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New England Patriots Preseason Week 1 vs. New York Giants: What To Watch For

The New England Patriots preseason gets underway on August 11th, and it's a perfect opportunity to get a glimpse of who they are.

On Thursday, August 11th, the New England Patriots preseason will get underway. It will be the first time the Patriots take the field since their embarrassing first-round playoff exit against the Buffalo Bills back in January. Since then, so much has changed for this team. Josh McDaniels departed, J.C. Jackson jettisoned to Los Angeles, and the Patriots moved on from a string of linebacking staples. 

With that in mind, here are the things to watch for as the Patriots take on the New York Giants in Week 1 of the preseason.

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First Look at the Starters

Without their veteran linebacking corps and reshuffling at the offensive line, some players will likely get thrust into a starting spot against the Giants.

Linebackers

Without Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy on the roster, two starting slots opened for Patriots linebackers. While Ja’Whan Bentley presumably will be the starting middle linebacker, as he is both the most significant and longest-tenured linebacker in place of Hightower, the hole left by Kyle Van Noy’s exit is far more complicated.

In Van Noy’s place could be former Michigan linebacker Josh Uche, though his size limits his edge-rushing ability. Also in the mix is Raekwon McMillan, who, after tearing his ACL last season, looks forward to a big bounce-back season. Even with Uche and McMillan in the running, there is still room for both second-year linebackers Cameron McGrone and Anfrenee Jennings, as well as Patriots trade acquisition Mack Wilson Sr. Each has a legitimate shot at stealing a starting spot. And of those four, whoever gets the nod against the Giants will have a significant advantage in the running for a starting role when the regular season starts.

Cornerbacks

Similar to the linebackers, the cornerback room is up for grabs, as Terrance Mitchell, Malcolm Butler, rookie Jack Jones, and Shaun Wade all look to compete for the cornerback spot opposite Jalen Mills. Through the first week of training camp, no one separated themselves from the pack, leaving the door open going into the first week, meaning this first preseason game could go a long way in figuring out who will be the Patriots number two corner. 

Offensive Lines

The reshuffling along the offensive line will also be a point of interest. Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn flipped sides at the tackle position, which, by most reports, has gone swimmingly. But with uncharacteristic errors by Michael Onwenu and growing pains from rookie Cole Strange throughout camp, darkhorse linemen candidates like Arlington Hambright and Justin Herron continue to make strides.

While it is unlikely that either Onwenu or Strange would lose their starting roles, stranger things have happened in Foxboro in the preseason. And the better Herron and Hambright play, the greater the possibility one of them unseats another player somewhere along the 53-man roster.

Which Offense Will We See?

The Patriots offense is still working out the kinks. With the team seemingly in the midst of an offensive scheme overhaul, practices have looked less than pretty. Receivers cannot get open, quarterbacks cannot set their feet to throw, and running backs struggle to find open holes. The switch to an outside zone offense is clearly taking a lot of time to get used to, leading many to speculate if the Patriots may abandon their new playbook altogether. 

It has been noted, ad nauseam, about the differences between the outside zone and Erhardt-Perkins offense, the latter being the traditional Patriots offense. Without offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels at the helm, Bill Belichick opted to change the New England offensive approach from a complicated playbook to a more coach-and-quarterback-friendly scheme to compensate for Matt Patricia and Joe Judge’s inexperience coaching offense. 

With the Patriots only days away from their first preseason game, one has to wonder, if the offense does not come together, what will New England do? Sending the offense onto the field with limited familiarity in the outside zone could be a disaster in several ways for the Patriots. It could torpedo the team’s momentum from the jump and discourage or frustrate many of the players who played in last season’s offense under McDaniels. 

Could the fear of losing the locker room before the season starts force Belichick to return to the Patriots offense of old? Pay watchful eye to see what the playsheet looks like against the G-Men. 

A Positionless Secondary

The offense is not the only side of the ball that could see changes to their scheme. For twenty years, the Patriots traditionally ran a man coverage-heavy defense, relying on great bump-and-run cornerbacks like Ty Law, Asante Samuel, Darrel Revis, Stephon Gilmore, and J.C. Jackson. That said, in the era today of the mobile quarterback and waterbug-like receivers, man-to-man defenses are not as tenable as they used to be.

Today, a zone-based defense to cover all bases and force quarterbacks to make good decisions is the name of the game. With arm talents like Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, and Justin Herbert in the AFC, the Patriots knew they could not gamble with a simple man coverage scheme. As a result, New England responded by letting J.C. Jackson walk in free agency to bring in journeyman cornerback Terrance Mitchell and loading the safety room with talent. In this new “positionless” secondary, the Patriots hope to utilize versatile and capable defensive backs to work in primarily zone defense.

That said, we have yet to see if this will work. The Patriots can only use zone coverage in certain situations, so they need to make the most of it. New England could have a formidable defense if the team can coach up a positionless secondary that works well in tandem. How well it works, will be on display first against the Giants.

How Does The Offensive Line Look?

The offensive line had some notable departures from the team. Both starting guards, Shaq Mason and Ted Karas, no longer find themselves on the Patriots roster. But even more noteworthy is the new offensive line coach. Patricia, the new de facto offensive coordinator, coaches the offensive line this season in the wake of Carmen Bricillo’s departure to Las Vegas.   

While Patricia coached along the offensive line with the Patriots back in 2005, since then, he has worked exclusively on defense. With a scheme shift to zone blocking and a new coach, time will tell if the changes catch up to the line. The Patriots offensive line ranked 9th last year, according to Pro Football Focus, and was one of the bright spots in the running game all year. If the line struggles under a new coach in a new system, the passing and running games could suffer. 

Patriots Preseason Game Prediction

New England wins, 29-16.

Even though the Patriots will have their struggles early in 2022, New England’s depth far out-matches that of the Giants. In a game where only a series or two will feature starters, expect the Patriots to roll.

While wins and losses in the preseason do not mean very much in the record books, hopefully, the Patriots can learn a thing or two about what their team’s identity will be this season. If the Patriots can conjure the “2-4” mentality they had in 2021 to galvanize the team, New England could be looking at a promising start to their season. 

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