by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff
The Patriots have two undrafted running backs, two rookie tight ends, four rookie starters on defense, and a receiving corps that just jettisoned its Hall-of-Fame player. Not your everyday recipe for the best record in the NFL, but we’ll take it.
With recent storms of distraction in the rearview mirror (fare thee well, Hurricanes Favre and Moss), the fighting Foxboroites must resist the temptation of peering past the Browns, now 2-5 after a stunning upset in New Orleans.
Will the young Pats overlook these guys? Merely one more thing to worry about.
Koppen Barely Coping: Before the offensive line paved the way for over 100 yards rushing in the second half vs. Minnesota, Dan Koppen seemed to be having a less-than-awesome season at center. No O-lineman has risen to his peak this year, making the return of prodigal guard Logan Mankins intriguing: will that bolster the line as hoped, or will current left guard Dan Connolly see Mankins’ presence as a distraction?
Isn’t It Good, Now We Can Woodhead: This strained pun on the Beatles’ hit calls up Danny Woodhead, another mop-topped lad with a growing fandom. Woodhead’s been as elusive as a BB in tapioca; we just hope the diminutive one continues to avoid big hits.
Brown Out: Cleveland has had two weeks off, and – if Coach Eric “Mangia” Mangini gets his way – they’ll be prepared to host New England. The Browns’ 2-5 record seems to belie the team’s stats, as they sit in the middle of the pack in most defensive categories.
Colt Fortified: Speaking of defense, New England ranks first in opponents’ passing percentage – and by first, we mean last (at a whopping 69.8 percent). Though the Browns lack a Moss-like receiver, any deep threat makes underneath routes as open as Brett Favre’s fly. (Last time, I promise.) The efficient offensive attack of rookie Colt McCoy could make for a long day in Cleveland.
But, really, wouldn’t any day in Cleveland seem long? Ba-da-BOOM!
Half Past Tate: QB Tom Brady has his work cut out for him. Can receiver Brandon Tate maintain last Sunday’s level of success? Not likely. He benefited from a shoulda-been interception and a Brady-as-Baryshnikov scramble play. With Deion Branch hurt, Wes Welker getting doubled and Julian Edelman being ignored like the World Series (Congratulations, Winning Team Name Here!), Tate needs to step up.
Dane To Be Different: Linebacker Gary Guyton got the wrong kind of attention for the second week in a row (he needs to take lessons from Myron Pryor on how to hit Favre legally – see photo here). Rookie Dane Fletcher has seen his playing time increase; that trend should continue with his athleticism and ability to make open-field tackles. Is the former small-school defensive end ready to make the leap? Will Guyton get back to his efficient, 2009 self?
If the Patriots take this game seriously, they have a solid chance at 7-1. If not, their trip to Pittsburgh becomes all the more daunting. But that’s next week’s concern.
Email Chris Warner at firstname.lastname@example.org