What I will be Watching for Tonight vs. the Falcons

Derek Havens
August 19, 2010 at 03:17pm ET

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Patriots notebook: Decision on receiver Malcolm Mitchell’s status due today
Guregian: Patriots need to rely on up-tempo to dislodge Jaguars defense
Buckley: For this week at least, Roger Goodell and NFL owners are Patriots fans
Tom Brady on Jaguars: 'Best team we’ve faced all season'

1)   The defenses’ aggressiveness: Last week verse the Saints, I enjoyed watching the tenacity that the defense brought with the first teamers. They were aggressive, blitzed heavy, and did not let Drew Brees carve up the secondary; the first two possessions for the Saints actually resulted in a three and out. I hope the team continues to play with that same “hit em in the mouth” mentality this week and into the regular season. Although, I hope if they do blitz, the cornerbacks will be playing press coverage because, I hate when the defensive backs play far off their man in that situation.

2)   Brandon Spikes and Devin McCourty: Last week, both of these players started with the first team. Both Spikes and McCourty played solid in the pre-season debut, however; there were injuries to people who possibly rank ahead of them on the depth chart at their respective positions (Guyton, Bodden). I will be intrigued if both start again tonight, that could be telling of roles going into the season. If these two give performances such as the ones last week, the defense could be in better shape come September.

3) Who starts along the defensive line: With Ty Warren now on IR, done for the season, it is time for other members to step up. Last time the team played in a meaningful game, the defense was run over. Ty is a solid DE in this league and his run stopping ability should not be over looked. I love Mike Wright in a sub / rush the passer type role, however; I am not sold that he could handle the responsibilities of an every down player. So whom ever Belichick starts tonight could potentially play a large role on the defense in the coming weeks.

4) Tom Brady’s new toys: Brandon Tate and Rob Gronkowski played very well last week. There were some hiccups for both players, although I thought for a debut, both seemed to contribute positively. Tate’s toe tapping sideline grab showed why just 2 years ago, before his knee injury, he was widely considered a top-receiving prospect. If he can develop into an above par threat opposite of Moss, the team could have great flexibility with the receiving core. Rob on the other hand, was mostly blocking. I do not mean for that to sound disappointing, but because I had heard so much about his red zone presence in practice, I was hoping to see my fellow Arizona Wildcat catch a touch down pass. Nonetheless, his blocking should not be overlooked. At one point he did an exceptional job of blocking a Saints defensive tackle and certainly did his part on the first touch down run in the new three TE set. I will be looking for both players and maybe Aaron Hernandez tonight, to see how they can further contribute.

5) Running Back: With Benjarvus Green – Ellis getting the nod last week at running back, the line has most definitely been blurred in terms of roles. His start could be received as either a promising training camp performance, or a fight for a roster spot. In my mind there are only two running backs safe on the roster, Maroney and Faulk. All the others should be put on notice and fighting for their lives. I believe Fred Taylor will start tonight and each of the next 3 games could seal the fate of the players.