Patriots Preseason Week 3: What to Like

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The third week of the preseason is constantly referred to as a "dress rehearsal" for the regular season.  This is the game where you get to see the starting units on both sides face off against one another for a few series.  This is likely to be their final action before the regular season kicks off, as the preseason finale is typically reserved for individuals fighting for a roster spot.

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While they didn't light up the scoreboard, and there are certainly things that need to be cleaned up -- mainly penalties -- it was another encouraging performance from the Patriots last night. Here are a few individuals that stood out.

1. Defense

It wasn't just one guy that impressed last night, but rather the entire group.  The majority of the talk this preseason has been about New England's defense; almost to the point of being over-hyped.  However, for the second time this preseason, the defensive unit has thoroughly dominated its opponent.  After stonewalling the Detroit Lions two weeks ago, the Patriots handcuffed the Carolina Panthers last night.

Carolina had less than 100 total yards, converted just two of 12 third downs and mustered only seven first downs all game.  The Patriots defense recorded four sacks, and another four quarterback hits.  Cam Newton was only on the field for three series, but was sacked twice, pressured consistently and went three and out on two of those three drives.

Kyle Van Noy got in there.  Adam Butler picked up a sack.  Michael Bennett too.  Pressure was coming off of the edge and up the middle.  On Butler's sack, Newton moved around to buy himself some extra time, but the coverage was too tight, and ultimately the Patriots got to him.  How many times have we seen quarterbacks standing back there, unpressured, for what seems like an eternity?  I don't see that being a regular occurrence this year.

They may not have an elite, individual pass rusher.  However, with the talent they have in the secondary, and the versatility they have up front, they are going to cause a lot of matchup problems for opposing offenses.  It's still just three preseason games, but you get the sense that this defense has the capability to be a special unit this season.

2. Gunner Olszewski
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Suddenly, the Patriots find themselves with a wealth of wide receiver options, and a guy like Olszewski finds himself on the outside looking in; needing to find other ways to make the team.  Last night, he made a strong case for himself as a punt returner.

Showing some great elusiveness, explosiveness and quickness, Olszewski averaged over 15 yards per return on the four returns he recorded.  For some context, the top two punt returners in the league last year averaged 14.1 yards per return.  That goes to show you the kind of night Olzewski had.

Ultimately, it may not matter.  Would the Patriots really save a roster spot just for a punt returner, when they already have a guy like Julian Edelman?  Maybe in an effort to keep Edelman healthy, but with the amount of competition to make the 53-man roster, each roster spot is precious.  At the very least, Olzewski gave the coaching staff something to think about last night.

3. Phillip Dorsett III/Jakobi Meyers

Speaking of wide receivers, a couple of others shined bright last night. Phillip Dorsett looked sharp early, as he continues to build the rapport that he and Tom Brady had last year; catching five of Brady's eight completions.

We saw Brady go to Dorsett often in the early parts of last year, especially with Edelman absent.  His targets dropped significantly when Edelman returned, but he was used sparingly and did have a big touchdown in last year's AFC Championship game.

What's great about Dorsett is that he brings something a little bit different to the offense.  Whereas we've grown accustomed to seeing the majority of Brady's completions come in the middle of the field, most of Dorsett's work takes place outside the numbers, and toward the sideline; as it did last night.  Whether he is #4 or even #5 on the depth chart, having that relationship with Brady makes all of the difference.

Meyers has been the star of the preseason, and that continued last night; albeit after a slow start.  Meyers has been exceptional during camp, and through the first two preseason games.  However, last night was his first opportunity to take the field with Brady in a game setting.  There were some early struggles, perhaps even some jitters that led to them.

Brady targeted him three times, and they weren't able to connect on any.  It looked like they weren't quite on the same page on the first target as Brady launched one downfield, and Meyers appeared to cut his route off a bit.  It looked like Brady may have sen a gap in between the safety and defensive back that Meyers didn't see.

What was encouraging after that was that Brady came right back to him on the next attempt, but again the pass fell incomplete.  Though the throw was a bit behind Meyers, it was one he could have caught.  The third and final attempt, was just a nice play from the defender in my eyes.  He may have gotten away with a slight grab, as Brady was pleading for a defensive hold, but to no avail.

Credit to Meyers though, he shook off the slow start and when Jarrett Stidham replaced Brady in the second quarter, Meyers broke through.  He flashed the same talent that we saw against Detroit and Tennessee, and finished the game with seven catches for 74 yards; leading the Patriots in receiving for the third consecutive game.

I'm sure the failure to connect with Brady was frustrating, but those few reps should not overshadow the entire body of work.  Meyers has been outstanding this preseason and deserves a spot on this team.

4. Jarrett Stidham

Stidham continues to look like a NFL-caliber quarterback.  Now, he has only played against second, and third string players; but you can only play against the guys in front of you.  It's difficult to say how he would fare against a starting defensive unit, but there's no sense in dabbling in hypotheticals.

Last night wasn't perfect.  He lost a fumble and made some ill-advised throws, but on the whole it was another encouraging performance.

One thing you see with him is accuracy.  He's not consistently throwing it at the receiver's feet, or sailing it over their heads.  There were a couple of those last night, but every quarterback has throws like that on occasion.  For the most part, his throws are on target.

The mental portion of the game will come with time, and experience.  However, if you can't throw the ball accurately, the mental stuff doesn't matter.  Stidham looks comfortable, and competent out there.  For a fourth round pick, and one who isn't expected to be a starting quarterback anytime soon, that's all you can ask.


Follow Derek on Twitter - @mcvay34


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Boston Sports Syndicate: Patriots Preseason Week 3: What to Like
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