It’s obviously pretty quiet at this point in terms of what’s transpired over the past few days with the Patriots players now off until next week.

This morning’s edition will be a little abbreviated, but here are some final thoughts as we head into the weekend.

1) Carolina isn’t exactly going to be an easy game - After their 55-point performance against the Steelers last Sunday, the Patriots couldn’t have picked a better time to finally start getting things figured out offensively.  They’re about to face one of the toughest defenses in the NFL, with the Panthers currently ranked third in total yards per game allowed with 299.9 as well as being ranked second against the run.  This is definitely one of those situations where the Patriots are fortunate this game fell where it did on the schedule, as you have to wonder if had New England played this game a month ago, it would have been difficult to like their chances to win a tough road game like this, especially since both Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola were both sidelined.


When Shane Vereen returns, it will be interesting to see how the Patriots handle it.
(USA TODAY Images)

2) Patriots Have an Interesting Problem at Running Back Coming – With Shane Vereen set to return soon to the backfield for New England, they’re going to find themselves with some interesting game day decisions from a roster standpoint.  Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden, and LeGarrette Blount have all been big contributors thus far this season, and one would believe that someone is going to be the odd man out when Vereen comes back.  One would have to believe that although he’s played well, that person could be Bolden, who has filled in Vereen’s role as the Patriots’ third down back during his absence.  He leads all running backs with 10 third down carries (Ridley has 9, Blount has 2) and is third on the team with 8 third down receptions.  He was inactive back in week one, so we’ll have to wait and see if that’s where he ends up once Vereen is at full strength.  He has been battling a knee injury, so it could be a blessing in disguise and hopefully will give him an opportunity to get healthy.

3) Don’t count the Patriots out as a contender down the stretch – It’s been an interesting season so far in the NFL, and one thing to take note of is the fact that there really aren’t too many teams that are lighting things up at this point in the year.  Even the Denver Broncos, who started off extremely hot, have tapered in recent weeks, and there doesn’t seem to be too many dominant teams as we sit here nine weeks into the regular season.  As we’ve learned in the past it generally comes down to who’s the healthiest late in the season as well as who is playing their best football.  Sunday’s performance against the Steelers was impressive, and if New England can begin building some momentum over the final month and a half of the season, it’s tough not to think they could get hot and go on a run when all is said and done.  Don’t expect an undefeated finish, but this next stretch is going to be about continuing to improve and hopefully getting their level of execution back to where it has been in recent seasons.  If that happens, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Patriots ultimately end up in the mix by the time January arrives.

THIRD DOWN EFFICIENCY AN ISSUE TO THIS POINT:

Despite their 7-of-12 conversion rate against the Steelers on Sunday, the Patriots still have along way to go do dig themselves out of the hole they’re in from a third down efficiency standpoint.  The Patriots are currently 27th in the league at this point after converting a paltry 34.6% of their attempts thus far, which is a staggering fact considering they were ranked first last season at 48.7%, and fourth in 2011 at 45.9%.  It also explains why the team is currently also 25th in the league in time of possession (28:38).  Obviously the early part of this season consisted of trying to reach a comfort level with the new personnel they have on offense as well as dealing with injuries.  But either way hopefully what happened last weekend is the start of better times ahead.

EDELMAN A BIG PART OF THE RUNNING GAME:

Looking at some numbers this morning it’s interesting to note that Julian Edelman has been a big part of the Patriots ground game, albeit from a blocking standpoint.  According to ProFootballFocus.com Edelman’s been a blocker on more plays than any other Patriots receiver, with 219 plays that he’s had to block on a running play.  Kenbrell Thompkins is next with 172, followed by Aaron Dobson with 143.  Surprisingly, however, they have him ranked 106th overall at his position in the NFL, with Dobson (99th) and Kenbrell Thompkins (63rd) and Danny Amendola (53rd) all ranked ahead of him in their ratings.  Obviously this isn’t exactly an exact statistic, so take it for what it is.  But Edelman’s definitely been an active participant in that part of their offense.  They are a little behind last year’s pace in terms of yards per game, having averaged 136.5 yards per contest in 2012 (ranked 7th)  compared to 10th at 129.1 this season.

ON TO THIS MORNING’S LINKS:

BOSTON GLOBE:

Projecting the Rest of the Patriots Season - Zuri Berry – Berry has a slideshow looking at the final seven regular season games, and has predictions for each.

Patriots’ problems on offensive line are perplexing – Shalise Manza Young – Young looks at the offensive line’s issues this season, with offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia putting a lot of the blame on himself.

Isaac Sopoaga happy to be in Foxborough – Shalise Manza Young – Young files her notebook this morning which leads off with a bit on Sopoaga, who said he visited New England out of college in 2004 and nine years later he’s happy to be here.

Words With Frenz mailbag: Patriots need defensive tackle depth this offseason – Erik Frenz – Frenz has his mailbag for this morning, which covers a variety of topics including the performance of Joe Vellano and Chris Jones thus far.

BOSTON HERALD:

Painless week for injury-prone Pats – Jim Lazar – Lazar writes that the Patriots won’t have any injuries to overcome this week as they get a week off.

Bye week questions to ponder – Matt Chatham – Chatham has his weekly report and writes that as nice as it is that the team doesn’t have a game, the bye week isn’t an outright vacation.

Chad O’Shea brings out shine in young pass catchers – Jeff Howe – Howe has an article on receivers coach Chad O’Shea, who he writes is the latest to have his name floated around the league as an up-and-comer.

ESPN BOSTON:

Weekly Patriots Chat Recap – Mike Reiss – Reiss recaps his chat from yesterday, which as usual covered some interesting topics.

Snaps: Patriots offense at midpoint - Mike Reiss – Reiss has a breakdown of the offensive snap totals at the midway point this season.

Progress report: Rookies chip in – Mike Reiss –  Reiss has a breakdown of each rookie, along with a bit on each one and how they’ve performed so far this season.

Progress report: Pats’ second-year players – Field Yates – Yates has a similar breakdown of the second year players in this entry.

WEEI:

What we learned: Taking stock of Patriots at bye week – Christopher Price – With nine games in the books Price has a great read on the fact the Patriots have to feel some sense of satisfaction with what they’ve been able to accomplish thus far.

FOX SPORTS:

Pats Receiver asks ‘Ocho’ for advice – Fox Sports has an article on newly signed LaQuan Williams, who apparently asked former Patriots receiver Chad Ochocinco for advice after signing with the team.