What to Look For…

The New England Patriots are off to a somewhat surprising 5-1 start (tied for the division lead) and look to continue to build on the success and the development of their young players as the season progresses.  Contrarily, the Minnesota Vikings are off to a disappointing 2-4 start (3rd place in the NFC North) and are hoping that week 8 marks the beginning of their turnaround.  Here are a few things to look for during Sunday’s Patriots vs. Vikings game:

-How could I start this segment without mentioning Randy Moss?  Moss returns to New England, just four weeks after being traded to Minnesota for a 2010 third round pick.  There are a ton of questions swirling about Moss’ return.  Will he give the Vikings some of the Pats’ defensive calls/signals?  Will he be applauded or booed?  How will coach Belichick and Brady greet Moss after the game?  But the most important question in my mind is how will the Patriots’ game plan and coverage schemes look against Randy Moss.  As I continuously say every week, this secondary is very young and although they get a bit better every week, are guys like Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington ready to individually handle Randy Moss?  I look for a safety to be over the top of Moss all game.  But, one thing we can be sure of is that coach Belichick will have a great game plan on how to contain Moss.  What to look for: What defensive schemes the Patriots’ defense uses to minimize the “Moss-effect.”

-Speaking of game plan, how can you create a game plan for a guy like Adrian Peterson.  Peterson is a one of a kind, once in a generation type of back.  His combination of speed, strength, desire, determination, and just downright pissed-offness (yup, made that one up) is unlike anything that the Patriots have or will see.  Peterson runs harder than any back that I have ever watched play the game.  The key with him is that every year he seems to be amongst the league leaders in yards after contact.  It takes two, three, and sometimes four defenders to take Peterson down.  Tackling will be huge in this game, and I look for Jerod Mayo to lead the charge in attempting to contain Adrian Peterson.  What to look for: How the Patriots’ defense performs against one of the best running backs in the league.

-Last week the Patriots passing offense did not perform up to its usual standards.  I am completely aware that even soon to be Hall of Fame quarterback is allowed to have a bad week once and a great while, but if you put two performances together like that back-to-back, then I begin to worry.  I stand by my notion that this offense seriously lacks a deep threat (with both of the longest passes in each game going to Hernandez, where the yardage was attributed mainly to yards after the catch).  Brandon Tate hasn’t done anything since Moss left.  Deion Branch has been a pleasant surprise, but his production has led to a serious decline in Welker’s impact.  No one seems to be able to get behind the defense (Taylor Price earned co-practice player of the week honors this past week, maybe signaling some upcoming playing time for the young speedster out of Ohio), which after a couple of weeks of film, and safeties creeping closer to the line of scrimmage, will hurt this Patriots’ offense.  What to look for: How the offense continues to evolve, now four weeks (and three games) after the departure of Randy Moss.

-Speaking of practice player of the week awards, Price received the honors along with practice squad corner Tony Carter and the ever-elusive corner Darius Butler.  Butler’s role in the defense has basically dwindled to nothing ever since his disappointing performance in week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals.  Butler’s playing time has essentially been limited to dime or quarters packages (6 or 7 defensive backs on the field).  This has been a major disappointment, especially for me because I really thought that Butler was primed to have a big season.  Receiving recognition for his work in practice may be the first step towards getting back on the field and having a real impact on this defense.  What to look for: How much playing time Darius Butler gets after a great week in practice, and against a talented Minnesota receiving corps.

-I wouldn’t be happy with myself as a source of information and wisdom if I didn’t at least touch on the Brett Favre situation in this post.  We all have heard it a thousand times, Favre is an iron man.  He plays through injuries that other guys would be out weeks with.  Yes, 291 straight starts is very, very impressive.  I’ve got it.  Sadly, Mr. Favre, you playing this week against the New England Patriots is NOT in the best interest of your team.  In 2007, Tavaris Jackson started 12 games (essentially his one season as a starter).  Jackson threw for almost 2,000 yards (with a 58.2% completion percentage), with 9 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.  He also rushed for 260 yards and 3 touchdowns.  Jackson compiled a passer rating of 70.8.  In 2010, Brett Favre, through 6 games, has thrown for almost 1,200 yards (with a 58.1% completion percentage), with 7 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.  Favre has compiled a passer rating of 68.0.  After looking over those stats, let me restate what I said earlier: Sadly, Mr. Favre, you playing this week against the New England Patriots is NOT in the best interest of your team.  What to look for: How the whole Brett Favre/Brad Childress/Tavaris Jackson/Jen Sterger/Roger Goodell/Scottie (oh sorry, nix that last one) saga plays out.

-THIS WEEK’S PREDICTION – Patriots 35 – Vikings 34

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