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A Preseason Look At Three New England Patriots Who Need Improvement Before Week One

It’s mid-August, and you know what that means. Preseason football. Essentially nothing more than a time to reflect on how much depth your team has and who has the best practice squad.

Though most team starters are sitting out the entire preseason, it doesn’t mean we can’t hit the panic button early and start identifying some of the problem areas we noticed over the first Patriots preseason game. It’s never too early to start improving.

Short Recap Of Patriots VS. Giants

The New England Patriots faced off against the New York Football Giants on Thursday, August 11th. A mostly Bailey Zappe-led Patriots team suffered a narrow defeat against Quarterback Daniel Jones, Tyrod Taylor, Davis Webb, and the rest of the New York Giants.

It was a close game, as the score reveals, and both teams seemed to give it everything they had despite the fact it was only a preseason game. Some of these players might not even get a chance to play this season, so this could be their one valuable chance to prove they deserve some playing time once it comes time for the regular season.

Patriots QB: Bailey Zappe

Bailey Zappe put up fairly solid numbers for a third-string rookie QB, with a stat line of 19 Completed Passes out of 32 Passing Attempts, 205 Passing Yards, one Passing TD, and one INT. His 205 Passing Yards were fourth amongst all QBs during the first week of preseason. But some troubling parts of his stat line come from Completion Percentage (59.4%) and QB Rating (75.7).

Bailey almost engineered a game-winning drive with 7:12 to play, scoring his first NFL TD with around 5:00 left to put the Patriots up 21-20. However, Giants’ third-string QB Davis Webb (who statistically performed significantly worse than Bailey) used the last five minutes effectively. He drove the team within field goal range, where they would successfully win the game with a shaky 24-yard Graham Gano field goal as time expired.

Zappe’s 59.4% Completion Percentage was 53rd in the NFL amongst all QBs last week, ranked slightly below recently-traded incumbent backup QB Jarrett Stidham, and Zappe’s QB Rating of 75.7 was ranked 59th out of the 82 QBs who played last week. For a rookie playing in his first NFL game, it’s probably a good sign that he didn’t debut at the very bottom of QBs. Still, given his proximity and similarity in stats to Jarrett Stidham, our man Bailey Zappe will need to improve significantly to attain backup journeyman status and remain in the NFL long-term.

For now, he seems to be a good third-stringer behind Mac Jones and Brian Hoyer, and it should be interesting to see how he improves during the remaining two preseason games. Brian Hoyer, meanwhile, recorded a much better stat line with five completions on eight passing attempts, for 59 passing yards and a passing TD, which likely solidified his role as second on the depth chart and back up to Mac Jones for the upcoming season.

With the ceiling of Mac Jones seemingly somewhere around the moon, it’s a near-certainty that neither Hoyer nor Zappe will be seeing any regular season action at QB, barring any significant complications involving the roster.

Patriots WR: Tre Nixon

Tre Nixon could make the roster as a special teamer and a sort of utility piece for Bill Belichick and company this year. He was drafted last year by fan-favorite, and long-time Patriot Coach/Researcher Ernie Adams with the distinction of being the final player Ernie Adams was responsible for drafting. Tre was a noticeable standout on the scout team and has demonstrated close to the top-tier speed, recording a 40-yard dash time of 4.43.

During the first preseason game and his first career NFL action, there were a few learning pains, including a dropped pass on what could have been a third-down conversion. However, he recovered nicely in the second half of the game, helping to bring the Pats very close to victory and recording a final stat line of Four Receptions on Eight Targets for 81 Receiving Yards.

After the game, Bill Belichick had nothing but praise for the young man and is quoted as saying the following during a video conference last Friday morning:

“[Tre’s a] hard-working kid. Tough kid, He was looking for an opportunity, got an opportunity “… and … “He’s in the category of ‘nobody works harder than he does. He’s one of the hardest workers on the team.” Bill Belichick

Nixon faces an uphill battle finding a roster spot, but to help his case, along with the decently high number of offensive snaps he logged last week, he also played ten snaps on the special teams unit. If he doesn’t make the main 53-man roster, he’s a shoo-in for the practice squad at least, and if he continues to work hard and improve his game, he could be a viable long-term asset for the New England Patriots at both the WR position and as a core part of future Special Teams Units.

For now, realistically, a 50% catch rate with a critical dropped pass is not going to fly in a Belichick-led offense on a week-to-week basis. He must avoid dropping two more passes in the preseason, or he might be finito. Bill Belichick has a lot of respect for Ernie Adams and seemingly Nixon, but you can only have so many drops under his coaching before you get shipped out of New England.

Bill will let one more dropped pass slide, but if Tre drops two more critical passes in the next two games, we might never see him again. Also, Bill will need to see a higher catch rate from Nixon before promoting him over the rest of the more prominent names on the depth chart. Whatever happens, it will be an exciting legacy to witness, should Tre Nixon ever fight his way out of the practice squad and onto the 53-man roster. Good luck, Tre.

Patriots Back Up Running Backs

The Patriots were significantly outmatched in total rushing yards against the Giants during the opener. The Giants recorded a team total of 177 rushing yards on 33 carries, while the Patriots managed only 52 rushing yards on 18 carries. In addition, three different Patriots RBs took the field in Pierre Strong JR., J.J. Taylor, and Kevin Harris. It’s hard to say if any of these players are established enough to have locked down a roster spot, but they certainly didn’t do much to strengthen their case against the giants.

Strong Jr. was the most proficient out of the three backs for the Pats, picking up 25 rushing yards on six carries for an average of 4.2 YPC. Nothing incredible, but indeed good enough, and probably around the average for your typical NFL running back. He was ok.

J.J. Taylor had the second best performance of the three backs, recording five carries for 16 rushing yards with an average of 3.2 YPC. Admittedly, this isn’t as good as, at 3.2 yards per carry over three plays, you’re only getting 9.6 yards, and I’m sure Bill would prefer if he could somehow get those extra .13 YPC that it’s going to take to ensure consistent first downs. However, Taylor was the only back out of the three who made the most of their targets in the passing game. He caught one pass for 11 yards, and his versatility and utility here give him a better chance of making the team, especially now that James White has retired.

The last of the three Patriots running backs to play on Friday was Kevin Harris, who frankly did not have a good game. He carried the ball six times for only nine yards, averaging 1.5 yards per carry. He was also targeted twice in the passing game, where he’d make one reception for negative two yards. However, he scored a TD on a quality three-yard run early in the 3rd quarter, which may have been his saving grace.

Honestly, it’s hard to imagine him getting much more playing time had he not gotten that TD, at least. Kevin Harris has his work cut out to secure himself a sizeable role on a future Patriots offense. Personally, I love everything I’ve seen from all of our players, and it’s a sad reality that we can’t find a roster spot for everyone. Hopefully, between some more time to develop and some time spent bouncing around the bottom of the depth chart or practice squad, some or possibly all of these players will find a place to carve their name into the annals and legends of Patriots History.

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