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Takeaways from the Patriots’ Week 1 Loss vs the Eagles

The Patriots lost their season and home opener to the Eagles 25-20 in an often sloppy, but undeniably entertaining affair.

Things looked grim well before kickoff with primary big-play threat DeVante Parker, as well as starting guards Mike Onwenu and Cole Strange being declared inactive. Add to that Calvin Anderson playing in his first live-action after spending the summer on NFI, and Mac Jones coming out in one piece seemed like the Patriots’ greatest potential victory.

While there’s still plenty to clean up and improve upon, I’d say New England’s offense exceeded expectations and the defense lived up to its hype after stymying a fantastic Eagles offense.

I’m sure Patriots fans are sick of moral victories, but this was genuinely the best their offense has looked since Jones took the helm. While far from perfect, he passed for 300 yards, three touchdowns, and made several throws that put the offense in position to convert on failed late downs. Bill O’Brien’s scheme also played a huge factor, directly leading to multiple explosive plays.

So while the hangover of an opening-day loss subsides, here are my top takeaways from last night’s matchup.

DEFENSE DOMINATES AGAINST LOADED EAGLES OFFENSE

The Eagles boast an elite roster capable of throwing anything at you at any time. No one doubted New England would be competitive against Philly given their defense’s own skill and versatility, but few expected tonight’s dominant performance. After stumbling out of the game, the Patriots held Jalen Hurts under 200 passing yards, sacked him four times, forced and recovered a fumble, and kept an elite Eagles rushing attack under 100 yards.

The offense constantly found itself in 3rd & long situations, which shrunk their playbook and allowed New England to play the aggressors. (Sound familiar?)  The defense capitalized by pressuring Hurts and forcing him into short throws shy of the sticks.

Top pass rushers Matt Judon, Josh Uche, Christian Barmore, and Deatrich Wise all had moments where pressure quickly wrecked plays.

Coverage was solid all around for the most part, though Hurts was able to beat some of the Patriots’ zone coverages.

Jabrill Peppers was a major factor, forcing a fumble, recording a tackle for loss, and breaking up a pass.

It was interesting seeing Peppers as the clear second safety behind Kyle Dugger and above Adrian Phillips, but the big-hitter’s on-field efforts justify his rise up the depth chart.

SELF-INFLICTED ERRORS MUST BE CLEANED UP…

Self-inflicted errors ultimately cost the Patriots a win tonight in a tight matchup against last season’s NFC champions. These plagued the offense last season under Matt Patricia, and Bill O’Brien has highlighted the importance of avoiding such mistakes in 2023. Despite this emphasis, Mac Jones and company committed two early turnovers and found themselves in long-yardage situations throughout the contest due to penalties.

The defense discipline wasn’t spotless, but they largely cleaned things up after the first quarter.

Here are some key mistakes that put the Patriots in bad positions:

  • Deatrich Wise offsides negates a botched snap that would’ve set up 3rd & long on the opening drive
  • High throw from Mac Jones bounces off of Kendrick Bourne’s hands and Darius Slay intercepts for a touchdown
  • Ezekiel Elliott fumbles on the offense’s first touch following the pick-six
  • Kyle Dugger holding penalty negates a Wise sack that would’ve set up 3rd & long
  • Holding penalty on a Rhamondre Stevenson run stalls a promising drive and puts the offense in 2nd & 17, setting up an eventual punt
  • Atonio Mafi holds on a screen and turns 3rd & 17 into 3rd & 21
  • Wise gets caught holding to keep Lane Johnson from getting out on a screen
  • Holding penalty on Calvin Anderson forces the offense to move back ten yards on a failed two-point attempt
  • Delay of game turns 4th & 12 conversion attempt into 4th & 17 on eventual stop

…BUT PLENTY OF REASONS FOR OPTIMISM OFFENSIVELY!

The offense has plenty to clean up after tonight’s up-and-down performance, but the ups showed how the team has grown under Bill O’Brien. The offensive coordinator’s fingerprints were all over several big plays for New England, using different groupings and formation wrinkles to create advantageous matchups for receivers.

These tactics resulted in two of Kendrick Bourne’s biggest plays of the night, including a touchdown against James Bradberry where he got the corner to flip his hips on a post and a catch on 3rd & 4 where he turned a short pass into an explosive gain.

He had another touchdown grab late in the 4th quarter, burning Darius Slay on a double-move.

Bourne catching two scores against arguably the league’s best corner duo is promising for his season outlook, especially after catching a touchdown against another top corner in Jaire Alexander during joint practices.

Bourne couldn’t come up with a pinpoint throw on 3rd & 12 late in the game, though Darius Slay made contact early but wasn’t called. When I asked about his thoughts on the missed penalty, the receiver responded, “Just a drop honestly, man. So I got to make the catch, tough catches…I pride myself on making tough catches. Pretty bummed about that one, man…Everything is cool, but a big play like that would have changed the momentum even more.” Bourne also insisted he can and will do better in the future.

Rhamondre Stevenson showed his value as an underneath target, matching Bourne’s reception and yardage total.

His biggest highlights were a screen catch for big yardage and a checkdown conversion on the offense’s final scoring drive. Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott also converted on a few late short-yardage situations to keep drives alive.

Hunter Henry also had a strong outing, catching five passes for 56 yards with most being exceptional efforts against tight coverage.

These included a touchdown, a pair of two-minute grabs that ignited a scoring drive before halftime, and a one-hander to convert on 4th down. He had a tough drop on 4th & 17 but was unlikely to convert as his route was well short of the sticks.

MULTIPLE ROOKIES SHINE IN CAREER DEBUTS

Nearly every member of the Patriots’ 2023 draft class played a role in tonight’s game. The defense needed an influx of size and athleticism in its top-three picks, the offense needed several mid and late-rounders to fill in for key players, and both kicker spots were held down by first-years. There were mixed results, but overall you had to be impressed.

Top pick Christian Gonzalez exceeded expectations against the league’s most dynamic wide receiver tandem in A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. He smothered a deep shot to Brown, made a critical sack on a corner blitz, and forced two huge late-down stops, including one against Smith on the defense’s final drive. Gonzalez also answered pre-draft questions about his toughness, leading the defense with five tackles. He did allow a couple of conversions on throws underneath his coverage, but the good far outweighed the bad.

Keion White was a consistent presence in the backfield as a pass rusher and hit Hurts’ arm to force a 3rd & 20 in the 3rd quarter.

Marte Mapu lined up all over the field and provided great help coverage on the aforementioned deep incompletion to Brown. Matt Judon praised Mapu while speaking to reporters after practice, calling his ability to play safety, linebacker, and outside linebacker as a rookie “kind of unbelievable.”

Chad Ryland made both of his extra point attempts, while Bryce Baringer put three of his five punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, though he did have a touchback that should’ve pinned Philly deep in their own territory.

I’ll save Atonio Mafi and Sidy Sow’s evaluations for my film study but kudos to both for filling very big shoes with Onwenu and Strange inactive.

Demario Douglas caught four passes for 40 yards, including a big gain on the offense’s final scoring drive.

Kayshon Boutte deserves credit after taking over at X for DeVante Parker, but his inability to keep both feet in bounds on two critical plays really hurt the offense. That said, being a rookie receiver in the Patriots’ passing game is notoriously difficult and this game should provide great learning experiences for both sixth-rounders.

LEFTOVERS

  • Mac Jones looked significantly better under pressure in this game than he has throughout his career. He also used his legs to get out of a few pressures and even move the chains. Jones’ athleticism may be average, but he maximized it tonight.
  • Ty Montgomery and Marcus Jones each had an impressive return and had roles on offense today. Both are multifaceted weapons whose roles I’m intrigued to watch this season.
Taylor Kyles

Taylor Kyles is the lead NFL Analyst for CLNS Media covering players, schemes, and tendencies through a New England Patriots-centric lens.

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