Patriots vs. Panthers thumbs up, thumbs down: Phillip Dorsett, defense shine

Andy Hart
August 22, 2019 - 10:24 pm
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FOXBOROUGH – Tom Brady made his summer debut Thursday night at Gillette Stadium, but it was a New England defense that’s been building buzz throughout training camp that stole the show in preseason action against the Panthers.

While Brady (8 of 12 for 75 yards) was never able to find too much rhythm in the undermanned passing game, New England utilized a wide variety of personnel on defense to stifle Cam Newton and the Carolina offense in the early going. The starters and top backups on defense held the visitors to a mere 29 yards on 17 first-half plays while not allowing a third-down conversion in the first 30 minutes of football.

Meanwhile Brady drove to second-quarter James Develin 1-yard touchdown run on the way to a 7-0 lead at halftime that turned into a somewhat lackluster 10-3 victory for the home squad, New England improving to 3-0 on the preseason.

As all NFL teams come down the home stretch of summer competition for roster spots, including the so-called “dress rehearsal” third preseason game, here are some of the personnel highs and lows from the Patriots battle with Carolina.

Thumbs up

Defense – New England’s talented, deep, experienced defense turned previous practice success into impressive game action. While we still don’t know exactly who is putting together the personnel packages or calls on defense, the Patriots threw a lot at Carolina and pretty much all of it worked. New England used rotational personnel at all three levels in the first half giving up a mere 14 yards on the ground and 15 through the air, while keeping the preseason pressure on with three more sacks by Kyle Van Noy, Adam Butler and Michael Bennett. Heading toward regular season action, the New England defense appears more than ready.

Gunner Olszewski – Not long ago the undrafted rookie was a defensive back in Division II. Thursday night he was showing impressive burst as a punt returner and sharing a huddle with Brady. Olszewski had three punt returns for an 11.7 average in the first half against Carolina. That included a 21-yard long and another 16 yarder called back due to penalty. He continued to show a slippery knack for the return role in the second half with a 28-yard punt return late in the third quarter. He also had a 15-yard catch in the fourth quarter, after which he had to be looked at by the medical staff. Even if healthy, Olszewski probably still faces a major uphill battle for a roster spot, but a practice squad slot can’t be ruled out. He’s one of those scrappy summer players who just won’t stop fighting and showing up.

Sony Michel – While it didn’t show up in the final stats thanks to a couple questionable holding calls, Michel ran really well in his first preseason action of the summer. He finished with 10 carries for 36 yards, and was stuffed on the goal line, but visually showed nice burst and solid cuts. Holding calls wiped out an 8-yard run around left end and a multi-cut 30-yard scamper. After another reported knee procedure this offseason, Michel looks ready to pick up where he left off last winter with an impressive postseason run to a title.

Phillip Dorsett – When things stalled a bit for Brady’s passing attack, he turned to the most familiar face he saw on the field. Having established a reputation a year ago for catching everything Brady throws his way, Dorsett did just that with seven catches on seven targets in the first half against the Panthers for 47 yards, including a long of 19. Dorsett may never be capable of carrying a passing attack, even for a single game, but he remains a reliable, trusted, complementary option for Brady.

Thumbs down

Jakobi Meyers – The undrafted rookie who has done everything right to open his professional career had a chance to get on the game field with Brady for the first time after impressing with the backups over the last two weeks. It didn’t go as he probably would have hoped. Meyers gave up on a Brady deep ball on the first third down of the night. He had another target deflect off his hands – hard to tell if the pass was behind him or if he drifted on the route – and also had a holding call that wiped away a long Michel run. At one point TV cameras showed a close-up of clear disgust on the young player’s face. Meyers got into the action with a few quick catches when Jarrett Stidham came on to play against the Panthers backup defense, but his first chance to impress Brady against an actual starting defense didn’t go so well.

Stephen Gostkowski – The Patriots have played three preseason games. Gostkowski has missed a kick in each one of the games. The veteran added a missed 43-yard attempt wide left late in the third quarter against Carolina, adding to previous misses from 37 and 40 yards. A few days after cutting punter/holder Ryan Allen, this latest miss came with rookie Jake Bailey holding and it appeared the laces were out of position. It’s not time to panic by any means, but Gostkowski’s summer struggles and need to build a trust with Bailey are worth watching. Gostkowski did hit a chipshot 23-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

Penalties – Three games, even in the preseason, is a trend. After consecutive games with double-digit penalties for over 100 yards, Bill Belichick’s team had another six penalties for 60 yards in the first half against Carolina. While a couple were questionable holding calls in space that wiped out nice runs, there was also a leg whip, a block in the back on a punt return and a hold on the interior line. Just too many flags right now for the Patriots, as they finished the game with eight penalties for 80 yards lost, including a 15-yard facemask for Christian Sam in the second half.

Wide receiver depth – While it was expected that Julian Edelman and Demaryius Thomas might not be ready to play just days after coming off NFI and PUP, respectively, there was a lack of bodies at the receiver position that went well beyond that against Carolina. Matthew Slater, N’Keal Harry and Maurice Harris were all absent from the field and pregame warmups. Braxton Berrios was on the field early in pregame with trainers, but then did not warmup up or play. With final cuts on the horizon and the regular season opener just around the corner, New England needs the receiver depth chart to start to come together.

Injuries – Not only did the Patriots enter game with a number of players sidelined to injury, including those fighting for roster spots, but the injured list grew against Carolina. Rookie running back Damien Harris left in the second quarter with an undisclosed injury and did not return. Tight end Ben Watson left with what looked like a possible head injury after a cheap, late hit from Panthers safety Eric Reid, and did not return. Brandon King was carted off with what looked like a severe leg injury after punt play in the second quarter, with teammates and even Belichick himself checking in on the core special teamer at midfield. The Patriots entered the night banged up and left with more injuries to add to the late August roster decision-making process. Not what anyone is looking for.