This Thursday night, the New England Patriots will be playing the St Louis Rams at Gillette Stadium. The third pre-season game is really the dress rehearsal for the opening game of the season. The starters tend to play at least a half. 

I have been really encouraged by what I have witnessed from the first two pre-season games. Many young players on offense and defense have really shown me improvement. The veterans have also looked sharp and possibly ready to start the season.  I want to see in the dress rehearsal, just a continuation of progress being made at many key positions. 

If the Pats play well Thursday night, it could really help build momentum to the opening game against the Bengals. I am planning on focusing on areas I think are concerns for the club going into the season. Here are my “Five Reasons To Watch The Patriots Pre-Season Game Against The Rams.”    

 1. Will the offensive line continue to protect Tom Brady? The offensive line is a major concern for me going into the season. Dan Connolly filling in for Logan Mankins has played very well. So far overall the line has done their job protecting the quarterback. Brady has had time to throw, and has faced little pressure in two games.

The Patriots are going to be facing some real good defenses this season. For the Pats season to be successful they are going to need to keep Tom Brady healthy. I will be watching in this game to see if there are any protection breakdowns for the line. I also want to see if Brady has plenty of time to throw the ball. So far this line has been excellent. Let’s see if they can continue to progress.   

2. Who will emerge as the third receiver for the Pats?  The Joey Galloway experiment crashed and burned last season. It probably hurt the team more than you think. I want to see who is going to emerge as the third receiver. With Torry Holt now out for the season it is up to the young receivers to make a difference.

Julian Edelman has shined so far in the pre-season. He could be the logical choice. However, he has not been at practice for a couple of days. I do not know if he is going to play. 

Brandon Tate has flashed a few times in the pre-season games. He has an opportunity on Thursday to really make a statement. Taylor Price probably is a long-shot at this point. But, I want to see him play and get some experience. The wide receiver battle should be interesting to watch. 

3. Will the young secondary continue to show signs that they will be able to cover and hit? I think the most pleasant surprise of the pre-season has to be the play of the young defensive backs. 

Patrick Chung has really impressed me as a real hitter at safety. I will be watching him again to see if he is in on many tackles. He has a chance to be a force in both the passing and running game.

Devin McCourty has shown the ability to cover. If he could emerge as a real cover cornerback that could really be a boost to the defense.   

Darius Butler has not looked sharp. I am hoping to see him play better on Thursday. He has all the tools to be a good cornerback.

Overall, this unit has shown the ability to hit and tackle. They also seem to be right on the receivers when they are making catches. I am hoping we continue to see progress from this unit. 

Linebacker Tully Banta-Cain will be looking for a strong performance Thursday night against St. Louis.

4. Will the Pats defense be able to put pressure on the quarterback? The Pats defense so far this pre-season has not shown me evidence that they can rush the passer. This position could ultimately be the Achilles heel this season for the team.

I will be watching the front seven to see if they can get to the quaterback. Derrick Burgess and Tully Banta – Cain could be very important players this season. If they can get some pressure on the quarterback, it certainly will help the defensive backs cover the receivers.  I will be watching this very carefully as it is an area of concern.

5. Can punter Zoltan Mesko dramatically change field position with his punts? I don’t think it has been discussed much, but the punting  has been pretty bad for several seasons. I thought Chris Hanson was awful last season.  

A punter can really change field position in a game. Zoltan Mesko so far has looked decent. I want to see if he can consistently punt the ball 44 – 45 yards. If Mesko can have punts of that distance, he can actually be a weapon for the Pats. I will be watching him to see if he continues to make progress.

After this game we should have a good idea if the team is ready for the opening game. The first two games have shown many reasons to be encouraged. I am hoping to have that same feeling after the Patriots pre-season game against the Rams.