Found August 09, 2013 on Football and Futbol:
Friday night the New England Patriots meet up against the Philadelphia Eagles for both teams’ first pre-season contest.  Being that both teams have been using joint practice time to improve their individual skills while concurrently measuring themselves against the competition and the fact that it is a pre-season game, what we see tomorrow night may barely resemble the teams we will be watching during the regular season.  Although you can never predict Bill Belichick (if I could, Robert Kraft would be paying me handsomely to keep my mouth shut), if past preseason games are indicative of what we will see tomorrow, it is unlikely that he will play Tom Brady for more than two series.  Once Brady exits the game it will be hard to judge where we are at with our wide receivers and tight ends.  Luckily, word from camp is that our wide receiving group is improving daily and we might have some reliable downfield threats this year.   Although we might not learn much about our throwing game tomorrow, there will still be lots to take away from it.  At this point, I can’t decide if I am more excited about our defense or special teams.  When it comes to our defense this year I just have this feeling that we are going to be a force to be reckoned with.  Just hearing players like Aqib Talib talk about being ahead of where they were last year and knowing where each other is going to be on the field for help gets me pumped up.  Last year’s defense has gotten an awful lot of grief from the fans considering they were the #9 ranked defense overall.  Believe it or not, during the regular season last year we had a +25 turnover ratio.  Obviously, a lot of that number comes from the offense not turning the ball over, but last year’s defense did have 20 interceptions.  Now I know you can’t get the full picture of a team solely based on looking at statistics, but it certainly gives you a good measurement to go off of.  Thinking back to our defenses over the last couple of years, they were always hundredths of a second away from making a spectacular play.  I can’t help but think that when this group’s individual athleticism combines with knowledge of the playbook we are going to see an awful lot of people wearing names like (Rob) Ninkovich, ( Dont’a) Hightower and (Brandon) Spikes on the back of their jersey.  So if you are in the market for a new jersey, you might want to keep your eyes peeled when the defense takes the field tomorrow night.   When it comes to our special teams units there is a lot to be watching for this year.  The most exciting part for most people will be watching the return game.  Fielding punts this year will be a healthy Julian Edelman.  Last year Edelman averaged 15.5 yards per return and took one all the way back for a touchdown.  New to the team this year is our prime kick returner, Leon Washington, who has a career average of 25.9 yards and a total of 8 returns for touchdowns.  Hopefully, both players will consistently put our offense in good field position and then Brady and the boys seal the deal with touchdowns.   What I would like to see more of this year with our punting and kicking units are touchbacks.  Although it is great to pin someone inside their twenty, this is probably the place where I am content to have five seconds of football between ten minutes of commercials.  Last season, Zoltan Mesko was once again very successful at dishing out poor field position to the other team.  Of his 60 punts in the regular season, 6 were touchbacks and 28 were inside the twenty yard line.  This year Mesko has had some serious competition from a rookie out of Louisiana Tech, Ryan Allen.  Allen was a Unanimous First Team All-American and is the back to back winner of the Ray Guy Award (nation’s top punter).  Stephen Gostkowski will once again be in charge of the remaining kicking duties, except of course when Brady pooch kicks one over the defense.  Although I’m a fan of Gostkowski, I hope his scoring is down this year due to the offense getting into the end zone on every possession.  Scoring touchdowns on every trip will also keep his leg fresh so he can consistently boot the pigskin through the end zone giving the defense 80 yards to defend.   This is what I’ll be watching for Friday night and the weeks to come.  What are you watching for?   Joy Manning is a New England Patriots writer for   Follow her on twitter @joymanningNFL

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