Dave from SB Nation's Pats Pulpit was kind enough to answer five questions of mine offering a perspective on the Week 2 matchup from a New England point of view.
1. A Herm Edwards team just went into Foxborough in September and delivered a serious injury to the Patriots' franchise quarterback. This leaves an untested sixth round Draft pick to hold down the position. The last time this scenario played out, the Pats won the Super Bowl with a team far less talented than their 2008 edition. With this in mind, are people jumping the gun when they count this team out of the Super Bowl mix?
Anything can happen. Matt Cassel is, as of yet, fairly untested. His preseason was mediocre if not downright depressing. Many of us were convinced he would be gone during roster cut weekend, but it's a good thing he wasn't cut. I believe the preseason gave him valuable reps that will help a great deal during the season. Cassel's got a good arm, but the real question is does he have the IQ to manage the game? I think the key to Brady's success is his ability to read defenses and audible a different play at the line. That will be the real test for Cassel. I think it's something you can only get with reps in a real game, so I'm willing to give him some leeway. Brady had a very mediocre 2001, but managed to take an 11-5 team, with far less talent than we have today, to the Super Bowl. I'm really hoping Matt's 3 years in the system give him an edge.
2. Randy Moss has a history of being a problem when he is not satisfied with the play of his quarterback. If Matt Cassel struggles, are you worried that Moss could be a locker room problem, or do you think there is enough structure and leadership within the system to keep this from being an issue?
Excellent question and one that has been on my mind. I would say Randy Moss' past as a problem child doesn't bode well in a QB situation like this, but he was never coached by Bill Belichick. Randy needs to be a leader right now, more than ever. I believe New England and Belichick can turn a truly talented Randy Moss into a great player. A challenge like this, if he rises to the occasion, will turn him into that great player. Cassel needs Moss. He needs Moss to be firing on all cylinders for this team to make it. And he needs Moss not to be pouty in the locker room. That kind of negativity becomes a virus and can infect others if they see one of their "stars" hanging his head.
3. Asante Samuel's defection to Philadelphia was one of the most publicized moves of the offseason. Some have predicted this will cripple the New England secondary, but the Pats always seem to be able to plug people in and survive when they lack secondary depth. Four years ago, they won the Super Bowl with a wide receiver as their nickel back. How confident do you feel going up against Brett Favre this week?
Cornerback has been one of my biggest concerns for 2008 and it still is. Ellis Hobbs is the most experienced CB, but he's a serviceable corner where Asante was a top 5 guy. Lewis Sanders is one of the bigger surprises at corner and is starting opposite Hobbs. At 6-1 210 lbs, he's the Patriots' biggest corner and may be our physical guy at that spot. Another good addition has been Deltha O'Neal. A problem child in Cincy, he appears to be contributing and making plays; he's our third guy. Rookie Terrence Wheatley has been coming along nicely and looks to be an NFL level corner mid year. My belief is the only thing holding Favre back is knowledge of the Jets' system. He's obviously an experienced guy, but I think he's running on pure instinct and talent until he's got the playbook under his belt. I like our chances against Brett, but this defense is fairly raw; there's alot of FAs and rookies floating around that could give us some heartache.
4. What rookie do you think will make the biggest impact for the Patriots in 2008?
Mayonnaise anyone? Sorry, couldn't resist. Definitely ILB Jerod Mayo. This was a HUGE concern for us with Tedy Bruschi's age and Junior Seau's injury as well as age. We needed to get young in a hurry. Another concern was finding the right person. Belichick's 3-4 is complex and relies heavily on smart ILBs to be the onfield coaches. Mayo is not only starting, but was the only player on the Patriots' defense to play every snap against KC!! The coaching staff has commented he's very smart and is coming along nicely. You always worry about draft busts, especially for a first round pick 10th overall, but Jerod has been excellent. I'm really looking forward to watching this kid play.
5. The Patriots' offensive line was a major strength for much of last season, quite possibly the best in football up until their Super Bowl meltdown. Many Pats fans I know seem concerned about the unit. What is your take?
I think the O line is a big concern as our 300 pounders have been banged up throughout the preseason. The current starting lineup boasts no backup at left guard and at right guard, backup Billy Yates is in for starter Russ Hochstein. Now, more than ever, we need a solid line to give Cassel some time to get his feet wet without constantly worrying about linebackers shooting the gaps. I'm very worried here. In addition, we're getting a little older. Belichick had to get very young on defense in order to prepare for the future, but I wouldn't be surprised if you see some of our early 2009 draft picks go to the O line. At least, that's what I'm hoping for.