What To Watch: Patriots - Saints

FOXBORO -- The New England Patriots host the New Orleans Saints tonight at Gillette Stadium for the preseason opener. The once Super Bowl champs conclude two days of practices with the current champs. Patriots Insider has some keys things you should keep an eye on to tell you how the 2010 Patriots look.

KICKOFF: 7:30pm ET
WHEN: August 12, 2010
VENUE: Gillette Stadium
WHERE: Foxborough, Mass.
SURFACE: Fieldturf
WEATHER: weather report
TV: WBZ-TV Boston, NFLN (replay)

PREDICTION: Saints 27-20

KEYS: For the Patriots, finding a pass rush without defensive end Ty Warren and outside linebacker Derrick Burgess is going to be tough, especially against the Super Bowl Champs. One benefit for New England is that the Saints appear to be low on healthy running backs, which should limit what the defense has to account for. Jeremy Shockey, Marques Colston and Reggie Bush return, along with Pierre Thomas to give Drew Brees most of the weapons he needs. If the revamped Patriots offensive line -- missing Logan Mankins (holdout) and Nick Kaczur (back) cannot find a rhythm, the Patriots QBs may find themselves on the ground more than usual.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH:

Patriots Offensive Line:
As mentioned earlier, the Patriots will be without two starters from last season on the offensive line; OG Logan Mankins and OT Nick Kaczur. Filling in for Kaczur is future starter Sebastian Vollmer, who has shown he can handle the job. Filling in for Mankins are Dan Connolly, Rich Ohrnberger and Ryan Wendell (among others). The ragtag bunch of reserves have limited experience in big games. Getting their timing down in plays that are the bread-and-butter of the Patriots offense will be crucial. Mankins is arguably one of the best guards in the league. His ability to kick out on screen plays and the short passing came including receiver screens to Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, allowed for solid gains downfield. It is important for the Patriots to see what they have in the young guns who are trying to fill Mankins' shoes.

Outside Linebacker:
OLB has been an area of concern for the Patriots since the departures of Mike Vrabel and Willie McGinest. With Adalius Thomas gone, Burgess thinking about retirement and Shawn Crable on the unemployment line, the unit remains a group in flux. Rookie Jermaine Cunningham and veteran Marques Murrell are the two faces who figure to find some sort of role at the position opposite last year's starter Tully Banta-Cain. Pierre Woods and Rob Ninkovich also figure into the mix.

Inside Linebacker:
The Patriots went after solving their linebacker problems by adding another rookie to the mix; Florida's Brandon Spikes. Spikes joins returning starters Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton to form a solid interior if all three are healthy. Guyton has struggled a bit with injury during camp, and may remain on the sideline, opening up an opportunity for not only Spikes, but last year's rookie draft pick Tyrone McKenzie and former USC standout Thomas Williams. Eric Alexander is also in the mix.

Brady's Timing
It goes without saying that when Tom Brady is on, He's On. But when he's not, havoc usually ensues. Brady has plenty of familiar faces surrounding him for this game. Back are the entire running back corps and nearly the entire receiving unit. Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor make their return as the three-headed threat. Randy Moss, Wes Welker anchor the receiving corps that will welcome back first year sensation Julian Edelman. Brandon Tate (back from injury), Taylor Price (rookie) and Torry Holt (free agent) are the new faces. Sam Aiken, the venerable special teams ace also makes a return to this group. How positions sort out behind Welker Moss and Edelman will determine just how comfortable Brady is with his targets.

Tight Ends:
The tight end position underwent a complete overhaul during the offseason. Alge Crumpler is the veteran presence among rookie Draft picks Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Rob Meyers and Carson Butler are longshots. Gronkowski has shown he can block, but can he be more than that? Hernandez has received praise for his speed, but can he pickup his assignments in live action. Crumpler has something left in the tank, but is it enough to be effective, unlike the failed Chris Baker experiment from a season ago.

The starters figure ot leave after the first quarter, so pickup a copy of the roster and keep an eye on the backups. The first preseason game goes a long way to determining who has potential to make the final 53.



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