Patriots-Lions: Preview Review

Patriots-Lions: Preview Review
August 23, 2013, 1:15 am
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Rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins (8 catches, 116 yards) was a bright spot on a bad night in Detroit.

(AP Photo)

DETROIT – Undressed in the dress rehearsal. The Patriots got gob-smacked Thursday night by a Lions team playing at regular-season intensity. The Patriots didn’t match it. Hence, a 40-9 loss featuring four turnovers in the first 19 minutes by the New England offense.
 
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
Great battle for the Patriots first offense, especially to test themselves against the very talented Lions’ front anchored by Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Can New England have their way up front in the running game and get themselves in second-and-reasonable? And if they can’t, who will be the chunk guy on second down? It’s usually the slot guy but Danny Amendola may not play after being down Monday and Tuesday with what I’m told is a minor, short-term ding. Julian Edelman figures to get some reps at the slot, but the versatility of the Patriots offense could see Josh McDaniels cook up something to test some of the young guys in the slot, particularly Josh Boyce or even Shane Vereen. Aaron Dobson was quiet last week. The Lions secondary is not daunting. We’ll see if he gets some looks this week. Stevan Ridley has the No. 1 spot locked down, it seems, but LeGarrette Blount has shown enough in his game and practice reps to warrant a look on first and second down as well. Also curious to see the deployment of Tim Tebow. If he gets reps early running out of the full-house backfield, you’ll know they envision him as being a viable part of the club. Mop-up, fourth-quarter reps would signal trouble for Tim.
 
The Patriots managed very little in the running game against the Lions front. On their first drive they ran for 0, -1 and 3 on first-down carries. It remained that way much of the first half. Stuffed on first down, heavy pressure making Tom Brady uneasy in the pocket after that. Thompkins certainly built on his summer with an outstanding game, beating press coverage twice for long gains and catching 8 for 146. Edelman played well, catching all three balls thrown his way. But the first fumble by Zach Sudfeld after a 20-yard reception inside the 10, a fumble by Brandon Bolden at the Patriots’ 8, a pick by Brady when Dobson got bumped off a route and a Shane Vereen fumble at the Patriots 8 were the lowlights. All save Dobson were picking splinters after that. Blount ran well when he was in there. Well, he had 26 yards on 10 carries. Maybe I should say he ran hard. The Patriots had nine runs for negative yardage or no gain. Ryan Mallett went 11 for 22 for 96 yards with a touchdown but his accuracy and touch left lots to be desired. It’s as if his feel comes and goes snap to snap. Tim Tebow didn’t see the field and that doesn’t speak well of his job security here.
 
WHEN THE LIONS HAVE THE BALL
The best in the business, Calvin Johnson, isn’t a definite for this one. If he’s out there, great test for the entire secondary. Devin McCourty shed his non-contact jersey this week. He still hasn’t played in the preseason so the Patriots would probably like to get him in there unless they remain uneasy about his shoulder and want to save him. Same with Alfonzo Dennard. Bill Belichick talked this week about settling on some pairings in the competitive safety rotation. Watch to see if he sticks with a pairing for an extended period at the back end. Dane Fletcher has quietly had a very solid camp. With the explosiveness of the Lions offensive weapons and the presence of Reggie Bush, Fletcher may get first and second-down reps if the Patriots go to their sub defense. Excellent pass rush presence from the Patriots last week. A follow-up performance that harries Matt Stafford would spark real optimism.
 
No Calvin Johnson so the Patriots secondary didn’t get the pleasure of Megatron. But they did have to deal with Reggie Bush in the checkdown game. Bush had five catches for 103 yards including a 67-yard screen on which he got to the sideline, hit the brakes to let Jerod Mayo slide by, then scampered the rest of the way. Other than that play, the first defense – which came out at halftime – went 2-or-9 against the Lions on third down. Devin McCourty played and seemed to lend some stability. Vince Wilfork didn’t and was missed. Alfonzo Dennard didn’t play either and it will be interesting to see the performance level he brings when he comes in. Tommy Kelly had another impactful game with a combined sack of Matt Stafford (along with Rob Ninkovich). Mayo continues to play sparingly. Jamie Collins got a ton of reps in his place. Seeing Adrian Wilson on the field at the end of the game with the second-teamers gives me a John Lynch feel.
 
THE KICKING GAME
Stephen Gostkowski is 2-for-5 in the preseason. He’s not going anywhere, but confidence is always a factor with him. Meanwhile, the punting competition between Zoltan Mesko and Ryan Allen isn’t yet resolved though Mesko certainly seems in good shape there. Leon Washington and Edelman are the main returners so far. My belief is Washington sticks because the Patriots have been so ineffective on kickoff returns in recent years and he’ll inject some life there. Edelman can break one but he also makes some weird decisions on punt return trying to make something out of nothing. With his reduced reps, he’ll be taking risks most likely.
 
Mesko choked out Allen in the punting competition. He had a 48.8 yard gross and a 43.3 net. Leon Washington seemed to have a role change in the return game. LeGarrette Blount, Shane Vereen, Josh Boyce and Matt Slater all brought kicks back. Washington wasn’t back there until late.
 
GAME WITHIN THE GAME
The Patriots young receivers against the Lions defensive backs. Uncovering for Brady, getting off the line and being in spots that allows Brady to continue his rhythmic dissections of secondaries is Job One with Amendola possibly out.
 
Kenbrell Thompkins twice beat press coverage for long gains but Aaron Dobson got jammed up on the line on a combo route with Edelman and Brady threw it into that mess. It was picked. The inability to get positive yards on first down allowed Detroit to get physical on second down knowing the Patriots would be throwing.

PATRIOTS GOTTA STOP...
Ndamukong Suh. He’ll take a shot if it’s there. So buttoning him up and keeping him away from Tom Brady is vital.
 
Suh didn’t break anybody. That was a positive. He was also a major pain in the posterior for Will Svitek and Dan Connolly (who was seeing his first game action of the preseason).
 
LIONS GOTTA STOP...
Chandler Jones and Brandon Spikes. They’ve been a combined handful – Spikes against the run and blowing up play-action against running backs attempting to pick him up; Jones off the edge.
 
Mostly ineffective. Although Spikes did make a nice play corralling Reggie Bush in space on a throw to the perimeter of the defense.

DON'T BE SURPRISED IF...
This takes on a regular-season feel. The Lions have not been outstanding in preseason and head coach Jim Schwartz will be turning the screws for a good performance. Bill Belichick knows this and he’ll want his team to not match Detroit’s effort but exceed it.
 
It definitely took on a regular-season feel for the Lions. And it was a good sampling for the Patriots of what it will feel like when they go against a very physical defensive team in the regular season.
 
THAT SUMS IT UP, PATRIOTS STYLE
“Well, they’re all very good. I mean, they’ve got [Nick] Fairley and Suh [who] are as good as anybody in the league. They’re tough, physical, hard-nosed, they play for 60 minutes. We’ve had preseason games against them. We played against them on Thanksgiving a few years ago. Talk about talent, they’ve got all the talent in the world, so it’ll be a good test for us.” – Brady on the Lions defense.
 
They certainly showed that – even though most of them only played for 30 minutes.

THAT SUMS IT UP, LIONS STYLE
"We are going to be all right on offense, but my thing is getting my wind right, We've got a long season, but the better conditioned you are the better you are going to be in that fourth quarter." – Lions wideout Calvin Johnson on why he wants to play Thursday.
 
No Calvin but really no big deal for the Lions who out-muscled New England.

THE WINNER IS ...
Lions 24, Patriots 20. Means more to them than it does to New England.
 
Lions 40, Patriots 9