The New England Patriots are coming off their third Super Bowl victory in the past five NFL season. With four trips to the Super Bowl in the last five years, ten consecutive AFC East championships and eight consecutive trips to the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots have emerged as the greatest dynasty in NFL history.
Of course, none of that past success matters as the Patriots enter a new season. There was significant turnover in the offseason once again on offense. New England lost their starting left tackle for the second consecutive year as Trent Brown took his Super Bowl ring to Oakland.
The Patriots also lost tight end Rob Gronkowski to retirement. In the passing game, wide receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Chris Hogan were not retained. New England has last year’s first round draft pick (Isaiah Wynn) and this year’s first round draft pick (N’Keal Harry) to help pick up the slack. In addition, the Patriots have other free agents (tight end Matt LaCosse and wide receivers Dontrelle Inman and Maurice Harris) and undrafted free agents (2018’s Braxton Berrios and 2019’s Jakobi Meyers).
This week’s game on Thursday night as a preseason game will be broadcast by the Patriots Preseason Television Network, Locally, the preseason network’s flagship station is WBZ-TV CBS in Boston. Familiar faces will be in the booth as Bob Socci provides the play-by-play and is joined by his radio partner and former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak in the broadcast booth. Former Patriots linebacker and rising local media star Rob Ninkovich will provide sideline analysis along with WBZ’s long-time sportscaster (and son of Patriots Hall of Fame running back the late Ron Burton) Steve Burton.
Each week the game comes down to the match-ups. These are the top match-ups on offense that will determine if the Patriots are the team which emerges victorious.
The Patriots’ offense was ranked 25th in the NFL in points scored after week three in 2018 and ended the season ranked fourth in scoring offense with 27.3 points per game and 436 points. They were fifth in yards with 6,295 and averaged 5.9 yards per play (all statistics from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted).
The balanced offensive attack showed in the final stats. The offense was eighth in passing yards with 4,258 yards and sixth in net yards gained per attempt at 7.2 (passing yards minus sack yards per pass attempts and total sacks). On the ground, the Patriots rushed for 2,037 yards (fifth in the NFL) their highest total since 2013.
Coming out of week three, the New England offense ranked 29th in the league on third down percentage converting on just 28.6% of their third downs. The Patriots finished 13th in the NFL converting 40.8% of third downs for the season. Their Red Zone scoring percentage was a problem all season and finished 15th in the league at 59.6% (34 of 57 drives).
In the playoffs, New England piled up 78 points on 1,022 yards with almost 700 yards passing and over 300 yards on the ground in two games against the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs. While the Rams held the Patriots to just 13 points in Super Bowl 53, the Patriots gained over 400 yards with over 250 passing yards and 150 yards on the ground in a balanced attack.
How does New England get the offense on the right track in 2019 against a Detroit Lions defense overseen by former defensive coordinator Matt Patrica?
With a complete turnover at tight end and a number of new faces at wide receiver, there are plenty of intriguing battles to watch. First on the list is first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry. He has been overshadowed by undrafted free agent Jakobi Meyers, but both should get a chance to be showcased with the first-team offense.
With Julian Edelman on the NFI list,Josh Gordon suspended and Cameron Meredith and Demaryius Thomas on the PUP list, there should be snaps for the rest of the wide receivers. Veterans Maurice Harris and Dontrelle Inman will get the chance to shine in game situations and show they should stick.
Behind them are a long list of young players including slot wide receivers Braxton Berrios and Gunner Olszewski. Damoun Patterson has not made a lot of headlines in camp, but should have plenty of opportunity Thursday night. The Danny Etling experiment at wide receiver should be on display as well.
At tight end, Ben Watson and Matt LaCosse should get some work in. While no one expects a Rob Gronkowski performance, a few catches for the tight ends could ease concerns. Veteran Lance Kendricks is dinged-up and likely will not play, but youngsters Stephen Anderson, Andrew Beck, and Ryan Izzo should have a showcase to try to win a long-shot role on the roster.
BATTLE OF THE BACK-UPS:
At quarterback and running back, there are key battles. While Tom Brady will not play, back-up Brian Hoyer may be in a battle for one roster spot with fourth-round draft pick Jarrett Stidham. Stidham has been strong in camp showcasing his smarts in picking up the offense and a strong arm. Hoyer may have to step up his game to stay on the roster.
At running back, rookie third-round draft pick Damien Harris should get a chance to try and earn a role backing-up Sony Michel, fullback James Develin and third-down back James White. Rex Burkhead has been dinged-up already in training camp and may not play. For Harris and Brandon Bolden, there should be plenty of carries to shine and fight for a key rotational role.
Behind them are the long-shots. Fullback Jakob Johnson needs to show soft hands and powerful blocking to unseat Develin. Undrafted free agent Nick Brossette has an uphill battle but the LSU running back will be in the spotlight with a chance to make some plays and generate momentum in the preseason.
The New England offense must integrate the young playmakers into the line-up and find some depth at the offensive tackle position. In addition, seeing who emerges from the log-jam at wide receiver and tight end. With draft picks at running back and quarterback as well, there are plenty of players to watch.
-Hal Bent is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @halbent01