Among the many things being watched in Friday night’s Patriots-Eagles preseason matchup, New England’s restructured offensive unit was on display for a total of two drives. The first, lasting 3:12, only featured the rushing attack, and the second, totaling 4:28, emphasized Tom Brady and passing game.
The first play from scrimmage turned in a more promising result than could have ever been imagined. The running game, anchored by Stevan Ridley fresh off a 1,200-yard season, immediately made its mark: Ridley scampered up the middle for a 62-yard run, quickly establishing the Pats in the red zone. It then took five more plays on the ground to cover the remaining 18 yards, culminating in Ridley barreling into the end zone on a 2nd-down play.
You can’t highlight the importance of the running game enough for the Patriots: with Brady attempting to acclimate himself to new faces on the receiving end, players like Ridley, Shane Vereen, LeGarette Blount, and Brandon Bolden will be counted on to have bigger roles than ever in 2013. Crossing 80 yards in 6 plays, while all on the ground, is quite the positive start to the process of putting the abundance of worries to rest.
But as much as the 1st drive entailed the raising of spirits, it was the 2nd time on offense that the Patriots’ performance was more encouraging. It was inevitable that Tom Brady would have to spread the football around more than usual. Yet the efficiency–and fluidity–with which Brady collaborated with his receivers should come as unprecedented.
In what seemed an endless array of dump-off passes, Brady strung together 7 straight completions after an initial incomplete pass. He averaged less than 10 yards on each of those passes, with five of them totaling 7 or less yards. But don’t be fooled if you’re not one for methodical progress down the field–Belicheck and the Pats want it this way, and most importantly it got plenty of targets involved.
Four different wide receivers reeled in Brady’s passes, with his recipients consisting of both old and new, recognizable and more obscure players. An effective mix like that–comprised of Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, and Shane Vereen–is what the Patriots are desperately seeking, which becomes even more noteworthy by the fact that Julian Edelman and Josh Boyce had yet to touch the football.
The touchdown pass from Brady to Vereen to top off the drive was a bright omen as well. With Ridley solidifying his position as the “bulldozing, between-the-tackles” runner in the backfield, the agile back in Vereen provides the perfect complement to the rushing attack–a circumstance well-demonstrated against the Eagles. If Vereen’s presence can supply a much-needed, reliable passing option for Brady out of the backfield, it makes the unsettled transition into the 13’s season that much easier for the Patriots quarterback.
Though only a preseason game, and a mere 16 snaps, the refurbished Patriots first-team offense showed plenty of promise in only a span of two possessions.