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Things to watch: Patriots-Giants

FOXBOROUGH, Mass -- Here are six things to watch for the New England Patriots in their home game against the New York Giants on Sunday (4:15 p.m.).

1. Pass protection against Giants' D-line

Just as it was in Super Bowl XLII, the game within the game is whether the Patriots' offensive line can hold up against the Giants' pass rush. Patriots blockers said part of what makes the Giants unique is their ability to consistently pressure with the standard four rushers, giving them the luxury to drop seven into coverage. The Patriots have surrendered 10 sacks over the past three games, with in-game statisticians recording 17 quarterback hits.

2. Sub D, especially on third down

The Patriots have been in a sub defense 63 percent of the time this season, which highlights the importance of their fifth and sixth defensive backs. Their cornerback depth has been thinned in recent weeks after Leigh Bodden was released and rookie Ras-I Dowling landed on season-ending injured reserve, thrusting Antwaun Molden and Phillip Adams into those roles last Sunday. The Patriots struggled on third down (Pittsburgh Steelers converted on 10 of 16) and adjustments are likely entering Sunday's contest.

3. Better special-teams play

The Patriots' inconsistent special teams play was highlighted by kicker Stephen Gostkowski's struggles in Pittsburgh when he couldn't execute an onside kick and missed a field goal. The Patriots aren't getting much from their kickoff return unit and coverage has been up and down (e.g., the 34-yard kickoff return by Antonio Brown to open Sunday's game in Pittsburgh).

4. Eyes on WRs Price, Ocho

Second-year target Taylor Price has been on the field for seven plays this season, and offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien said earlier this week that he wants to get him on the field more. However, Price was a late addition to the injury list Saturday; he's questionable with a balky hamstring. If he is active Sunday, it could mean even less time for Chad Ochocinco, as well as a shift away from running as many two-tight end packages (52 of 58 snaps in Pittsburgh). While Price isn't any type of savior, perhaps he's a spark to help get the offense out of its mini-funk over the past two games.

5. Establishing early balance on offense

The Patriots had 38 dropbacks and just 12 rushes against the Steelers last week -- the game turning one-dimensional after the Steelers got ahead early and the Patriots had limited offensive opportunities (three plays in the first quarter). The Patriots attempted to run but couldn't stick with it long enough given the way the game was unfolding. This week, the Giants' run defense enters ranked 28th in the NFL in yards allowed per game (130.1) and 26th in average yards per rush (4.7). Creating balance early to set up play-action is always important, and there should be an opportunity to do that Sunday.

6. Staying strong in the red zone

The silver lining in the Patriots' loss to Pittsburgh was their red zone defense, which was outstanding. On an otherwise disappointing day, strong red zone play kept the Patriots in the game. The Giants rank second in the NFL in average yards per pass play (8.8), and assuming they will move the ball against the NFL's last-ranked defense (in terms of passing yards allowed) and 30th-ranked unit on third down, the importance of red zone play should once again be highlighted.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.