New England Patriots: What You Need to Know Heading in to Week 3

James Christensen@@nepatriotsdraftContributor ISeptember 17, 2013

Can Julian Edelman duplicate his incredible  week two performance?
Can Julian Edelman duplicate his incredible week two performance?Jim Rogash/Getty Images

After the Patriots and Jets nearly fought to a stalemate on Thursday night, fans in New England are relieved to see Coach Belichick and the Patriots sitting at the top of the AFC East standings .

The offense was far from effective, but the defense was able to hold onto the team's second-straight victory to start the 2013 campaign.

Here is a complete recap of the weekend in the world of the Patriots.

AFC East Results

Buffalo Bills vs Carolina Panthers Recap

The Bills evened up their record in style, with EJ Manuel hitting Steve Johnson in the back of the end zone with three seconds remaining in the game.

Manuel had seemingly thrown an interception two plays before, but an interference call on Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly gave the rookie quarterback a chance at redemption.

The Buffalo defense was led by defensive end Mario Williams and rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso. Williams finished the day with a career-high 4.5 sacks, while Alonso contributed an interception and a sack.

Miami Dolphins vs Indianapolis Colts Recap

Andrew Luck didn't have his normal magic touch against the Dolphins. Instead, Miami signal-caller Ryan Tannehill stole the spotlight with a 319-yard performance, featuring a touchdown pass to free agent acquisition Mike Wallace.

Brent Grimes was able to intercept Luck in the end zone and the Dolphins were able to get three sacks on the Colts offensive line. The Dolphins defense still had some issues with tight ends—Coby Fleener in this instance—which bodes well for New England if Rob Gronkowski can get healthy.

Analysis: The AFC East is an impressive 4-0 outside of the division, and each team in the division is currently at .500 or better.

The Dolphins have looked especially frisky, and the Patriots will certainly have a tougher go of it than many pundits thought they would in the AFC East. These first two wins in the division will go a long way to helping out with tiebreakers come playoff time.

Injury Report

Analysis: With Shane Vereen out until after the bye week and Danny Amendola being day-to-day, at best, the Patriots offense is going to be lacking some serious firepower. Until Rob Gronkowski can return, look for the Patriots to lean on their defense to help them survive and advance until reinforcements can arrive.

As reported by The Boston Globe's Ben Volin, Matthew Slater has a broken bone in his hand and will be sidelined for a few weeks. Slater being sidelined is a minor annoyance to the special teams unit,but losing Aqib Talib would be devastating to the Patriots defense. He has been a difference-maker since he arrived in New England.

Story To Watch

Tom Brady's frustration with his receivers was palpable during Thursday's game. A report from Gregg Rosenthal of said it best:

NFL Media's Michael Irvin was highly critical of Brady, who was demonstrative on the field and on the sideline. Irvin, a Hall of Fame wide receiver, said Brady should be more supportive of his wideouts, and the quarterback agreed with the sentiment.

I've got to do a better job with my body language, Brady said after the game. I can definitely improve on that. I wouldn't say that's a real strong point of mine right now.

If Brady can remain patient, he may be rewarded. All three first-year wideouts—Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce—have flashed talent. With Tom Brady perhaps taking an active role in bringing them along, the sky is the limit.

What Needs to Improve

1. X and Z Receiver Play

Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins had no trouble getting open against the New York Jets; making the catch was a different story. 

The rookie duo combined for four drops on the night, including one sure touchdown that slipped through the hands of Dobson.

Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola need the rookie receivers to get on the same page as Tom Brady so the veterans can avoid double-teams going forward.

As the jitters subside and Dobson and Thompkins grow into their role, this receiver group has a chance to be the best that New England has seen since 2007.

2. Run Blocking

Stevan Ridley was held to only 40 yards by the stout Jets defense, although that had more to do with the Patriots offensive line and Jets quality of play than Ridley.

The Patriots need a strong running game in order to open up the play-action passing game. Once the Jets didn't have to respect the run, that made things much harder on Brady and the young receivers.

3. Interior Defensive Line Play

Vince Wilfork didn't play at his typical All-Pro-level on Thursday night against New York. He was unable to hold the point of attack against Vlad Ducasse and Nick Mangold. This led to a slew of quality inside runs by Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory, who combined for 100 yards of rushing on the night.

Although he did record a sack, Tommy Kelly wasn't his normal stout self against the run. Rookie Joe Vellano—the smallest of the three—had the best night of any of the tackles, holding up well against the Jets blocking attack.

4. Contributions From the Tight End Position

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are known for their love of the tight end position, and the rest of the NFL surely took notice when the Patriots tight ends were held without a target, let alone a catch.

When Zach Sudfeld and Rob Gronkowski return to health, look for this problem to take care of itself. Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan aren't guys that you want in the starting lineup.


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