FOXBORO -- The third preseason game for any NFL team is often touted as the closest to the real thing.
It's the game when starters often get the highest number of snaps, since by the fourth week most are kept out to avoid injury. It's also deep enough into the summer that teams have installed good chunks of their playbooks, and coaching staffs have an idea as to which players are their best.
The third preseason game still isn't anything like a regular-season game, though. One reason? Less game-planning. Patriots coach Bill Belichick said on Monday that there would likely be very little game-planning for Carolina, which will take the field for Friday's preseason matchup.
"Not a whole lot," Belichick said. "Carolina had one game against Buffalo then just played [Sunday] night. So even for us to get that game -- and of course there are a lot of players playing in it. I don’t think this game is as much about game-planning as it is just continuing to build on what we’ve already done and add to it. You certainly have to be prepared for the other team and give yourself a chance at what they’re doing so you’re not running into a brick wall so to speak. It’s not a big game planning game."
But this week of practice will feel much more like a week of work leading up to a regular-season game. First of all, the Patriots are practicing on their own after spending two weeks of joint practices with the Redskins and Eagles. Secondly, their practices are closed to the public starting Tuesday.
The other thing that will make this week feel a bit more like normal is that while the game-planning will be minimal, there will be some. On Monday it appeared as though the Patriots put together a scout-team offense -- using yellow-colored pennies with different uniform numbers -- in order to give defensive starters an idea of what they'll see from Cam Newton and Co. on Friday.
Safety Devin McCourty said that the team will do some film preparation for the Panthers as well.
"The first two weeks, I think the hard thing for rookies is you get used to practice against a team and then going to play," he said. "It's a lot easier than trying to watch film, just going off scouting reports and stuff like that.
"That's the biggest difference now is we actually kind of get into a regular-season mode as far as watching film together, trying to get things adjusted through film and go into the game that way. It's starting to really get us prepared for the season."
McCourty said that joint practices helped players see opposing schemes and concepts in real time. Veterans, like McCourty, might have been able to provide younger players answers as to what was transpiring on the field as it happened.
The Patriots now have to hold those conversations in meeting rooms or on the practice fields, where the speed of the game is different.
"It's not as easy as playing it live," McCourty said of film study. "I think when you're doing it in practice against a team, you can talk about it right there on the field and sometimes two guys will come up and say, 'I saw this. This is what it really was.' When you're on film you might see something you think is similar, but it might look a little different in two different games for one team so you just gotta talk about it and make sure you get on the same page as far as how we want to see it going into the game."