NFL Preseason: New England Patriots Vs. New Orleans Saints Preview
The Patriots officially begin their preseason tonight, as they welcome in the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints to Gillette Stadium.
The two teams practiced together for three sessions over the past two days, and gave fans a taste of what to expect.
As always with these preseason games, there are a few things to keep your eye on. The games may not necessarily mean anything yet, but with several developing storylines for both teams, there's no shortage of note-worthy sports to watch.
Here are some of my key factors to keep an eye on during the game tonight.
New England's Pass Protection
The Saints defense abused New England's pass protection in practice. In one-on-one drills, it seemed like the Saints rushers were consistently getting by New England's pass blockers. New England coaches at one point even yelled at their players demanding that they stop holding.
We likely won't see much of Aaron Hernandez in pass protection, as he was abused by Will Smith and gave up a strip sack on Tom Brady in practice.
New England's aerial attack is essential to their success on offense, and Brady is the engine that keeps the Flying Elvises flying.
New England Defensive Backs vs. New Orleans Receivers
The Patriots have built their secondary with a deep group of fast, young guys ready to make a name for themselves.
They'll get a chance to do that by defending against Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints offense.
New England's corners did a respectable job covering the Saints receivers in practice, but game time is now. Can they translate their success from the practice field to the turf at Gillette Stadium?
New England's Pass Rush
This is the vaunted subject that we've all been beating to death all offseason. Now, with game time drawing near, we may be getting our answers sooner than later.
Tully Banta-Cain' performance will be vital to New England's pass rush. Can he repeat his double-digit sack performance of last year?
Who will step up on the other side of the field? We've seen a mix of Marques Murrell and Jermaine Cunningham starting at outside linebacker in training camp.
Does it look like they need to add someone? Talks were spreading rampant of possibly bringing in a defensive end like Adewale Ogunleye or Aaron Schobel to play at outside linebacker. If no one has a memorable performance, some may think it's high time to call one of those guys up for a visit to Foxborough.
Tom Brady's New Toys
Brady looks ready to get his new toys at receiver involved early and often. He's been building rapport with the likes of Brandon Tate, Taylor Price, and most notably Aaron Hernandez throughout the course of training camp.
How will they respond? Are they ready to reel in the passes from Brady?
They were getting open fairly well against New Orleans' defensive backs in practice. Can they repeat that success Thursday night?
New England's had an injection of youth to the roster, and with that comes some mistakes, but these are the guys that New England can look forward to for the future. Look to see if they can answer the bell in this first game of the preseason.
How Do The Patriots Measure Up?
Jerod Mayo called this game a "measuring stick" for the Patriots. The sense I got just from the way the Patriots practiced is that the rest of the team feels the same way.
Why wouldn't it be a measuring stick? Even if it's only a preseason game, they are going up against the defending Super Bowl Champions. And this is the same New Orleans team that shellacked the Patriots in the Superdome last year.
Granted, this won't make or break New England's status among the elite, but it will give us a good idea for what to expect in terms of how competitive the individual match-ups look.