As the Detroit Lions prepare to host the New England Patriots for what is sure to be an exciting Week 3 matchup that should see the first units from both sides see extended playing time, here are a few things to watch for.
Defensive Line Depth. With the starters likely slated to play at least through the half, possibly longer, this game will be a good opportunity to see how the Patriots rotate players along the defensive line. After Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, New England is very thin along the interior of the line, and so it will be interesting to see who spells Wilfork and Kelly when the first unit is on the field. This could be Cory Grissom's chance to make a name for himself, as well as Michael Buchanan and Marcus Benard. Justin Francis has seen most of his reps at end, as has Jake Bequette, but maybe Belichick will try both of them on the interior line tomorrow as the battle for roster spots heats up.
Offensive Line Unity. The last time the Patriots played the Lions in preseason, Tommy B was under pressure the entire time. Ndamukong Suh and company absolutely dominated New England's line and left Brady running for his life all night. It's no secret that the Patriots struggle when Brady hears footsteps, and the Pats are slated to face some fairly effective pass rushes this season. Tomorrow's game will be a good test for the O-Line and a nice benchmark going forward.
Intensity. Probably my biggest takeaway from the last Lions/Pats preseason game was just how badly Detroit wanted it. The game was nationally televised, a rarity for the Lions, and it was very clear that Jim Schwartz had told his players to treat the game as it it was a regular season matchup. Detroit came out swinging, the fans were rabid, and New England was simply outmatched. It was nice to see, in a way; a team on the rise using an opportunity to test themselves against one of the best teams in the league by getting fired up and playing at full speed. Still, when your team looks lethargic and a little bored while the other team had to physically restrain themselves from giving their coach a Gatorade bath after the game, it doesn't sit well. The Patriots have been playing with some intensity thus far in the preseason, getting fired up after big games and celebrating scores, and I for one am happy about it. Here's hoping they can match Detroit's intensity tonight.
Secondary vs. Megatron. Gameplanning and preparation aside, this game will be a great chance to test this secondary against the NFL's best receiver. Calvin Johnson is an absolute monster, likely to be matched up against Aqib Talib (hopefully with some safety help), which leaves the rest of the defensive backs with the task of covering Detroit's other weapons. This defense has experience dealing with Reggie Bush, but he remains a constant receiving threat, and Brandon Pettigrew is one of the better tight ends in the game. Nate Burleson is up there in age, but he has remained a productive receiver for the Lions since his arrival there. This game will be a good test of the secondary's cohesiveness when up against a team with an elite WR and a solid QB.
Receiver Rotation. With Danny Amendola likely sidelined with an injury (which at this point seems to me more of a precautionary measure than anything else), New England's younger receivers will be thrust further into the spotlight with the chance to further prove themselves. It has certainly been so far, so good this preseason, but I know I'd like to see a little more out of Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce; the bulk of the catches so far have been from Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins, and Zach Sudfeld. This game will also be a chance for Julian Edelman to establish his offensive presence.