NEPD Staff Writer: Matthew Jones
It seems like a long time since the Patriots snuck out of New Orleans with a 7-6 victory. Here are ten things to watch for when the Patriots and Eagles match up on Monday Night Football.
1. Which players will be inactive for the week due to injuries?
Based on the practice attendance from this week, New England may be forced to list a number of players as inactive in their Monday Night Football matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. Aside from the players who remain on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list (TE Jake Ballard, OT Markus Zusevics, DT Myron Pryor) and two players who are not with the team currently (FB Tony Fiammetta, OG Brian Waters), the offensive line depth should be tested, as tackles Kyle Hix and Matt Kopa have yet to play.
Other players who have missed multiple practices are, TE Daniel Fells, OT Sebastian Vollmer, FB Spencer Larsen, WR Jabar Gaffney, TE Visanthe Shiancoe, DT Jonathan Fanene, DT Gerard Warren, LB Tracy White, CB Marquice Cole, CB Alfonzo Dennard, and SS James Ihedigbo; none of the above players are likely to appear in the game. On the bright side, Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly were limited participants who became full participants later on in the week.
Running back Stevan Ridley (hamstring) and safety Tavon Wilson (ankle) were injured during practice this week and are not expected to play.
2. Can quarterback Ryan Mallett rebound from his struggles last week?
Ryan Mallett’s performance vs. the New Orleans Saints last week left a lot to be desired: the second-year quarterback completed just eight of 19 passes for 89 yards and an interception. This week, Mallett will be expected to show some improvement vs. Phialdelphia.
Mallett must make better decisions with the ball; last week’s interception came on a play in which the quarterback would have been wise to take a sack, instead heaving up a lame duck as he was hit. The former third-round pick has shown flashes of his considerable potential in practice but his inconsistent accuracy is concerning to those hoping Mallett will eventually replace Tom Brady as New England’s starting quarterback. Mallett is unlikely to usurp the backup quarterback role from Brian Hoyer this year, but a strong rebound performance would go a long way towards restoring the confidence of New England’s coaches and fans.
3. How will the Patriots compensate for Stevan Ridley’s hamstring injury?
Stevan Ridley injured his hamstring on practice Thursday and did not return to practice this week, leaving New England with just three running backs on the active roster: Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead, and Brandon Bolden. Recent free agent signing Jeff Demps was signed late and will not be eligible to play until next week because of the NFL’s new acclimation policy.
Brandon Bolden entered the game before Shane Vereen did last week, but was less successful overall; Bolden ran eight times for 23 yards, while Vereen contributed 64 yards rushing on 11 attempts and caught two passes for 17 as well. Look for Vereen to get the majority of New England’s carries on Monday night, with Bolden and Woodhead rotating in. Fullback Eric Kettani is also a candidate for playing time after returning to practice on Friday; Kettani was heavily utilized in the running game at Navy, where he carried the ball 190 times for 982 yards in 2008
4. Can Deion Branch or Donte’ Stallworth separate themselves at receiver?
Jabar Gaffney injured his quad in practice on Wednesday and did not return to practice all week. Additionally, wide receiver Britt Davis was released with an injury settlement, trimming down the wide receiver position and potentially opening up more opportunities for Deion Branch and Donte’ Stallworth to resolve what is projected to be a loser-leaves-town positional battle.
Stallworth jumped out to an early lead due to Branch’s light practice workload but has been plagued by drops in training camp. Both receivers will be under a great deal of pressure to perform with Tom Brady and the first-team offense on Monday; once Jabar Gaffney returns from his hamstring injury, the two receivers may be running out of chances. As of now Gaffney’s roster spot appears safe, and the Patriots are unlikely to keep seven wide receivers on roster (the other receivers being Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, and Matthew Slater.)
5. How will left tackle Nate Solder respond to his poor play last week?
Nate Solder made 13 starts during his rookie season but remains very much a project entering this season. Solder’s size and athleticism stand out immediately, but his awkward technique and lack of base strength led to a frightening performance last week; Tom Brady was forced to deal with a lot of pressure from Will Smith and fumbled on a blind-side hit at one point. Solder was also called for holding on two occasions.
Solder needs to improve substantially before the regular season and will be thoroughly tested this week in his matchup against Eagles right end Trent Cole, who is considered to be one of the best defensive ends in the league. Philadelphia’s deep pass rush also includes Jason Babin at left end and reserves Brandon Graham, Darryl Tapp, and Vinny Curry. Solder will need to protect the edge this year in order for the Patriots’ passing game to flourish.