What to look for: Patriots vs. Lions

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What to look for: Patriots vs. Lions

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran The Patriots have allowed one offensive touchdown in two preseason games and that was against their scrubs. They've scored 88 points. They look really good. One can say "it's only preseason" but what else have we got to go on, hmmmm? Nothing. Saturday night in Detroit, the Patriots will play preseason media darling Detroit. The Lions have gone 2-0 in this preseason themselves. With both teams figuring to give an effort that approximates what we'd see in the regular season, this should be a nice pre-Irene appetizer.What to look for in no particular order. 1. Uncle Albert's Unveiling Two preseason games in and we haven't seen whether Albert Haynesworth poses a bigger threat to the opposition or the team he joined.This has led toSmarmageddon.Haynesworth represents low-hanging fruit to columnists like the Globe's Dan Shaughnessy and radio shriek shows like Tony Massarotti. Shaughnessy burped out a 950-word column - 250 of whichcame in the form of quotes -that concluded Haynesworthin a Patriots uniform represents the greatest threat to New England since the Pilgrims landed nearly 400 years ago.Anyone who doesn't see that is either dense, in denial or on the take. Sports fans who like sports understand that Haynesworth isn't going to be their friend and stop by the house for dinner. They don't have to buy his jersey. They can tell their kids that Haynesworth's been kind of a donkey in the past and they can then guide those innocent children away from building shrines to Haynesworth and direct them to Deion Branch or Jerod Mayo if they want a Patriot to claim as their "favorite."Sportswriters covering teamsunderstand that players with spotty pasts will be employed. Themost measuredway to proceed is to reconcile yourself to that fact and be vigilant for signs of recidivism so that then you can, you know, absolutely eviscerate the player, the team and the owner. Unless you need a column. Now, where were we? Right. Football. Keep an eye peeled to see how Haynesworth is deployed. Is he out there with Vince Wilfork and Shaun Ellis? That's a lot of beef. And what's his conditioning look like? Can hemake it to third down? Will he play at all?Last week in Tampa was all positive for the Patriots' front and the question was how daunting they'd appear with Haynesworth and Ellis. We maysee in Detroit. 2. How's Woodhead's Head?Smushed last week by Tampa's Devin Holland, the Patriots running back staggered off the field with an addled mind. He recovered quickly and, in the locker room after the game, he scoffed at the notion he'd be anything but fine. He returned to practice earlier this week. Despite his quick recovery, Woodhead suffered a concussion last January as well. At his size, he's not built to last. With his style, he'll be his own worst enemy. It wouldn't be a bad idea to sit the little fella down for now. 3. Which Means Vereen?If Woodhead doesn't go, this may mean Shane Vereen can get some extra reps. The rookie second-rounder from Cal just began practicing again this week after suffering a hamstring injury. Stevan Ridley has established himself a bit with the extra reps available. Now it should be Vereen's turn. Look for him later in the game, though, because blitz pickup is Job One for Patriots backs and he probably hasn't shown enough to be trusted yet. 4. Wideout WondermentBetween Taylor Price, Julian Edelman and Brandon Tate, are there enough roster spots at wide receiver? One would have to think Price has established himself during camp. Edelman to a lesser extent. Tate? He's got catching up to do since missing a huge chunk of camp with an injury. With new kickoff rules lessening the need for a guy whose got value in that area, Tate needs to show he's a valuable, reliable player. I'm not sure he has the time to do it. 5. Welcome Back, Carter? The star of stars in last week's preseason game was Jerod Mayo. Close second? Andre Carter. The defensive end was a nuisance off the edge in a way we haven't seen since... ummm... really, in a way we haven't seen. Bill Belichick said some of it was attributable to Tampa's offensive line mistakes. If Carter can back up last week's performance with a similar one this week, it will be hard to dismiss his impact. 6. Last Gasp Before Cutdown DayTeams are going to trim to 80 players from their current 90 on Tuesday. That means the guys in logjam positions - defensive line, secondary, wide receiver - who think they may be in trouble probably are. It's a big night, most likely, for corners Darius Butler and Jonathan Wilhite, players with ability who just don't seem to ever make plays. The clock's been ticking on both of them. 7. Tight End MaelstromRob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are set. But rookies Will Yeatman and Lee Smith continue to battle for the third tight end spot. Yeatman, an undrafted guy, has the edge on Smith, a fifth-rounder. The Patriots will certainly try to get the guy who loses the battle onto their practice squad. Gronk, meanwhile,hasn't caught a preseason football. Aaron Hernandez has nine receptions. 8. Ocho DramaLotta navel-gazing from Chad Ochocinco last week in Tampa. So much frustration and urgency that you wonder if the guy can keep it to himself and immerse himself in the offense without having to be in everyone's ear about it all the time. It will be interesting to see how often Tom Brady goes to him. Brady doesn't do needy well. 9. Left Tackle QuestionsMatt Light returned to the field this week as well. Does that bounce Nate Solder from the starting spot at left tackle? If so, are the Patriots planning to use a guy they signed to a two-year, 7 million contract as a backup?
Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Friday Bag: What’s the Patriots' future at running back look like?

Friday Bag: What’s the Patriots' future at running back look like?

Every Friday Tom E. Curran, Mike Giardi and Phil Perry will take your Patriots questions (Curran is sitting this one out) on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or a Friday Bag, as they call it. 

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag.

MG: Q leading off my portion of the always popular, always exciting, always (occasionally?) informative #FridayBag. I think it would be easy to think that way from the outside looking in, or knowing how callous some organizations can be, but I just don’t believe that to be the case here. Players talk. Agents talk. Hell, coaches talk. If the Pats were to operate that way, it would get around the league in a heartbeat. Then why would someone want to play here knowing they’ll be treated even more like a disposable commodity then normal? The flip side to this is actually protecting the player from himself. Guys in the last year of a deal sometimes feel compelled to play through every damn thing so they can at least say “look at me, I’m a warrior!” And on that note, I’d sit Marty Bennett next week in Denver and probably the following week against the Jets if that will help the ankle and whatever else is ailing him heal to the point where he’s a hell of a lot more effective than what we just saw versus the Rams (He was awful). Bennett’s too valuable going forward. 

MG: Lisa, my understanding is teams nominate their player and then it goes to a panel (one that includes the NFL Commish) to decide who wins for the league (It was Anquan Boldin in 2015). Can’t quibble with Rob Gronkowski being the team’s nominee this year. People have no idea how much he does for the community. Heck, we don’t even know the extent of it, but the great Don Rodman of Rodman Car Dealer fame and one of the most incredibly charitable individuals to ever grace this area said that there are few if any athletes who devote more time and effort to charitable works/foundations. I hope he wins. It would mean a lot to Gronk.

MG: You never figured you’d have to worry about the offense, did you Steve? But the season-ending injury to Gronk and now the injury to Danny Amendola does concern me. Both of those guys are incredibly reliable 3rd down targets, and in Gronk’s case, he’s usually the first or second option on 3rd down. Bennett hasn’t been able to pick up the slack because he’s clearly not healthy either. That means the Pats and Josh McDaniels will be going through a trial and error period here to best determine how to improve that number and become more efficient. I suspect more will fall on Julian Edelman, but also look for the continued evolution of the two back set with James White and Dion Lewis.

MG: Ambrose, the Pats have remained incredibly committed to the run because they don’t want to find themselves in the same spot they were a year ago, when the run game was so pathetic that neither Miami in the regular season finale nor Denver in the AFC title game paid it one mind. That means rushers pinning their ears back and smashing into Tom Brady at rates no one is comfortable with. So while I won’t be surprise if Brady throws it 45 times, I don’t think they shelve the ground game, at least in the first half. 

MG: Ok Bunk, I stole a comment of yours for the mailbag. Trying to make you famous…yes, I stand by my tweet in which I stated the Ravens and Broncos are bigger threats than the Chiefs or Raiders. Oakland’s defense would give up 40 to Brady. 45 if the Pats needed it. Or 50. I’m dead serious. As for the Chiefs, Alex Smith is not coming into Foxboro and beating this team, even with some of it’s defensive issues. And Belichick will make damn sure that rookie Hill doesn’t get many cracks at touching the football in the return game. Oh, and now the Chiefs best linebacker, Johnson, is out for the year with an Achilles. Should I continue???

MG: History tells us no, David. Brady would throw a fit and argue that he needs to play to remain sharp or iron out this problem or that problem. There’s also the possibility of a bye week looming, meaning he’d go 3 weeks without actually playing in a game. Seems like a good idea in the sense that you don’t risk a 39-year old to a blindside shot, but neither he nor Belichick would ever go for it.

PP: The running back position might be the toughest to project moving forward because there are so many injuries there and there are so many backs who come from nowhere to earn significant roles. I'll say this though: The backs they have on the roster -- not including Brandon Bolden, who has turned into strictly a special teamer after having a difficult time holding onto the football this year -- don't seem to be slowing down. LeGarrette Blount just turned 30 but is in the middle of his best season. Dion Lewis looks strong after two surgeries. James White has taken his game to a new level in his third season. I could see the same group coming back next season, but given the volatility of the position, you know the Patriots will always be scouring for talent there. 

PP: Tom E. touched on this yesterday, Big Wally. Brandon Pettigrew, who was released by the Lions on Friday, might make sense. Otherwise, there's not a whole lot out there. Zach Sudfeld? He's available. Would be an unlikely reunion, but desperate times . . . I think the Patriots will continue to roll out Martellus Bennett at less than 100 percent. I think Matt Lengel could see more work as a blocking tight end as he becomes more familiar with the system. I think we'll see more Cameron Fleming, and we could see more two-back sets with no tight ends. In my opinion, Bennett could use a rest, but I don't think it's coming any time soon. As far as Sarge's question about the hurry-up, I'm not sure we'll start to see more that. It's possible, but one of the benefits with the hurry-up is to keep a defense from substituting to shift matchups in its favor. With Gronkowski or Bennett on the field in a hurry-up situation would have even further highlighted the matchup issues they present. If either one found himself with a slow linebacker on him, the Patriots could have rushed to the line and continued...to exploit...that matchup. Without Gronkowski and without Bennett at full strength, the advantage of the no-huddle is somewhat sapped.  

PP: It's so late into the season, I'm not sure there's much in the way of opportunity for a breakout game this week, Paul. I guess the obvious choice would be Griff Whalen. If he can give the Patriots a pair of sure hands as a punt-returner, that would be a significant enough add that I might qualify it as a "breakout." Bill Belichick made it clear this morning that the team views him as more than just a returner, though, so he could see some offensive snaps in four-receiver sets and provide the Patriots with a presence in the slot. I'd deem a four-catch, 50-yard performance as a "breakout" as well. To me, that's the range of his ceiling for this week. One other name as a potential "breakout" candidate? Justin Coleman. He could be used defensively after being inactive for the last three weeks due to Eric Rowe's hamstring injury. If he's able to help slow down the combination of Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and Steve Smith, that'd be a breakout in my book. 

PP: The combined record of opponents they've beaten is actually 26-57-1, including the Browns 0-12 mark twice, but now it's out there. 'Preciate you, Dave!

PP:  There's still so much up for grabs in the AFC West that it's hard to determine the likelihood of Patriots playoff matchups and where those games will be. However, without getting into the nitty gritty details, I'll just point out that it's still possible that the Patriots end up on the road in either of these cities in the postseason. On the road, Denver is the tougher matchup. Always has been a brutal place for the Patriots to play, and Denver's defense is still good enough to cause them problems. At home? I'd say, of these two teams, Kansas City would be the one that would provide the Patriots with a slightly tougher test. In my mind, they're a little more balanced and I have more faith in Alex Smith to make plays than I do Trevor Siemien.

Friday's Patriots-Ravens practice report: Richards returns to the field

Friday's Patriots-Ravens practice report: Richards returns to the field

Friday's practice participation/injury report for Monday night's Patriots-Ravens game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
TE Martellus Bennett (ankle/shoulder)
DB Jordan Richards (knee)
LB Elandon Roberts (hamstring)
DB Eric Rowe (hamstring)
WR/SpT Matthew Slater (foot)

BALTIMORE RAVENS

DID NOT PARTICIPATE
TE Crockett Gilmore (thigh)
LB Terrell Suggs (not injury related)
RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh)
C Jeremy Zuttah (not injury related)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION
G Alex Lewis (ankle)

FULL PARTICIPATION
G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)