1) Offense humming: The Patriots were very effective running the ball — this time behind Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris — for a second straight week and Tom Brady was stellar throwing it. Outside of one underthrow to Moss, and one ball slightly behind Wes Welker (which was caught anyway), Brady was near-perfect. Most encouraging might have been the timing on the touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez, a back-shoulder throw in tight quarters that displayed that the rookie might be the guy the Patriots have been missing in the red zone.
2) Running back rotation starting to make sense: It seems the Patriots want to allow each of their backs to get into a rhythm by keeping them in games for stretches … Which would explain why BenJarvus Green-Ellis got the first half against New Orleans and Laurence Maroney got the second half, and Taylor took the first half tonight and Morris got the second half. The group looks better than expected, though durability — because of the group’s overall age — will remain a concern. This way, though, it does seem you ramp up multiple backs to take on a full-time load.
3) Manufacturing a pass rush: Without a standout pressure guy up front, it’s clear the Patriots are tinkering with their blitz packages, sending inside linebackers and defensive backs on numerous occasions tonight. One thing that was clear was that the defense had trouble getting to the quarterback without scheme help. So installing more exotic rush looks is one way of addressing that. Of course, two things will have to happen for the Patriots to be able to be effective with that stuff — 1) They’ll have to win on early downs to create long-yardage situations and 2) The young defensive backs, who were a little up-and-down tonight, will have to improve.
4) Intermediate issues: The defense made a couple of big stops to force field-goal tries against the Falcons first offense, but Atlanta did exploit inside linebackers Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo a bit underneath on checkdowns. Spikes and Mayo seemed to be taking pretty deep drops, and while the defense as a whole tackled well to mitigate the damage, you do have to wonder it those two big, run-stopping ‘backers could have issues playing together in coverage. It’s worth continuing to watch, at the very least, because the Patriots have had some problems in the past defending the pass on early downs with their base personnel.
5) Rookies growing up: It’s hard not to be intrigued by what the coaches might be able to do with Hernandez and fellow rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski, both of whom caught touchdown passes and display their ability to get downfield. Add to that a fairly solid performance from Devin McCourty (who was impressive physically keeping Roddy White from getting into his route on a first-quarter third down), and another good effort overall from Spikes, and it’s clear the coaches are trusting this class of rookies to contribute quickly. Which has got to be a good sign.