By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots travel to Detroit to take on the Lions in the third game of the preseason for both teams. The Patriots thus far are 2-0 and the Lions come in at 1-1 after what coach Jim Schwartz said was a failure to capitalize on opportunities. So the Lions may be very fired up for this one at home.
The Patriots first team units have been impressive in the first two games; Tom Brady has been razor sharp as he has integrated a fleet of new receivers for the offense. A common refrain throughout the spring was, “who will Tom Brady throw the football to?” and the answer is the one from a while ago….the open one.
Tom Brady will look to continue his red hot start this preseason against the outstanding pass rush of the Lions. (FILE:USPresswire)
The Patriots defense has been improved however, due to injuries the secondary still hasn’t played with all their starters yet. But top draft pick Jamie Collins has been impressive, in coverage and moving around playing various positions.
Series History-The Patriots and Lions have met seven times during the preseason with the Lions holding a 5-2 edge. The teams have met ten times during the regular season with the Patriots holding a 6-4 advantage.
The last time the teams met was in the 2011 preseason with the Lions dominating from wire to wire and crushing New England 34-10.
Dress Rehearsal For Buffalo?-While the third preseason game is usually looked upon as the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season, teams generally don’t spend as much time in film study for their opponent as they do in the regular season.
Bill Belichick did say during his Tuesday press conference however that they were treating Tuesday as a normal Friday during the regular season and may have had the players studying more in an effort to get into that “regular season” mode.
Here are five of the things to watch for during Thursday’s night’s game:
Detroit Pass Rush-The Lions have a very deep and talented front four on the defensive line and its starts with Ndamukong Suh who is one of the best in the business. But they can turn to DT Nick Fairley, the #5 pick of the 2013 NFL Draft, LE Ezekial Ansah, RDE Jason Jones as well as DT Israel Idonije. The Lions can turn up the pressure from any of the four positions and love to pressure the QB.
In the preseason game of 2011, they harassed Tom Brady mercilessly and tossed him around in a manner that Brady hasn’t been accustomed to in his time in New England. This will be a big test for the Patriots offensive line, you can rest assured that they and OL coach Dante Scarnecchia have watched tapes of the 2011 debacle and know what they’ll be facing.
Shane Vereen-The Patriots counter to that outstanding pass rush of Detroit’s is RB Shane Vereen. This is an excellent game for Vereen to showcase his talents and tailor made for the Patriots to counter the Detroit fearsome front four.
The back seven for the Lions isn’t great and Vereen out of the backfield against a linebacker or in the screen game may be just what the doctor ordered to slow down the pass rush.
Covering Calvin Johnson- Johnson or ‘Megatron’ as he’s known is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the game today. Possessing all the physical attributes that make him one of the biggest playmakers in the past 5 seasons, Johnson will be a big measuring stick for the Patriots secondary to cover.
Johnson has been sidelined but is expected to play on Thursday night. Without him against the Browns, the Lions struggled to throw the ball especially the deep ball. Schwartz said, “Regardless of whether you throw it deep or you throw it underneath, you’ve got to be able to get some chunks in the game somewhere, and when I say ‘chunks’, I mean plus-twenty plays.”
Look for the Lions to throw the ball and throw it deep.
One of the areas that must improve for the team is the safety help coming over to help in the deep passing game. In both preseason games, safety help has been a step late in arriving. Of course not having your top centerfielder, Devin McCourty on the field hasn’t helped. McCourty, recovering from off-season shoulder surgery has played with a red non-contact jersey for most of training camp, but is back to wearing a blue jersey with the rest of the defense so he may see his first game action this summer.
Both McCourty and Aqib Talib or Kyle Arrington will have their hands full covering Johnson, one of the most fun players in the NFL to watch. He’ll be a big test for the secondary.
Rookie Wide Receivers Continue Strong Start- So far during training camp and through the first two games, the new faces of the Patriots offense have made great strides, now in the dress rehearsal for the season opener, they need to take a bigger step.
And the Lions secondary may be ripe for the plucking, as long as Brady has the time to throw the Patriots can throw the football on anyone and WRs Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins as well as tight end Zach Sudfeld will be under the microscope. They’ll be helped by veteran Julian Edelman who is familiar with the offense and has the trust of Brady.
But don’t be surprised to see the team come out with the three rookies starting at WR with Sudfeld at tight end as a show of trust in the young players. They’ll be looked to provide the spark needed with Danny Amendola expected to miss the game.
Special Teams Rebound- Through the first two games the Patriots special teams haven’t been special, in fact they’ve been quite awful. Situational punting especially by rookie Ryan Allen hasn’t been effective and the coverage units have been gashed repeatedly. Zoltan Mesko the veteran incumbent at punter has been better so far, regardless of the positional competition going on.
Leon Washington was brought in to give a shot in the arm to the return game and hasn’t had anywhere to run. Belichick made mention of this during his Tuesday press conference saying that it isn’t a reflection on Washington.
Stephen Gostkowski has missed 3 of 5 field goals this preseason and needs to find his groove. Thursday in Detroit, the units will need to make a much better showing than we’ve seen so far.