Redskins at Patriots: What To Watch

The Patriots play host for the second week in a row in this Week 3 preseason matchup against the Washington Redskins at Foxborough. The Redskins look to snap a two game slide when they visit Gillette Stadium. The Patriots look to build on a strong performance from last week's 30-3 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

New England Patriots (1-1) vs. Washington Redskins (0-2)

When: Saturday August 26, 2006 (8:00pm)
Where: Gillette Stadium Foxborough Mass.
Weather: Weather.com , Weather Underground
TV: CBS Don Criqui, Randy Cross
Radio: WBCN 104.7 Boston

Series History:
Preseason matchups since 1967 the Redskins have won 7 with the Patriots winning 11. The Patriots have won 6 of the last 8 meetings between the two teams in preseason. The Redskins have won all (6 of 7) but the very first regular season matchup in 1972.

What to Expect:
The preseason is a time for coaching staffs to evaluate players. While some teams use it as a way to give their starters a tune-up before the season, many more use the time to give minimal tune-ups to their starters while evaluating many of the players “on the bubble.” Each week in the preseason differs. Week three is considered the time to play the starters deeper into the game then evaluate the backups in the second half. Expect to see both the Redskins and the Patriots starters to see significant action well into the first half, possibly even the third quarter.

What to Watch:
As the regular season approaches, so do the roster cutdown dates. The first of those roster reductions comes August 29th. The impending approach of those cuts lead many players to go the extra mile in a game with their future riding on their performance. A few key battles stand out. The team's starters will be in the game for much of the first half, possibly longer. The key for New England is to get into an offensive rhythm and to prove the team can move the ball without wide receiver Deion Branch.

 

Roster Competitons:
Running back:
Corey Dillon, Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, Heath Evans and Patrick Cobbs. Dillon and Maroney will get the call early and often, as the team looks to fine tune the running game before the games matter. Dillon has run with authority since training camp opened; expect more of the same tonight. Maroney displayed a running style that was more slash and speed rather than a power approach. Washington was the 13th best rush defense last season allowing 105.4 yards per game. Conversely New England managed only 94.5 yards per game in 2005, good enough for 24th overall.

The Patriots have focused on running the ball. They’ve improved the offensive line, and they’ve concentrated on blocking better. With Dillon and Maroney taking most of the snaps early, it will be up to Heath Evans, Kevin Faulk and Patrick Cobbs to showcase their skills later in the game. Faulk is a threat to run or catch out of the backfield and may see action early as well. The Patriots have not carried more than three RBs on the roster in recent years, so it will be interesting to see if Faulk has staked a claim to a roster spot, or if Patrick Cobbs or Heath Evans manage to make a case for themselves this evening.

Wide Receiver: With the news that Deion Branch can seek a trade, the Patriots are going to need more time to find a receiver who can step up to fill in the massive hole created by Branch’s absence. Last week, Bam Childress snared 3 catches for 75 yards to lead all Patriots receivers. Although it was against the second and third units, Childress has been impressive when on the field. The Patriots sequestered the Ohio State product on the practice squad last year and that may turn out to be a wise decision if Branch does not return.

Other receivers in the mix include Reche Caldwell who should see more action tonight. His week 1 drop drew the ire of onlookers, but quarterback Tom Brady defended him “Reche has made some nice plays for us,” Brady said. “That pass was a tough catch. I think it was tipped at the line.” Caldwell needs to have a solid game to establish a rapport with his QB. Another two catch 11-yard outing like last week may give those who advocate paying Deion Branch his asking price more ammunition.

Injured Chad Jackson has yet to see the field, so the remaining attention will be on free agent pickups Eddie Berlin, Kelvin Kight and Keron Henry. Second year man Rich Musinski has a mountain to climb if he’s going to make the roster, but he can make a case for a practice squad spot if he makes another reception for a touchdown, he’s the only receiver to manage that feat so far this preseason.

Linebacker: This is certainly one of the most competitive situations on the roster. With Tedy Bruschi sidelined for at least another couple of weeks, the biggest question mark is who will fill in at the middle while he’s out. So far Monty Beisel has not seen enough action in the middle to determine if he’s ready for a second opportunity. Barry Gardner hopes he’s ready and claims to have a decent understanding of the 3-4 due to his experience in Philadelphia, yet Gardner has been a journeyman of late with the Patriots being his third team in as many seasons. Mike Vrabel appears to be destined to move back to the middle until the questions surrounding Garner, Beisel and the rest of the backers are settled.

On the outside, the story differs. Tully Banta-Cain is hoping Vrabel’s move inside allows him an opportunity to stake a claim as the next starting outside linebacker. Banta-Cain has received praise from Belichick for having a solid camp and working hard. On the other side is Rosevelt Colvin who has displayed the playmaking ability the team hoped for when they acquired him three seasons ago.

The crunch at LB comes from the team’s young crop of backers. Pierre Woods and Jeremy Mincey are competing for spots on the outside with Corey Mays and Freddie Roach on the inside. Roach’s injury may take him completely out of the picture. Mays will need to make more plays to get past wily veteran special teamers Don Davis, Larry Izzo and Eric Alexander. The Woods / Mincey situation is more interesting because both have impressed at times during camp, and both have had rookie troubles. One would think the edge goes to Mincey for being the team’s sixth-round pick this year, but Woods has shown the ability to play in space and has used his speed to make it a much closer competition than originally believed.

And last, but not least, keep on eye on recent addition Junior Seau. Miami Insiders tell PatriotsInsider.com that Seau still has plenty of gas left in his tank if he can avoid the injury bug. Even after missing much of the past two seasons, Seau was given the team's leadership award as voted by his teammates.

Special Teams: The competition between rookie kicker Stephen Gostkowski and veteran Martin Gramatica ended when Gramatica was handed his walking papers earlier this week. It remains to be seen how well Gostkowski does under pressure. With Gramatica out of the picture, for now, it’s up to the newcomer to show the Patriots were correct in their decision.

What’s Next:
The NFL’s mandated roster cut date. Teams must reach the maximum of 75 players on a roster by Tuesday August 29, 2006.

The Patriots have one more preseason game, Thursday August 31, 2006 vs the New York Giants at the Meadowlands.

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