COMMENTARY | After a fairly easy start to the season, the New England Patriots have some tough opponents over the next few weeks.
Although they're 3-0, they have certainly benefited from only having to play the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The real test starts tonight when they face off against Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons.
The Patriots are certainly not at full strength, and they will need a few guys to step up against Atlanta to stay undefeated.
Here are three players from New England to keep an eye on:
Defending a receiver like Julio Jones takes a total team effort. It's not fair, or practical, to expect that a single cornerback can shut down one of the NFL's best receivers over the course of a 60-minute game. Still, Aqib Talib will have to play a big role in slowing down Jones.
With Roddy White banged up, the Patriots' defense will be largely focused on Jones. Talib probably won't follow him around the field for the entire game, but he'll see plenty of Julio. He's bigger than most corners, and he'll have to use his size to match up with Jones. Bill Belichick will certainly use some zone defense, and Talib will have to get a break from time to time. He's no Richard Sherman, so it's tough to believe Belichick would leave Talib on an island with Jones all game.
For the time he is matched up on Julio Jones, Aqib Talib will have to live up to the task of battling with one of the league's best receivers. How prepared Talib is for this will be a huge factor in who comes out with a victory.
Danny Amendola is still a question mark at this point, meaning Tom Brady will continue to look for Julian Edelman to produce. Although the team's receiving core looked better last week, Edelman will continue to be a huge safety blanket in the passing game. He may not rack up huge passing yards, but his ability to keep the offense moving will be huge.
The running game and short passing game will play a significant role in keeping the Atlanta offense off the field. With the New England secondary battling against Julio Jones, getting rest and having time to regroup is huge. Particularly on third down, Edelman will be a big part of this formula. So far this season, he's been up to the challenge.
LeGarrette Blount/Brandon Bolden
For the sake of this piece, I'm combining LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden. The reason? We don't really know exactly who the team's true backup running back is with Shane Vereen injured. How about LeGarrette Bolden? Or Brandon Blount?
Anyway, whoever gets the opportunity this week will play a huge role.
Much like Edelman, Blount/Bolden will be a big part of the Belichick's third-down plans. Whether it be running the ball, blocking, or running routes, the Patriots will need backfield production outside of Stevan Ridley.
The Atlanta Falcons are without a doubt the best team on New England's schedule to date. This isn't saying much, as their first three opponents are not terribly good, but the Falcons are a legitimate contender. The Patriots will need to be on top of their game to stay undefeated, as we'll finally get to see them undergo a serious test.
We'll see what happens on Sunday night.
Mark lives in the Boston area and has been covering New England sports for various blogs over the past 4 years. He has been featured on Fox Sports Yardbarker, Fox Sports, and Sports Illustrated "Hot Clicks", and has been published on Celtics 24/7, Bleacher Report, and Sports-Kings.
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- American Football
- Atlanta Falcons
- Aqib Talib
- New England Patriots
- Julio Jones
- New York Jets
- Bill Belichick
- Julian Edelman