- James Walker, ESPN Staff Writer
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Here are a few things to look for:
1. Can the defense keep momentum? The Patriots had the NFL’s second worst defense in 2011. But you wouldn’t know it by the way they played in the preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints. New England’s starters and backups allowed just six points against a very good Saints offense. The Patriots looked much faster than last year, thanks to several key draft picks and free agents, and forced a couple of turnovers. Was last week a fluke? Or will we see an improved defense from New England in 2012? The Patriots’ defense gets another tough assignment against Philadelphia’s offense.
2. Will Patriots tailbacks continue to shine? New England’s passing game will be fine. But there are questions entering this season about second-year running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen. Ridley and Vereen erased some of those concerns in the preseason opener. They combined for 104 rushing yards. Performances like that will make Patriots fans quickly forget about the loss of veteran running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
3. Offensive line woes: New England’s offensive line continues to be a work in progress. Left tackle Matt Light retired, Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins is working his way back from a knee injury and fellow guard Brian Waters' status is still unknown. The Patriots’ first-team line wasn’t good in pass protection last week. New England needs to tighten that up this week, because keeping quarterback Tom Brady upright is the biggest key to the Patriots’ season.
4. Rookie watch: It was an impressive NFL debut for Patriots first-round picks Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower. Both defenders played well. Hightower recorded four tackles and Jones had two tackles and a quarterback pressure. Both rookies are expected to be immediate contributors and could push for starting jobs sooner than later this season.