Patriots - Rams: What To Watch:

Patriots Insider Jon Scott takes a look at the third -- perhaps most important -- preseason game and offers five key things to watch.

KICKOFF: 7:30pm ET
WHEN: Thursday, August 26, 2010
VENUE: Gillette Stadium
WHERE: Foxborough, Mass.
SURFACE: Fieldturf
WEATHER: weather report

TV: WBZ-TV 4 Boston, Don Cruqui, Randy Cross, Steve Burton, Scott Zolak
RADIO: 98.5 FM

Prediction: Patriots 27 - Rams 17

KEYS: New England needs to keep Tom Brady upright, something the offensive line has managed to do rather well in his limited time on the field. With the starters expected to see action through the first half, it's clear New England must find out if the passing game can find the successful rhythm it has enjoyed the past three seasons. If the Patriots offense can exploit a, vulnerable Rams defense, while avoiding turnovers, New England's offense should carry the day. The debut of Sam Bradford will entice New England to bring pressure to rattle the rookie. While that's the way to win, it may not be Belichick's gameplan. The goal is to find out if the base defense can b ring pressure. So the front seven must find ways to get pressure without bringing the blitz. If they can, it speaks well of the defense's potential

Five Things To Watch

Running Back By Committee
The Patriots have to wrap up who will be their backup RB by next week. The team is unlikely to carry more than 4 RBs on the roster, though it is possible. That means, Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris and Laurence Maroney will by vying for the lead role, while Kevin Faulk holds down the third down back spot. It will be up to BenJarvus Green-Ellis to hold off any challenges from Chris Taylor and Thomas Clayton.

Run Defense
This has been an ongoing concern. With Stephen Jackson in the St. Louis backfield, it's only a matter of time before the big bruiser breaks off a big run. Can the Patriots find a way to slow the Rams rushing attack down, or will it be a bunch of 2nd or 3rd and short? Without Ty Warren up front, it's the Patriots backups who need to step up next to Vince WIlfork. The LBs need to find a way to fill the holes.

Donnie Avery
Does anyone remember Donnie Avery's breakout game a couple years ago? It came against New England when Avery hauled in six receptions for 163 yards. If the Rams can find their receivers downfield it could force some changes to the Patriots defense. The most telling aspect will be coverage downfield if the Patriots do not generate a pass rush. The team keeps investing in defensive backs, it's time for some onf them, including rookie Devin McCourty to step up and slow down Avery as well as the other Rams wideouts.

Red Zone
Offense or Defense performance in the Red Zone is important. For New England, their big challenge is on offense. If the team can't find ways to get the ball into the End Zone when in scoring position, then it matters little else what happens. Tom Brady has made a point of emphasis on Red Zone plays during camp. Look to see how the Patriots try to get the ball into the End Zone once they're inside the 20. Will they pound the ball as they did against Atlanta? Or are they going to try to get it to one of their new toys, tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.

Special Teams
Stephen Gostkowski just received a contract extension. Long snapper Jake Ingram is in his second season, and punter Zoltan Mesko takes over for former punter Chris Hanson. Mesko has been holding on field goal attempts, which means Ingram and Gostkowski have to iron out their timing with the rookie to avoid any hiccups from last year. Mesko has to prove he was worthy of a Draft pick by the Patriots. The youngster out of Michigan has a solid reputation of performance, but he has to show he can handle pressure in the big show. Field goals and extra points are other places to keep an eye on.

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