The New England Patriots will head to down to Maryland for a Sunday night clash with the Baltimore Raven, following a devastating loss in their home opener to the surprising Arizona Cardinals. Several occurrences during that loss will add extra focus on the Patriots game this week. Here are five things to watch for in this week’s game.
1. Defensive Secondary
The Ravens are known for their exemplary defense, but the team has made strides this off-season to improve on the other side of the ball. Along with Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice and Pro Bowl receiver Anquan Boldin, the team has added Jacoby Jones from the Houston Texans. Jones will add another threat to the passing game. The biggest problem for the Patriots secondary might be 2011 NFL Draft pick Torrey Smith. Now having a year of experience, Smith has become a legitimate deep threat. With the struggles the Patriots secondary had in 2011 defending passes deep down field, stifling Smith will be a key to winning Sunday night.
2. Offensive Line
The biggest loss the Patriots suffered this off-season was on the offensive line. Pro Bowl tackle Matt Light, who had been a stalwart part of the team’s offensive line for a decade, has retired. That was followed by the realization that Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters would not be returning either. The Patriots currently have only three offensive linemen with any NFL experience in Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer, and Dan Connolly. However, all three are dealing with injuries and have been limited in practice this week. To make matters worse, the Patriots big men will be attempting to protect their star quarterback from two of the league’s better pass rushers in Pernell McPhee and Haloti Ngata.
3. Wes Welker
The contract negotiations between the Patriots and Welker have left scars, and the tensions between the two sides have bled into the regular season. After the four-time Pro Bowler played almost 90% of the snaps in 2011, he was involved in just 64% of the snaps in the team’s week one win. In week two, Welker was taken out of the starting lineup in favor of the young Julian Edleman. But when Welker is on the field he’s still Brady’s favorite target. His involvement in week three will be a focus for the Patriots.
4. Kellen Winslow Jr.
The Patriots use their tight ends in the passing game more than any other team in the league. Their duel tight end system was virtually indefensible in 2011, but in week two the team lost one of their key players in Aaron Hernandez. His replacement is veteran Kellen Winslow Jr., who was once one of the league’s top tight ends, but has fallen on hard times with several knee injuries holding him back. With Hernandez out for at least a few weeks, Winslow’s performance Sunday night will go a long way to telling how the Patriots offense will run.
5. Tom Brady
In week two the Cardinals were able to hold Brady somewhat in check and the Patriots offense to just 18 points. That’s minuscule for the most prolific offense in the league. Now Brady will go against one of the top defenses in the league on the road. The NFL is a copycat league and the Ravens will have learned from Sunday’s game. Without a key target in Hernandez, Brady will have to learn from his mistakes to keep the ball away from safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard.