Picked-up pieces from 1st quarter review

August, 21, 2012
8/21/12
9:51
AM ET
Passing along some observations after reviewing the television copy of the Patriots and Eagles Monday Night Football matchup:

1. On the Eagles' second offensive play of the game, quarterback Michael Vick aligned under center and took a direct snap from Jason Kelce. Upon the snap, Vick's line began to slide right as receiver DeSean Jackson completed what is known as "Ghost" motion, in which a receiver fakes a reverse. The flow to the defense's left side sucked Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones (who was lined up on the right side) down the line and in the direction of the retreating Jackson. Vick, meanwhile, faked the handoff and eventually broke the pocket for a reasonable gain on a scramble (5 yards). This one looks like a case where Jones lost his contain responsibility, and should have been the player in charge of maintaining the edge of the pocket and forcing Vick to stay inside. Though not a big gainer, it's a good teaching point for Jones and other Patriots defensive ends: no matter how far in one direction a player like Michael Vick has drifted, it's never too late to maintain your leverage. Though not the same caliber athlete of Vick, the Patriots will take on a mobile quarterback in Jake Locker in week one against Tennessee. He too can present a challenge with his feet.

2. Receiver and special teams utility man Julian Edelman was one of two Patriots to muff a punt return on Monday night (Brandon Bolden the other), although Edelman was able to gather himself with the football and squirm up the field for a short return (4 yards). In the case of Edelman, there could be some debate about whether he should have fielded the punt at all, as it landed in his arms with his feet touching about his own 7-yard line. While in some cases coaches will impress upon their returners not to field a punt that lands within the 10-yard line, Edelman had just one defender within a 10-yard window, and that player was accounted for by a Patriots teammate. He had an alley up the middle and to the right side with plenty of space surrounding each. This is a case where in retrospect the decision might look worse than it actually was, as Edelman nearly put the Eagles' offense back on the field in the Patriots' red zone. He just has to execute and make that catch cleanly.

3. The Patriots have long been a team that has relied on screens and finding ways to get their receivers the football in space, and it's also not uncommon for teams trying to ease a young quarterback into a game to run a number of screens. With quarterback Ryan Mallett as the starter, the Patriots worked the screen game in the opening frame, and one aspect that stood out was guard Nick McDonald's ability to get out in space and block downfield. McDonald has played all over the offensive line, and started Monday night as the left guard as Logan Mankins was held out. McDonald is light on his feet and has good agility and quickness. One area that he seems to continue to have issues with is anchoring in his base against power rushers. McDonald is lighter in the trunk than many interior linemen, making it more difficult to counter mountainous defensive linemen trying to run through him.

4. With just less than five minutes to play in the first quarter, the Eagles ran a play in which center Jason Kelce shotgun snapped the ball to running back LeSean McCoy, who attempted to sweep around the offense's right side. Patriots defensive lineman Ron Brace, who was aligned over right guard Danny Watkins (a 2011 first round pick), got off on a great first step, locked his arms out on Watkins, and rode him laterally down the line before eventually knocking him on his behind. That play was a microcosm of the unique skills and overwhelming strength Brace brings at his size (some 330 pounds), and was very sound technique. The Patriots relied on defensive linemen gaining control of their blockers and being able to engage them towards the action of the football more often in their 3-4 system, but there's still a place for it in the team's now four-man front based defense. Just two plays later, Brace collapsed the pocket against Watkins, and bear hugged Eagles quarterback Nick Foles to the ground. The officials ruled that Foles was able to flick the ball out of his hands just in time to prevent a sack. More plays like that from Brace could result in both a spot on the roster and extended playing time.

5. A personal foul penalty on the Eagles negated the turnover, but Patriots quarterback Ryan Mallett was guilty of throwing one would-be interception against the Eagles, when Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie stepped in front of a throw intended for Donte' Stallworth. Mallett dropped back and seemed to progress through his read quickly, eventually landing on Stallworth and forcing the throw towards the sideline. The good on this play by Mallett was his willingness to stand in the pocket and take a hit (something he showed throughout the night). The bad was locking in a wideout and not putting the football where only his receiver could make a play.

6. Mallett hooked up with veteran receiver Deion Branch for a 20-yard gain late in the quarter on a play that reminded us of some of the nuances of Branch's game that make his such an asset. Branch was being checked by Rodgers-Cromartie, and worked across the field from his outside alignment. Branch was able to generate separation at the top of route with a subtle hesitation move that caught Rodgers-Cromartie stuck in the mud for just long enough to find space. Branch's creativity and precision in his routes make him so dependable, and it showed up on Monday night, with a team-leading 51 yards receiving.
Field Yates has previous experience interning with the New England Patriots on both their coaching and scouting staffs. A graduate of Wesleyan University (CT), he is a regular contributor to ESPN Boston's Patriots coverage and ESPN Insider.

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