There will be plenty to watch on the Lions side when they continue preseason play against the New England Patriots on Saturday night. That being said, I wanted to get a feel for what is going on with the Patriots side.
I had a chance to ask a few questions to Musket Fire‘s Jamie Pacheco and he was kind enough to answer them. Hopefully this Q&A is a good introduction to the 2011 New England Patriots and leaves you with a couple things to look for during the game.
Zac Snyder: Describe the overall vibe at Patriots camp.
Jamie Pacheco: The Patriots seemed to have lower fan attendance this year at camp, but that was likely due to the hangover of the lockout and the team getting the practice time schedules out late. On the player side, this seems to be a pretty cohesive team and competition between the offense and defense and among players at individual positions has been intense. With “training camp” over and regular practices now underway, the defense had the upper hand this year. You wouldn’t know that by watching the team’s offense last week against Tampa Bay, but that’s a credit to the defense. The team seems to have the right mix of youth and veteran leadership, so it was all business in camp.
ZS: How have Patriots fans reacted to a strong start to the preseason?
JP: Optimism is pretty high right now. The biggest reason for this is the improvement on defense. Of course, it’s only the preseason, but the defense has been attacking the opposition and seems to be quicker at the line of scrimmage, even with some more “seasoned” legs. I’ve got a more tempered view because it is only the preseason, but I can’t help but be excited at the same time. IF (big if) the Patriots can field a defense that’s as tough as its offense, this is going to be a very tough team to beat.
ZS: What is going well and what isn’t going so well for the Patriots so far?
JP: Training camp practices weren’t always so crisp, but that hasn’t translated over to the preseason games. Of course, Bill Belichick always emphasizes that there’s room for improvement and lots of mistakes made, but we’ve come to expect that from him by now. The areas of obvious concern to most are special teams coverage on kickoff returns and the safety position. While there haven’t been many kickoff returns due to the increase in touchbacks, the ones that have been returned have found some holes to run through. Brandon Meriweather seems to be on the hot seat in terms of being the starter at safety opposite Patrick Chung. Belichick has brought in several free agents at the position and signed James Ihedigbo to add some depth to the position. At the present time, the safety position appears to be the weakness of the defense.
ZS: Is there a particular hot Patriots position battle that we should watch for on Saturday night?
JP: It’s tough at times to pin down “starters” at certain positions, especially on the defensive line, with the Patriots because they like to rotate guys in and out and will “start” different guys based on the opposing team. However, there are only so many roster spots, so looking at who will make the roster for the defensive line is something to keep an eye on. As I mentioned before, the safety position is in flux, so it will be interesting to see what combinations Belichick uses and who gets the most snaps when the starters are in the game. Finally, the fourth receiver spot after Wes Welker, Deion Branch, and Chad Ochocinco has been a hot topic. Taylor Price looked good in Week One of the preseason but was hurt and missed Week Two. Julien Edelman is also in the mix, and Brandon Tate has work to do after missing much of camp and the first two preseason games.
ZS: What could stand in the way of the Patriots reaching the Super Bowl this season?
JP: Injuries are always a factor and could stop any team, though I think the Patriots are better equipped to deal with injuries than most NFL teams due to the depth on the roster. Is the defense really as good as it has looked thus far? The Patriots simply haven’t gotten to where they want to go relying mostly on Tom Brady and the offense, and I think they know that. This team will go as far as the defense can take them. The offense will be good once again, and the running game will likely see a larger portion of the offensive pie. If the defense still can’t get off the field on third down (they were last in the NFL last season), the Patriots will not even sniff the Super Bowl.
[Editor’s Note: Join us for a live blog during the game, use the box below to sign up for an email reminder]