Saturday, September 14, 2013
Leftover thoughts from Week 2
By Field Yates
After spending Friday in Bristol, Conn., at ESPN headquarters for duties on "NFL Insiders," I wanted to pass along just a few leftover thoughts from the Patriots' Week 2 win over the Jets on Thursday night.
1. Cannon's new role. For the second straight week, we've seen the Patriots use starting left tackle Nate Solder as an extra tight end with the team thin at the position. As many have mentioned, Solder began his college career at Colorado as a tight end, catching three passes for 50 yards in one season at the position (he shifted to tackle during his redshirt sophomore year). Using Solder at tight end has meant bringing Marcus Cannon in at left tackle, a role we haven't seen from him during significant game action previously. Cannon brings very good value as a four-position lineman who thus far has been reliable as a blindside protector (he had 18 snaps on Thursday night). Something we'll be keeping an eye on is whether the team turns to Will Svitek as the fill-in left tackle when he returns from injury, or whether Cannon remains the go-to backup when Solder is used at tight end.
2. Bequette still looking for PT. Just three players did not see the field for the Patriots on Thursday night: backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, offensive lineman Chris Barker and defensive end Jake Bequette. Bequette is the name that sticks out most because of both his draft status (a third-rounder last year) and also that the team was heavily rotating its defensive line throughout the evening. Seventh-round defensive end Michael Buchanan has seemed to establish himself as the clear-cut top reserve as the position, but defensive end has quickly gone from an area of perceived depth to thin.
3. Coverage for LBs still an area to improve. There's a lot of football left to be played, but early suggestions are that pass coverage among Patriots linebackers is still an area that needs to improve. Dont'a Hightower was predominantly alongside Jerod Mayo in sub packages, with Brandon Spikes limited to just 31 (44 percent) of the defensive snaps. In the wet conditions and against a non-explosive offense, the Patriots linebackers didn't have to face a particularly potent middle-of-the-field short passing game, but that will change with future opponents who will test their linebackers' range. Surprisingly, the Patriots' most athletic linebacker, Jamie Collins, played just three snaps.
4. Arrington/Dennard co-starters. By the game book, Alfonzo Dennard has served as a reserve cornerback in each of the Patriots' first two games, a change from his status down the stretch in 2012. But Thursday night was another reminder that the team's starters on defense are just as much defined by their nickel group as their base defense, as Dennard played the 10th-most defensive snaps of any Patriot and 16 more than Spikes, a base defense starter. Arrington and Dennard have both been exceptional through two weeks. Dennard's offseason weight loss appears to have translated into improved quickness.