The New England Patriots had an encouraging first effort in their pre-season game against the Saints. Thursday night at 8 PM EST, the Patriots will play the Falcons in the Georgia Dome in their second pre-season game. This game should be interesting to watch. As I stated last week, since there are so many young and new players I am certainly intrigued to see if the team is continuing to show improvement.

There are several areas where you can focus on in this game. Who will be the starter at running back? Derrick Burgess was just added to the active list. How will he play in his first action with the team at outside linebacker? I expect to see Ron Brace play tomorrow. Will we see the potential he showed while at Boston College?  

There are many positions and players to focus on Thursday night. I am going to give you what I am going to be watching in the Patriots game.  Here are my “Five Reasons To Watch The Patriots Pre- Season Game Against The Falcons.”  

1. How will Ron Brace play Thursday Night? Ron Brace has an opportunity to shine. With Ty Warren out for the season, Brace could become an important part of the 2010 New England Patriots. I have seen his potential at Boston College on the defensive line. Last year he was a disappointment. He couldn’t even get on the field that much. Hopefully last year was just a learning experience for Mr. Brace. I have seen him stop the run at Boston College. I have a feeling he can do that in the NFL. I know it is an adjustment coming from the 4 -3 and playing a 3 – 4. He has had a year to learn the defense. It is his time to step up and make a difference.

They don’t need him to be Ty Warren. I think they just need him to take up space and stop the running backs. If he can do that the Patriots defensive line will survive this season. I want to see Thursday Night if that potential I have seen is still there. 

2. Who will be playing at running back in this game? Benjarvis Green-Ellis started the first pre-season game. Laurence Maroney played later in the game and was decent. I am hoping to see more of Maroney this week. I haven’t given up on him yet. This is basically his last chance with the Patriots. In a contract year this would be the best time for the light to go on his head.

I don’t need to see Fred Taylor, Kevin Faulk, or Sammy Morris. I know what they bring to the table. I still want to see a little more of Benjarvis Green-Ellis. The Pats need him to just be a solid back. I just want to see him get his carries and continue to show he belongs.

3. Can the Defensive Line stop the Atlanta Falcons Thursday Night? Michael Turner is a tremendous running back for the Atlanta Falcons. I want to see if the defensive line can shut down the running game like it did against the Saints. Gerard Warren, Mike Wright and Vince Wilfork did a nice job. The Pats need this unit to be solid. Mike Wright is not a superstar but has done his job well. We know what we have with Vince Wilfork. The big question on the line is Gerard Warren. I was very impressed with his play against the Saints. If he can continue to play at a high level, this unit will not be a weakness this season. I will be watching the line Thursday Night.

4. How will Derrick Burgess play at outside linebacker? Derrick Burgess has been activated after coming into training camp on Friday. The outside linebacker position is a concern going into the regular season. Burgess was highly criticized last season by the media. 

I want to watch more closely to see how he plays. I don’t think the outside linebacker position is all about rushing the passer. I want to see how he is against the run, dropping into coverage, and getting after the passer. Belichick has praised this player for his play last season. I want to really focus on him as a complete player rather than just a pass rusher.      

5. I want to see how Matt Ryan has progressed as a quarterback. I know this reason to watch is not about the Pats but I am curious about the former Boston College quarterback.  I watched him a great deal at Boston College. I want to see if he is ready to take the next step to becoming an elite quarterback.

In his first season with the Falcons he was great. He did have a sophomore slump last season. I believe this is the season for him to take it to the next level or just be a good NFL quarterback. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady both really established themselves as elite quarterbacks during their third season.     

In Thursday Night’s game I want to watch Ryan to see what kind of leader he is now, and how much he has improved. I believe he has the ability to be an elite quarterback. The question is will he step up his game this season? The Patriots game should give me a small indication of what direction he is headed. 

I am sure there are other reasons to watch this game. I will be focusing on the five I have mentioned. My point is that there is plenty to watch this pre-season. If you are Pats fan you really should be checking this game out.