Dress rehearsal time for the 2013 Patriots, and it’s the opportunity to match up with a team that gives them headaches. Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and Matt Stafford are going to put up some gaudy numbers this season, so this will the best test yet for the young but talented New England defense. When Tom Brady and the offense are on the field, they will be without wide receiver Danny Amendola. Brady will have to look for his young targets and rely on the running game to move the ball against a Lions defense that has struggled but is talented.
Here is what to watch for in Detroit tonight.
1. Can the young wideouts and tight ends step up with Amendola out of the lineup? Brady loves his slot targets, and Amendola looks like he is picking up where Wes Welker left off. This is not a good thing for the overall balance of the offense. Tonight is a good night for Brady to start throwing to his favorite receiver- the open one. Dobson, Boyce and Thompkins are all going to play well into the third quarter, so they’ll have every opportunity to get into a rhythm with Brady. Zach Sudfeld has been the star of the preseason, coming out of basically nowhere to first on the depth chart while Gronkowski gets healthy. Sudfeld will have his fair share of targets tonight, and if he continues to come through, he will gain the trust of Tom Brady.
2. Will the interior offensive line be able to handle Suh and Fairley? The Lions have some serious issues on their defense, but they are strong up front. The Patriots are going to have to run to move the ball in 2013, so if they can run successfully between the tackles against this bunch, that will say a lot for what their core offensive strength will be going forward. Marcus Cannon and Will Svitek have gotten most of the reps at right guard with Dan Connelly recovering from offseason surgery, but Connelly has been getting reps with the second team offense in practice and should reclaim his spot. Cannon has had some great moments, but he is inconsistent. Tonight is a huge game for the former fifth rounder out of TCU. Detroit also added defensive ends Jason Jones (UFA-SEA) and Ziggy Ansah of BYU, the fifth pick of the 2013 NFL Draft. These two will provide a good test for Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer and the Patriots tight ends. Ansah returned a Mark Sanchez-thrown interception for a touchdown in his first pro game.
3. Jamie Collins could be featured tonight because of his coverage skills- One of the main reasons the Patriots drafted Jamie Collins is because he can cover. Reggie Bush is going to catch a ton of passes in the Detroit offense, similar to when he was with New Orleans. Expect to see Collins in the game early and often because Detroit is going to let it fly tonight (and all year for that matter.)
4. Will the linebackers be blitzing like they were last week versus Tampa Bay? In last week’s “What to Watch for”, I discussed the Patriots use of blitzing and how it is all based on trust, specifically the trust from Belichick and Patricia. Brandon Spikes was disruptive last week and did a great job of timing his blitzes to ruin plays before they developed. Besides Chandler Jones, Tommy Kelly and Rob Ninkovich, New England has shown that their pass rush is still a weakness; if their linebackers and safeties can learn how to effectively blitz, it will add a huge element to this defense.
5. Can the secondary slow down the Detroit receiving core? The Patriots look like they have drastically improved their pass defense, but the true test comes when you face a top five passing offense. Calvin Jones is going to make a few plays, that isn’t the problem. The question is can they slow down the likes of Ryan Broyles, Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew? If they can’t, then YES, they DO have a problem. Safety Devin McCourty is still out (*Update- McCourty is active), but cornerbacks Alfonzo Dennard (*Update- Dennard, Dowling are inactive) and Ras-I Dowling should be in the lineup tonight. Rookie corner Logan Ryan has been improving on a daily basis and will see a healthy amount of playing time tonight.
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