The NFL (pre)season kicks off tonight with a match-up of the two best teams in the league (one, the actual best team – the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints; the other, the best in the eyes and minds of all New Englanders – the Patriots). This should be interesting, especially considering that the last time Patriots’ fans watched a NFL game, they were cheering for the Saints.
|Gronkowski does work during joint-practice|
Leading up to tonight’s game, both teams participated in a joint-practice … the first joint-practice for the Patriots since the 2001 season (against the Giants) and the first ever to be held at Gillette Stadium. The Saints are no stranger to the concept, practicing with the Texans before the start of last season. 16,455 people turned out for the open-to-the-public event.
It was reported that both teams were a little sloppy and inconsistent at times but Belichick went on record saying that it was “one of the most productive practices that [he’s] been part of in [his] career”.
I always like pre-season games because they give you an opportunity to confirm/deny all of the rumors that have been floating around during the weeks of camp. Here are a few things to watch for tonight:
- The pass-rush. Last season the Patriots were only able to record 31 sacks, which was less than stellar. The secondary is still very young, though showing signs of maturing in camp … and the best way to protect the secondary is to get a pass-rush. This is probably the #1 thing the Patriots need to show they can do tonight: rush the quarterback. Keep your eye on Jermaine Cunningham to be a factor.
- OLBs. With (reserve) Marques Murrell going down in camp this week due to heat-related cramping-type issues, this already thin position became an even bigger issue. Though mostly used in special teams situations, Murrells absence will put added pressure on and increase playing time for Banta-Cain, Ninkovich, Cunningham and Woods … not an ideal situation.
- Camp stand-outs. Randy Moss has had a solid camp so far and looks to be in mid-season form already. TEs Hernandez and Gronkowski have repeatedly impressed the coaching staff as receiving and red-zone threats. 2nd year receiver Brandon Tate is healthy and looking strong. Matt Light and Fred Taylor have also received gold-stars for their camp performances.
- Strugg-a-ling. It has been reported that Gostkowski and newcomer Zoltan Mesko have been struggling through camp. DE Ty Warren is considering surgery on his hip and OL Nick Kaczur is rumored to need season-ending back surgery … combine that with the fact that that POS Mankins is still holding out and our line of scrimmage is in some serious trouble. And as we all remember in last season’s Week 12 match-up, the Saints dominated the Pats’ o-line. You can probably expect something similar tonight.
- Intensity. Apparently, camp has lacked a competitive edge and mental mistakes have been an issue. False starts, lackluster play and two dropped kickoffs by the return unit have caused frustration on the field – especially from Brady who reacted with a fiery outburst when New Orleans’ DE Will Smith stripped the ball on his blindside during the joint practice.
This will be the 9th preseason meeting for the two teams. Heading into tonight, the teams are split with a 4-4 record. The Patriots are 2-2 at home against the Saints.
Who dat say gonna beat dem Saints? I’m kinda hoping it’s the Patriots …