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Patriots Super Bowl Nemesis Come To Foxborough To Kick Off 2022 For Preseason

It’s finally here!!! Real football is really and truly upon us, starting with a preseason game against the Giants. The Patriots-Giants preseason game has become somewhat of a yearly tradition.

Given the team’s history with the Giants, there are always a couple extra eyes when they come to town compared to a typical preseason game. However, by far, the main focus of this game will be gaining meaningful reps and experience and tune-up for the season.

Last year’s preseason was instrumental for the team, as it helped settle several questions, including the starting QB battle between Cam Newton and Mac Jones. While starting quarterback isn’t at play here, with Jones having a firm grip on the spot, many other positional battles (as well as the team’s overall strength) will be assessed on the field this preseason. Here, I preview the Giants game and give an overview of the critical questions Patriots fans will want to be answered on Thursday night.

How Does The Patriots’ Passing Game Look? Will The Giants Test It?

There are a few components to this question. First and foremost, Mac Jones, who had an admirable rookie season, will be looking to make a giant leap in his second year. Last year, he dazzled with his accuracy, especially on short-medium length passes. However, with the acquisition of deep threat Tyquan Thornton in the draft and versatile receiver Devante Parker in the offseason, the Patriots will look more vertical this season.

Whether Mac can make the most of that is the question. He did struggle a bit with deep ball accuracy in 2021. However, with another year in the system and his offseason work with throwing coach Tom House, this game will indicate whether Mac’s ball has gained more velocity and range this year – without compromising control. If the deep ball can fire against the Giants, it’s a big step and indicator toward the Patriots having a complete offense this year.

The other key component of this is the receivers. The pass-catching core for the Patriots was a mixed bag for New England in 2021, with TE Hunter Henry, WR Jakobi Meyers, and WR Kendrick Bourne having excellent years, but other high-profile players like WR Nelson Agholor, TE Jonnu Smith, and now-released 2019 First-Round pick N’Keal Harry disappointing relative to their potential. However, from a roster perspective, the unit has most certainly improved. The additions of Tyquan Thornton and Devante Parker are adding critical speed to the unit.

In camp, Thornton and Parker have impressed their ability to get open and make big catches. Tyquan Thornton’s raw vertical speed has allowed him to get loose when most receivers wouldn’t. Parker’s agility, athleticism, and sense for the game will enable him to run excellent routes and make difficult catches. In practice, Jonnu Smith has shown improvement, primarily when used in various packages. Bourne and Meyers have been their usual reliable selves, and Agholor has shown flashes of his potential and speed.

It’s a big if, but the unit could be fearsome if all of the core guys (or even four or five) play to their potential. The Giants should provide some intriguing defensive matchups to test the passing game. LB Kayvon Thibodeaux and CB Adoree’ Jackson are fearsome players on the second level of the defense who should disrupt the offensive flow.

In the second half of the Giants game, we will probably see a battle for roster spots between WRs Lil’Jordan Humphrey, who has been excellent during camp, Tre Nixon, whose speed has been impressive and who could be a viable special-teamer, and Kristian Wilkerson, who had some remarkable moments during limited game action in 2021.

The Patriots Need To Reduce The Pass Rush

The offensive line will be on close watch, and with Mac not being the most mobile of quarterbacks, it will be necessary for the line to give him time. The line has been historically excellent in past years, but some changes in the last couple of years cause some questions. For example, how will Isaiah Wynn be as a right tackle? He has been a bit underwhelming in past seasons on the left side but has looked good in practice this year, and he will need to be a wall on that side to make his hefty contract worth it.

How will first-round guard Cole Strange take to the NFL? He only allowed one sack in college, but against primarily FCS competition, so how well that translates to the NFL remains to be seen. However, he has shown the toughness and athleticism that prompted his early drafting in camp. The matchup against the Giants will indicate whether Strange can be a starting-caliber guard as a rookie. The Giants’ pass rush will be an imposing unit, led by rookie LB Kaybon Thibodeaux and ultra-successful veteran Leonard Williams.

Can Patriots Starting Corners Show Something?

Training camp, if anything, has just made the picture even muddier for cornerbacks. Overall, the situation looks promising, and the whole unit has shown improvement. However, finding a starting pair/trio makes things even more complicated.

Jalen Mills has started where he left off last year and has differentiated himself as the best corner on the unit in the absence of JC Jackson. Terrance Mitchell’s experience and agility should provide a critical veteran presence to the unit. Jonathan Jones will be looking to capitalize on a productive 2021. Malcolm Butler’s past success in the Patriots’ system cannot be ignored, but his age and lack of speed could be a problem. Draft pick Marcus Jones will likely find his role in the team in special teams, but Jack Jones could find his place on the secondary sooner.

Differentiating corners has been tricky during camp, but hopefully, game action will provide clarity. Furthermore, after a poor defensive showing in the latter half of the season, the secondary, overall, will need to level up. The speedy receiver core that the Giants have provides an excellent challenge to the unit. Speedy draft pick Ka’Darius Toney and successful veterans Kenny Golladay and Sterling Shepard will be difficult opponents for the secondary to contain.

Some other questions, like the linebackers (especially the return of Cam McGrone), the coaching staff (Jerod Mayo or Steve Belichick leading the defense? Joe Judge or Matt Patricia showing the offense), special teams (who’s the primary returner: will Marcus Jones fill that slot?), the roster battle on defense (draft pick Sam Roberts, undrafted LaBryan Ray’s places on the team) among others, will also be prevalent on Thursday night. So it will be a start to the season to watch for sure.

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