With a bulk of the starters seeing their first action last week against the Buccaneers, they came out and continued the momentum started by the second string Week 1 and put up 28 points in the first quarter. The defense was attacked, harassing the Buccaneer offense and keeping them scoreless. The Patriots next preseason challenge is the Detroit Lions, and up-and-coming team with a tough front four on defense and a QB-WR combo in Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson that can put up points in an instant.
We should see the starters play for at least the entire first half, and likely a few series into the second half. It should be a great game and a good barometer of where the team is at. Here are the five items I’ll be focused on tonight during the game.
1. The debut of Prince Albert? I’m not looking to see if Bill Belichick got a new piercing, but if Albert Haynesworth will make his long-awaited debut on the field in a Patriots uniform. There is a chance that Haynesworth could play tonight after practicing most of the week. If he’s on the field, and he’s ready to play, we’ll get our first glimpse of the Wilfork-Haynesworth defensive tackle pairing.
2. Chad Ochocinco’s comfort level. After last week, making only two catches and looking visibly frustrated, Ocho admitted that he was behind in the complex Patriot offense. I’m not looking for Brady-Welker perfection, but an improvement over last week’s performance. It will be interesting to see if Brady tries forcing the ball to Chad like he did a few times last week.
3. Taylor Price-Julien Edelman-Brandon Tate competition. The final two receiver spots on the team will be filled by two of these three receivers, and who’s ahead of who on the depth chart could be settled tonight. This is likely these receivers’ last chance to work with Tom Brady as he’s unlikely to play next week. Price, by virtue of his Week One performance, is likely a lock, but he likely needs to put in another stellar performance to get playing time in the regular season. Brandon Tate has the most work to do after missing most of camp. I don’t see the Pats carrying 7 receivers, meaning one these guys has got to go.
4. Will Yeatman vs. Lee Smith. Yeatman was an undrafted rookie free agent when he signed with the Patriots, while Smith was a fifth-round draft pick. Yeatman, however, seems to have bypassed Smith as the third tight end behind Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Smith missed some time due to injury and Yeatman has really impressed. Could the undrafted rookie beat out the fifth-rounder? We could get that answer tonight.
5. Special teams. Yeah, I know, I say it every time. However, it is an important indicator as to which players on the bubble could make the team. Newly-signed guys like S James Ihedigbo and LB Ricky Brown, who also play positions of need, could carve out a spot on the team with solid special teams performances. I’m also interested to see if Stephen Gostkowski is far enough along in his rehab to handle kickoffs.