The Patriots came out last week and lambasted the Jacksonville Jaguars 47-12 in their first preseason game of 2011. Most of the players who saw action on the field were back-ups and rotational guys, but this week promises to bring the first starter action of the season for New England. I don’t expect to see the same lopsided score as last week, and I think the Bucs will bring some of the players who shined last week back down to Earth some. Go HERE for a list of players not likely to suit up tonight.
Without any further ado, here are five items I’ll be watching for tonight…
1. Offensive chemistry. Tom Brady said earlier in camp that the offense was behind where it usually was at the time due to the lockout. The offense has had an up-and-down camp, so how the starters gel together tonight bears close scrutiny. Of course, it will be their first game action of the season, so expectations will be tempered some, but I’m anxious to see Brady and Chad Ochocinco in action.
2. Safety rotation. Brandon Meriweather has been under the microscope lately, with the Oats bringing in some free agent safeties and getting Sergio Brown some first-unit work. Who will start the game? What will the playing time with the first unit look like? Also, Meriweather’s actual play when he is in is something to keep an eye on.
3. Defensive line pressure. Last week, the Pats’ back-ups on the defensive line got some good pressure on the back-ups of the Jaguars. How will the starters fare against Tampa Bay’s starters? Will they be able to contain the mobile Josh Freeman? The Pats have Michael Vick on the schedule this year, and if they can’t control Freeman, they will struggle against Vick and the Eagles.
4. Repeat performances. Bill Belichick preaches consistency with his players, so I am interested to see if last week’s stars can string together two good games in a row. Unfortunately, WR Taylor Price is likely out, but guys like RB Stevan Ridley, DL Kyle Love, DE Mark Anderson, and LB Dane Fletcher should all suit up. Let’s see if they can do it again.
5. Special teams. Like I said last week, this will be here every preseason game. Guys can win and lose roster spots based on their special teams play. Guys like Tracy White and Matt Slater need to reaffirm that they are worth a roster spot almost exclusively for special teams. Darius Butler’s ability to return kicks could save his spot on the team. Long snapper Matt Katula can’t have anymore bad snaps. I’ll also be looking to see if the kickoff coverage has improved since last week.