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What to watch for as the Patriots host the Buccaneers

Posted by Zuri Berry, Boston.com Staff  September 22, 2013 09:00 AM

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In Week 3, much more is expected of the Patriots offense, especially coming off an extended rest, when they face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers today.

But there's more. Here's what we'll be watching for when the game gets going.

1. How will the special teams be affected without Matthew Slater? -- As one of the most respected gunners in the league, voted to two pro bowls in a row as a special teams player, it's hard to imagine a Patriots punt or kicking unit without Slater on it. He is as much a special teams playmaker as a special teams agitator, becoming the focus of opposing teams. He's out with a wrist injury and the Patriots will somehow have to compensate for his loss.

2. Can the Patriots get the running game going? -- While much attention has been paid to the Patriots' helter-skelter passing attack, little has been paid to its mediocre running game. Stevan Ridley, after getting benched for the second half of the team's first game, came back in Week 2 and tallied a meager 40 yards on 16 carries against the New York Jets. The team had only one first down by rushing last week. That will need to pick up to help balance a weakened offense.

3. How will Vince Wilfork perform? -- The Patriots captain and star defensive lineman had a rare off day against the Jets, getting overpowered in the running game and failing to provide any pressure on passing downs. He was graded poorly (-5.1) by Pro Football Focus for his outing. It is the worst grade he has received by the stats-centric website since its inception in 2008.

4. Will we see an improvement from the team's young wide receivers? -- Four drops against the Jets from Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, along with another string of mental mistakes, and the Patriots' young receivers found themselves in hot water with quarterback Tom Brady as well as the fan base. We'll see if they've improved with 10 days between games.

5. How will Tom Brady come off? -- Brady found himself angry, irate really, last week when he couldn't connect with Dobson in the red zone. He said it himself, he has to be less demonstrative because it can be counterproductive. We'll be watching his temperament, which we're sure is tied directly to how the offense performs.

Zuri Berry can be reached at zberry@boston.com. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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