The Patriots and Lions meet tonight in the third preseason game for both teams. This is the game that traditionally is referred to as the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season. Bill Belichick has always eschewed that perception but the starters should see plenty of action tonight and probably very little if any against the Giants next week.
There are still plenty of decisions that have to be made by the Patriots coaching staff, the roster will have to go from 90 to 53 and many of those will be tough ones as the team gets to its initial 53-man limit. We say initially because the team always makes tweaks to it during the season and the roster for Week 1 will not be the same one we see in Week 17.
So here are the five things we’re looking for in this week’s preseason tilt with Detroit.
Starters Playing Into the Third Quarter: I look for the starters, especially Tom Brady, Brandin Cooks and company to play into the second half tonight. Why? Although they’ve gotten plenty of work in the joint practices, they’ve had very little time on the playing field so far in 2017. Brady attempted only one pass, a seven-yard out pattern to Cooks in Houston a week ago.
Plus this will allow the starters, on both sides of the ball to make some second half adjustments. Although the game plans are pretty vanilla in the preseason, the coaches will still attempt to make some adjustments at halftime. It is an exercise in getting on the same page more than anything. And to see if some of the newer players take to the coaching of the Patriots staff.
Look for Brady et.al. to play probably a series in the third quarter and then give way to Jimmy Garoppolo this week.
Attacking the Lions Pass Defense: Detroit’s pass defense a year ago was dreadful allowing opposing QBs to complete 72.7 percent of their throws in 2016. They didn’t rush the QB well and were 30th in sacks a year ago but so far in the preseason have gotten eight. The Patriots will look to do what they’ve been practicing all summer, spread the field, and find the mismatches using their versatile and deep receiver group.
It will be interesting to see if Brady tries to stretch the field this week using Cooks and Hogan, something they didn’t do last week against the Texans. It wasn’t surprising though since they face Houston in Week 3, but this week, they may attempt to get their timing down a bit and stretch the Lions out.
Rob Gronkowski wasn’t targeted last week, just used as a blocker in the running game, and it will be intriguing to see if they use him this week. He will no doubt sit against the Giants in the preseason finale, will the coaches get him some work this week or keep him in bubble wrap until the Chiefs come into town in two weeks?
Cameron Fleming At Left Tackle Will Be the Man This Week: Nate Solder and LaAdrian Waddle won’t play tonight and it is probably doubtful to see rookie Tony Garcia so expect to see Fleming on the field as long as Brady is, protecting his blind side. Fleming has done well in the past as the swing tackle but has a pretty inconsistent summer. In order for the Patriots offense to operate at peak efficiency, the offensive line has to give Brady time to throw. While he’s known to get the ball out quickly, he was also under a lot of pressure last week against the tough Houston front seven.
Fleming probably won’t face the Lions’ Ziggy Ansah who’s been hurt but will have to handle Anthony Zettel. Working for the detail oriented Dante Scarnecchia, look for Fleming to have a better night than a week ago.
Patriots Running Backs Look to Continue a Strong Summer: Although Mike Gillislee has missed most of the camp with a balky hamstring, the running back position for the Pats is deep and versatile. One area that they’ve thrived in is catching the ball out of the backfield.
Rex Burkhead, James White, Dion Lewis and D.J. Foster have been very good at taking advantage of the team spreading out the field and finding large gaps to operate in underneath the coverage. Look for the team to do much more of the same tonight and put pressure on the Lions’ linebackers.
With a talented group of receivers, there is only so many players an opposing team can cover, someone is going to get open and frequently this summer, that someone has been the running backs who’ve had vast amounts of real estate open. This should be a continuing trend. Look for Brandon Bolden, on the bubble right now, to get a lot of work in the running game this week.
Secondary Needs a Bounce-back Type of Effort: The Patriots defense in the first two preseason games has given up a ton of big plays, something they pride themselves on NOT doing. They pride themselves on making teams earn their points by taking away big plays and making them nibble their way down the field. However, this summer has been one big play after another. Facing Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense, they’ll look to reverse that trend tonight.
When Calvin Johnson retired, the Lions replaced him with Marvin Jones who initially had very good success but once opponents began to double him, he struggled. Detroit has a pair of good receivers in Jones and Golden Tate. The Patriots corners, Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore will have a good test tonight.
Of course the secondary will get help there if the pass rush is improved this week. Trey Flowers and Kony Ealy will play although Deatrich Wise will probably sit. They’ll have to get creative with the pass rush. Another area to watch is the safeties, Devin McCourty, Pat Chung and Duron Harmon. They’re facing Eric Ebron and the deep end of the field. Old friend Keshawn Martin will play for the Lions tonight. He had a good 2015 season for the Pats.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2017 Patriots Preseason 2017 Patriots Season 53 Man Roster Projection Bill Belichick Brandin Cooks Brandon Bolden Chris Hogan D.J. Foster Danny Amendola Dion Lewis Dont'a Hightower James White Jimmy Garoppolo Julian Edelman Malcolm Butler New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rex Burkhead Rob Gronkowski Stephon Gilmore Tom Brady Trey Flowers