After last week’s struggle for the first team offense, the New England Patriots look to gain some rhythm Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles. (8:00, ESPN) . There were some great flashes in the 7-6 win over the New Orleans Saints last Thursday. Chandler Jones shined in his first game at defensive end and the secondary stepped up with interceptions from Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung. There is also a lot of buzz around Foxboro with the signing of Olympic silver medalist Jeffrey Demps. The former Florida Gator will try to make the team either as a running back or a kick/punt returner.
As for the Patriots’ opponent, the Eagles had a scare in their first game when Michael Vick hurt his thumb on a teammate’s helmet. He seems to be okay enough to play in this game and probably for as long as Tom Brady will. Once again, the Eagles made the headlines in the offseason with Vick saying that he believes this year’s team can develop into a dynasty. Right now, Philadelphia has to worry about actually making the postseason after their disappointing 2011 in a tough NFC East.
With that in mind, here are my keys to watch in Monday night’s game:
1. Receivers Bursting Their Bubble?: With the signing of Demps, the Patriots have a lot of weapons and somebody of good talent is going to get left off the receiving core. Depending on who you talk to, these next three games could be critical for two veterans with great knowledge of the Patriots offense. Those receivers are Deion Branch and Donte Stallworth. Branch did not play in last week’s game and Stallworth had one catch for one yard. Branch has the most value in New England, if you go by his inactivity with the Seattle Seahawks. However, he needs to see playing time and could get his chance now that Britt Davis has been waived and Jabar Gaffney’s quad might keep him from playing significant time on Monday. Both of these players need to make sure their chemistry with Brady is down pat so they can make this 53-man roster by the end of the month.
2. Sticking To Vick: Last week, the Patriots’ pass rush did a good job against Drew Brees, but only in limited action. Brees only had four passing attempts. On Monday, you will most likely see the Eagles’ offense play up to three quarters, according to head coach Andy Reid. Last year, the Patriots did not see Vick when they took a visit to Philly, so this will be a new challenge for the defense. Keep an eye on linebacker Jerod Mayo who did a good job containing the passing game last week from big gains. Against Philly, the tackles have to be sharp especially if it’s a screen pass to LeSean McCoy or a pass over the middle to DeSean Jackson.
3. Nate The Great: Over this past week, there has been a new standout at Patriots’ practice on both the defense and the special teams side. Nate Ebner, the 6th round pick out of Ohio State University, has been making strides in practice and not just on the primary kickoff unit. Lately, he is taking more reps with the defense showing off his good movement in the secondary. With the success the secondary had last week, maybe Ebner is the guy who gets the accolades late in the second half.
PLAYER TO WATCH: WR Brandon Lloyd: If the Patriots’ first team offense is going to play a significant amount of time on Monday, then I will keep my attention on Lloyd. Lloyd has great familiarity with the Josh McDaniels’ offense, but struggled to get a connection with Brady against the Saints. He had a drop on a deep pass and did not record a single catch. We all know that Welker and the tight ends will get their share of catches, but Lloyd could take this offense to another level if he is able to catch those deep passes down the field. He will get a test though against the Eagles’ first team cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rogers-Cromartie.