New England Patriots Super Bowl Champs

St. Louis Rams vs New England Patriots Preseason Game Preview

The St. Louis Rams (1-1) make the trip to Gillette Stadium to play the New England Patriots (2-0) on Thursday night. The third preseason game is typically the game in which the Patriots play their starters the longest, and they will be looking to keep their foot on the gas after two encouraging victories in their first two preseason games.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been razor-sharp in the preseason so far, completing 15-of-20 passes for 152 yards with a touchdown to rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez and no turnovers in his two appearances. The Patriots are looking to return to the upper echelon of teams in the NFL, and have certainly looked the part in their first two showings this preseason.

Adding to the optimism on the Patriots front was the return of wide receiver Wes Welker in last week’s win over the Atlanta Falcons. Welker caught two passes for 20 yards in his first game action since suffering a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee in the Patriots regular season finale against the Houston Texans last year.

The St. Louis Rams are not in the same boat as the Patriots and are in full scale rebuilding mode this season. The new era begins for the Rams tonight with rookie Sam Bradford, the number one overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, making his first career start in a Rams uniform; this game is shaping up to be a real confidence builder for a young upstart Patriots defense. Expect the Patriots to bring pressure and try to force Bradford to make hurried decisions which could result in turnovers.

Here is what to watch for from a Patriots perspective on Thursday night.

Sam Bradford: Bradford is going to be a guy to watch even from a Patriots perspective when he is playing. His progress is something to monitor. AJ Feeley is injured and will not play against the Patriots, so Bradford gets his first NFL preseason start and should play a half or more. Bradford should also benefit from having Steven Jackson in the backfield. How Bradford fares against a Patriots defense that has shut down Drew Brees and Matt Ryan the past two weeks is an indicator of where this defense is heading into the season.

Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess: This game should be a good measure of the Patriots’ ability to generate pressure on the quarterback from outside linebacker spot. Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess should start, and hopefully Patriots fans see plenty of Jermaine Cunningham, Rob Ninkovich and Marques Murrell in the Rams backfield. The Rams offensive line has struggled in protection this preseason, which gives the outside linebackers on the bubble (Murrell and Ninkovich) an opportunity to win a roster spot with their play on Thursday night.

Laurence Maroney: After dressing but not taking a snap last week, the fifth-year running back would seemingly be in line to see a high number of carries against St. Louis. Maroney may not be on the bubble, but his role in the running back rotation is in limbo at this point. We should get a good idea of where he is on the depth chart after Thursday night.

Wes Welker: Welker played just one series last week, and was on the field for just six snaps. He figures to build on that this week, and every additional step he takes leading up to the Sept. 12 season-opener against the Bengals is important.

Leigh Bodden: Bodden is expected to play against the Rams and will join a rotation that has looked good with rookie Devin McCourty and second year pro Darius Butler filling in this preseason. Roster bubble candidates Jonathan Wilhite, Terrence Wheatley, and Kyle Arrington will have another opportunity to showcase their skills in the second half. One thing is for sure, there is a serious logjam at cornerback for New England.

Spikes and Mayo: Rookie Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo will start, with the quicker Gary Guyton, who is finally healthy coming in for passing situations, the linebacker rotation seems pretty solid at this point. They will have a tough test against one of the best running backs in the league in the Rams Steven Jackson. The bubble guys Tyrone McKenzie, Thomas Williams and Dane Fletcher are battling for a spot on the final roster in this one.

War in the trenches: There have been some key losses (Warren and Kaczur) on both sides of the ball along the lines, and there have been a number of new guys brought in, the latest being offensive lineman Quinn Oijannaka. The run defense will get a test against Steven Jackson, and the offensive line will be under scrutiny if they struggle. Logan Mankins, then Kaczur’s replacement Dan Connolly has looked great in the preseason, so there shouldn’t be any worries on the offensive line. Depth is a whole other issue, watch the rotation in the second team offensive line.

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