The New England Patriots are quickly approaching their second game of the 2021 preseason. New England will take on the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday, August 19 at 7:30 p.m. EDT. The game will be broadcast on the NFL Network.
After a couple of days of competitive joint practices with the Eagles, it remains to be seen how much the Patriots’ starters will play on Thursday night. That said, regardless of how long the assumed starters play, there are still numerous things worth monitoring in Thursday night’s action. With all that in mind, here are five things to watch for in the Patriots’ preseason game against the Eagles.
Things to watch for in Patriots’ second preseason game
1: Will N’Keal Harry make an impact?
By all accounts, N’Keal Harry has had some very encouraging moments during the Patriots’ 2021 training camp. The issue is that his flashes of brilliance haven’t yet materialized in a live game. In the preseason opener, Harry only had one catch for four yards.
His lack of production wasn’t due to a lack of playing time either. Harry played a good amount in the preseason opener, 36 snaps to be specific. It was disappointing to see the momentum Harry had built in training camp stall out against the Washington Football Team.
The former first-round pick desperately needs to show something positive in Thursday’s game against the Eagles. Now in his third NFL season, Harry is no longer a roster lock.
Yes, Harry holds the edge on Kristian Wilkerson for the fifth wide receiver spot, but it’s still no guarantee he makes the final roster. It’s hard to see New England outright cutting Harry, but trading him remains an option worth keeping an eye on.
Bottom line: Harry needs to put it all together and start producing during game action. This Thursday night is a great opportunity for him to do that.
2: Cam Newton vs. Mac Jones
Until a starter is officially named, the quarterback battle between Cam Newton and Mac Jones will continue to be one of the more intriguing things to watch in Patriots’ preseason action.
Newton still getting a majority of the starting reps in practice indicates that he remains the most likely Week 1 starter at quarterback. However, a hypothetical scenario in which Newton struggles against the Eagles and Jones stays hot would make the competition a true toss-up.
What makes the Patriots’ quarterback competition so interesting is that New England is consistently a team looking to win now. Because of this, starting a rookie quarterback may sound like a decision that would go against that philosophy.
That said, in the pre-draft process Jones was touted as the most pro-ready rookie quarterback. In fact, we saw why in his NFL debut. Jones look poised and in full control of the offense. It’s not all that crazy to envision he could start Week 1 if he continues to build on his solid performance in the preseason opener.
Still though, starting Newton while Jones continues to develop seems like the most likely scenario. It’s possible things can change though. The game against the Eagles should tell us a lot about the 2021 outlook of the quarterback position.
3: The performance of those at the cornerback position
As discussed after last week’s preseason opener, the Patriots’ have some serious concerns at the corner position.
Yes, Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, and Jonathan Jones are great, but the depth behind them is shaky, to say the least. Jalen Mills has always been a much better safety than a corner. Joejuan Williams is inconsistent and Michael Jackson is unproven.
If Gilmore isn’t back on the roster healthy and happy for Week 1 of the regular season, the Patriots are going to have significant problems at the second outside corner spot opposite Jackson.
The hope for New England is that at least one of Mills, Williams, and Jackson can provide reliable depth at corner. How each of those three play against the Eagles, and the remaining of the preseason for that matter, will play a huge role in how the Patriots proceed at the position. If their struggles continue, it wouldn’t be all that shocking to see the Patriots acquire another corner via trade or free agency.
4: The return of Chase Winovich
An already loaded Patriots front seven just received another boost in the return of Chase Winovich. Winovich was activated off the PUP list earlier this week. After two good seasons to start his career and leading the Patriots in sacks in 2020, most would assume Winovich’s spot on the roster is secured. That, however, does not seem to be the case.
New England revamped their edge position over the offseason by signing Matthew Judon, Kyle Van Noy, and drafting Ronnie Perkins. Plus, Dont’a Hightower is back after opting out of the 2020 season and Josh Uche is expected to have a much bigger role in his second season as a pro. With so many players on the roster that can play the edge position, it leaves Winovich not only fighting for snaps but also a roster spot.
It doesn’t help that Winovich was hurt at the start of training camp and missed a lot of valuable practice time. On the bright side, Winovich still has time to make up ground. He can start by putting together a good performance against the Eagles.
Winovich must continue to show his high-level pass rush prowess, but he also needs to show improvement against the run. His run defense has kept him from earning a bigger role the first two seasons of his career.
Winovich is too good to simply be cut by New England. However, a trade to a pass-rush needy team shouldn’t be ruled out. These last couple of weeks before the final roster is finalized will be huge for Winovich’s future in New England.
5: Can Devin Asiasi successfully lead the injured tight end group?
The injuries at the tight end position are starting to pile up for the Patriots. Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, and Matt LaCosse are all currently dealing with injuries. There’s been no announcement yet on which, if any, of the injured tight ends will play against the Eagles.
Because Thursday’s game is only a preseason matchup, the Patriots will be on the cautious side of things when it comes to playing guys with injuries. That means that Devin Asiasi, the only healthy tight end, will get a ton of snaps on Thursday. Getting an extended look at Asiasi will be extremely valuable in the long run of things.
Asiasi didn’t have a ton of time to develop as a rookie last season, as COVID-19 eliminated the NFL preseason. The opportunity for Asiasi to play a ton of preseason snaps coming into his second season is a much-needed chance for him to garner experience and advance his technique.
Asiasi may not be expected to start this season, but with injuries already popping up to presumed starters Smith and Henry, he will provide important depth at the position. For this reason, it’s imperative Asiasi shows some promise on Thursday night.