by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

After wringing our hands all summer over myriad aspects of New England Version 2010, the home boys came to play last week, gaining a 17-7 lead over the Saints on their way to a meaningless-yet-enjoyable 27-24 win. This week, the locals have trekked down to Atlanta to share a practice field and a scrimmage.

Now that some kind of a bar has been set, we’re looking forward to watching how the fighting Foxboroughites (is that it? I have no idea) handle the Falcons. Along with the excitement, of course, come a number of concerns.

Murrell, Banta-Cain Took Down Brees (Photo by Matt Stone)

On Your Marques: Any people who say they expected to utter the words “Marques Murrell on the sack” before last Thursday are flat-out fibbers. After all, the man’s stats don’t exactly instill fear the in hearts of quarterbacks. To the delight of the home crowd, Murrell and Tully Banta Cain provided significant pressure. This week Derrick “Sorry I’m Late But I Had This Thing” Burgess joins the squad and should see some time with Banta-Cain and rookie Jermaine Cunningham reportedly missing the trip. If pass-rushing consistency continues, okay then. If not, we shall re-commence fret mode.

It’s Not Easy Being Green-Ellis: Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis started vs. the Saints, but what the heck does that mean? We can assume that veteran Fred Taylor was getting some time off (he’s about 68 in halfback years), but why did Coach Belichick rest erstwhile starter/over-exuberant celebrant Laurence Maroney most of the first half, only to run him in the second? Should Chris Taylor get a chance to run against a starting defense? And with a backfield of Methuselahs, why the heck didn’t New England draft a running back this year?

Sorry. Old business. Let’s move on…

The Warren Omission: With defensive end Ty Warren hitting injured reserve with the hip of an octogenarian, it’s up to veteran Gerard Warren to man the left end spot. That right end position now has more questions than the SATs, with no one yet filling in the blanks. While Mike Wright has done yeoman work as a sub and pass-rusher, he has been less than stout at the point. Meanwhile, second-year man Ron Brace has returned to the field, with all the hoopla and fanfare we might expect (read: zilch). With veteran Damione Lewis not expected to play, the onus falls on rookie Brandon Deaderick to answer some questions about this area of the defense. And that’s a heavy onus.

Oh Thank Devin: Though special teams allowed a kickoff return for a TD, they also gave a glimpse of the production of rookie cornerback/returner Devin McCourty, who shot the lanes like a pro bowler (two returns of 50-plus yards). Let’s hope that continues, especially after Atlanta has had a chance to review game film.

Double Dog Darius: Former UConn Husky Darius Butler has high expectations placed on him, as many – heck, all – see him as a starter at cornerback. Let’s see how he does in hostile territory against Matty “Heisman” Ryan (who has a somewhat unspectacular facebook fan page).

The Pros And Connolly: Guard Dan Connolly did solid work against the Saints, springing Green-Ellis on his first TD run. But before we kick Logan Mankins out the door, Connolly has to demonstrate his prowess on a regular basis. If he can block with some attitude on short-yardage plays, then we’ve got something. If not, the issue at left guard remains, well, an issue.

Middle Management: Rookie linebacker Brandon Spikes reminds me of the new football season in that he’s fresh, yet familiar, and he makes us glad he’s here. Will he play most of the game again, or will second-year ’backer Tyrone McKenzie get a chance to show what he can do?  Will rookie upstart Dane Fletcher (possible injury) have anything to say about this before the preseason ends? Plenty of options, with too many questions on each.

Heart And Zoltan: Nice punts, nice holds. Zoltan Mesko barely got a mention last week. Let’s hope he keeps it that way.

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