Each Wednesday throughout the season we'll identify one player, coach or area of the team that is most under the microscope. This week, S James Sanders is the choice.
Following three wins in a row over tough opponents (Ravens, Chargers and Vikings), the Patriots' road seems to get easier with a game in Cleveland on Sunday.
The Browns are coming off a bye after a big win over the Saints, and regardless of who is at quarterback, ex-Patriots TE Ben Watson, the Browns' leading receiver, will be targeted often, especially in the red zone.
With that in mind, Pats S James Sanders goes under the microscope.
Patrick Chung has had a tremendous season, but left the Week Seven win over the Chargers with a knee injury and missed Week Eight. His status is unknown for Sunday. Sanders lost his No. 3 safety spot to Jarrad Page in Week Six, but Page went down with a calf injury, opening it up for Sanders to return. He started against the Vikings in Chung's absence.
Even if Chung is healthy, Page likely isn't ready to return yet, and Sanders will see the field as part of the Pats' weak secondary.
Last week, Sanders often covered Vikings TE Visanthe Shiancoe. With help from defensive schemes allowing other players to help on Shinacoe's routes, the tight end didn't do too much damage (4-38-0 receiving), and Sanders likely will be called upon again to stop Watson.
Sanders was a surprise start early in the season before Brandon Meriweather regained his spot. Then Sanders dipped below Page. Now, with injuries to Chung and Page, Sanders has a chance to show his value to a team desperate for quality players in the secondary, and he has an opportunity to do so in a big way if he has to man Watson up in the red zone.