It's been my mantra for nearly three weeks now: "the pre-season means nothing". However, if any one of these four meaningless games actually counts for something, it's tonight's game vs. St. Louis. The third pre-season game is generally the closest any team will come to actual in-season intensity. This will be the only time we'll see all the Patriots starters play into the third quarter. Anyone who's healthy enough to suit up for either side will be in action. It's NFL-Lite on Thursday night.
So as much as I was slightly impressed with the thumping the Pats handed out to the Saints and Falcons, I will be all the more nervous about the season's outlook if the Patriots appear shaky against the Rams. St. Louis went 1-15 last season. Their quarterback has never taken an NFL snap. The game is at Gillette Stadium. If the Patriots can't dominate this game, knowing how close it will be to actual Week 1 action, then it's going to create a whole lot of doubt about this team. Yup, as far as pre-season goes, the stakes are awfully high tonight for the Patriots. With that in mind, here are some things to keep an eye on.
#1 - The offensive line is a big question mark heading into the season. The Pats are down to their third option at left guard with Mankins and Kaczur unavailable. They've been able to hold their own thus far, despite looking a little shaky. I'd really like to see New England have another strong running game, and the O-line will play a big role in that.
#2 - Derrick Burgess and Tully Banta-Cain will likely get the call to start at OLB. This has been another area of concern during the off-season and it will be interesting to see how the pass rush fares now that the team's top two players at that position are finally on the field together.
#3 - Julian Edelman and Aaron Hernadez, the respective offensive stars of pre-season games #1 and 2, haven't practiced the past few days and likely won't be playing against the Rams. What player will step up this week in their absence?
#4 - Wes Welker surprised us all by simply walking onto the field last week. How much run will Belichick give him this time around as the coaching staff tries to work him back up to full speed?
Those are the key things I'll be looking out for during tonight's game. For more coverage from a Rams' perspective, check out StLouisRamFan.com!