple positions in case of an emergency.
3. One popular area of discussion has been how the team will go about replacing Ty Warren at left defensive end. Gerard Warren has been tapped to start at the position. On the Falcons’ first drive, Warren displayed the strength needed for a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme, taking on two blockers and shedding RT Tyson Clabo to stop RB Michael Turner. On a later play, Warren was overwhelmed by the same two blockers and sealed off from another run to his side.
4. On the Falcons’ final third-down conversion attempt of their opening drive, the Patriots used their first sub defense of the night. Defensive lineman Myron Pryor, safety Brandon McGowan and cornerback Jonathan Wilhite entered the game, while Warren, Wilfork and Spikes came off. McGowan lined up in a traditional 3-4 inside linebacker position, in a role seen two preseasons ago with safety Tank Williams. The move appears to be aimed at putting more speed on the field; on the play, McGowan was in a zone but picked up a crossing pattern by Gonzalez.
5. One of the added benefits of lining up TE Aaron Hernandez in the slot is putting a balanced combination of speed and strength on the field for blocking on the second level. On the first offensive play of the game for the Patriots, a 13-yard Fred Taylor run that was called back on a holding penalty on right guard Stephen Neal, Hernandez landed a key block on CB Christopher Owens. Many other tight ends would have been too slow to block Owens, while some wide receivers would not have had the strength to make the block.
6. Patriots LG Dan Connolly put together a solid performance in the running game. On a third-and-7 situation late in the first quarter, Connolly pulled through the hole and led RB Kevin Faulk on a draw, making the lead block on MLB Curtis Lofton to spring the first down. Meanwhile, LT Matt Light had trouble with the speed of the Falcons’ linebackers, failing to beat Lofton to the spot on a subsequent Taylor run.
7. The Patriots took advantage of the speed-based, penetrating nature of the Falcons defense to pick up yards on their first drive. One play had the team allowing DT Jonathan Babineaux to shoot a gap into the backfield, while another featured a run by FB Sammy Morris after drawing the Falcons linebackers to Taylor, lined up at running back. In both cases, the Falcons were caught out of position.
8. Taylor’s 28-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter was aided by a solid lead block by TE Alge Crumpler, but the Patriots also caught the Falcons sleeping on the play. After breaking a tackle from safety Thomas DeCoud, Taylor was able to walk into the end zone because of two Falcons defense backs not staying disciplined in their run support and not playing to the whistle.