Offense may get the headlines, but defense most often determines championship aspirations.
The New England Patriots are set to open their 2021 preseason slate on Thursday, August 12 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro Massachusetts. The Pats will welcome the Washington Football Team for the first, and only preseason contest to be held in New England this summer. With an expected capacity crowd to cheer on the hometown team, the Pats will continue to use each opportunity to learn, improve and prepare for the upcoming 2021 season.
Though many Patriots players are expected to garner some attention during Thursday’s matchup, here are three players that might raise an eyebrow… or perhaps, catch a ‘sharp eye’ when the Pats take the field against Washington.
The 29-year-old defensive end has performed well in camp, thus far. During team drills, he routinely applied pressure to the quarterback, while quickly getting into position to stuff the run. Anderson had the third-highest run-stuff rate among players with at least 500 defensive snaps in 2020. His presence should help to bolster a Patriots line, which had its problems against the run. Anderson also is also capable of providing assistance with rushing the passer as well, notching seven sacks and 16 quarterback hits in 2018, as a member of the New York Jets. His versatility has the potential to earn him a starting spot along the interior of the defensive line, alongside Davon Godchaux and Lawrence Guy. With Washington head coach Ron Rivera declaring his intention to play his starters on Thursday, Anderson may get to test his skill against presumed running back roster-locks Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic.
While Perkins was a star defensive end during his time at the University of Oklahoma, the Patriots are seemingly looking to cast him in the role of outside linebacker; rather than a traditional edge rusher. This should allow him to play upright, which is more conducive to his size and style. In fact, Perkins has worked closely with outside linebackers coach Steve Belichick during both mandatory minicamp and training camp. This has only served to fuel the speciation that the talented rookie might be ready for a positional shift. It should be interesting to see how the Pats deploy Perkins on Thursday. While he may not get an abundance of chances to line up with assumed Washington starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, he may get some opportunities to get after back-up Taylor Heinicke. To do so, he will need to utilize his above-average burst and closing speed. Look for him to also be a disruptive run defender on Thursday. Should Perkins make the most of those opportunities, he may find his way into the rotation at a stacked linebacker position for New England.
Despite being only two years removed from being selected by the Patriots in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Williams is not a lock to make the roster. He possesses plenty of potential value due to his size and athleticism. Ideally, he would be most effective when used as a rotational perimeter and slot cornerback against taller pass catchers. During training camp in 2020, he was being used in more of a specialized role; defending tight ends and big receivers. In fact, he actually looked better against tight ends than he did while guarding wide receivers. In 2021, Williams seems to have returned to more of a traditional corner role. Still, he is maintaining his physicality. Though he has been beaten on some one-on-one routes by receivers N’Keal Harry and Nelson Agholor, he has provided adequate coverage in team drills. Williams should be well-tested by Washington’s deep corps of wide receivers on Thursday. He will need to step up his performance to keep pace with fellow corners Dee Virgin, Michael Jackson, Sr. and Myles Bryant in hopes of securing a roster spot for 2021.