Things to watch for in Pats-Lions
All eyes will be on Haynesworth, Ellis and Meriweather -- among other things
DETROIT -- One of the buzzwords this week for the New England Patriots was "tempo." Quarterback Tom Brady wants the offense to play fast, and the attacking defense has done the same through two preseason games.
A third layer of tempo figures to be added to Saturday night's third preseason game, a nationally televised tilt against the Detroit Lions (CBS, 8 p.m.) at Ford Field: The Patriots are likely to run the hurry-up in the post-game in hopes of making it home before Hurricane Irene reaches Massachusetts.
Here are some top areas of interest in the game from this perspective:[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Michael DwyerAlbert Haynesworth has practiced this week and could get his first game action with the Patriots on Saturday.
Albert Haynesworth debut? The big defensive lineman participated in practices the last four days, setting the stage for him to possibly make his first on-field appearance as a member of the Patriots. Early in training camp, when he was lining up next to Vince Wilfork at defensive tackle in a four-man line, it looked like a lethal 1-2 combination. If Haynesworth does suit up, one figures he'll be part of a rotation as the Patriots have been using their defensive tackles in waves, keeping them on the field on third down while subbing them on a series-by-series basis.
Shaun Ellis' role on defense ... if he plays Veteran defensive lineman Shaun Ellis practiced all week could see his first action of the preseason. Ellis will fit in a number of areas -- 3-4 defensive end, 4-3 defensive end, 4-3 defensive tackle, interior sub rusher. Ellis didn't play in the first two preseason games, making it a challenge to get a good read on how coaches initially plan to utilize him.
Interior offensive line and pass protection. In the third preseason game in 2009, quarterback Tom Brady was driven to the turf by then-Redskins defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth and reportedly played with fractured ribs the rest of the year. That's one of the last things the Patriots need, and with All-Pro second-year defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh on the opposing side, the interior offensive line (left guard Logan Mankins, center Dan Koppen and right guard Dan Connolly) will need to be at the top of its game.
More from Brandon Meriweather at safety. Last week, the Patriots adopted a three-man rotation at safety with Patrick Chung, Brandon Meriweather and Sergio Brown. Now veteran James Sanders returns after missing the first two preseason games, and with Josh Barrett and James Ihedigbo also in the mix, the position went from thin to deep in a week's time. Coaches are trying to ignite a fire under Meriweather, the 2007 first-round pick who has appeared in two Pro Bowls but is on the verge of potentially falling out of favor. His status bears watching once again.
Conditioning and playing into the third quarter. Earlier in the week, players noted that Bill Belichick was cracking the whip from a conditioning perspective, running them especially hard. The message seemed to be that Belichick didn't think players were ready to go for the 16-game regular season. That sets up a scenario where Belichick could look to extend top players' time into the third quarter, which he's done in the past to give them a feel for what it's like to come out of the locker room after halftime. With the final preseason game Thursday, and preparations for the season-opener likely to intensify this week, signs point to this being the last time top players have extended playing time in the preseason.
Chad Ochocinco's progression in offense. In his first action with the Patriots last week, Ochocinco was on the field for 24 first-half snaps and it's clear that he's still getting his feel for the offense. We'll see how much difference a week makes, if his downfield blocking improves after it appeared Bill Belichick wanted more from him in that area, and if Ochocinco cuts it loose a bit as he strikes the balance between being himself and fitting in to the Patriots' system.
Stephen Gostkowski and kickoffs. Through two preseason games, kicker Stephen Gostkowski has yet to take kickoffs, although Bill Belichick has said the club is just following a progression. Based on Belichick's comments, it seems as if the expectation was that Gostkowski, in his return from last year's torn right quad muscle, would be ready to kick off by the season opener. This is a checkpoint for him.
Second-round picks on the field? Cornerback Ras-I Dowling (33rd overall) and running back Shane Vereen (56th overall) both sustained hamstring injuries shortly after arriving in training camp, and they returned to the field this week for the first time. That puts them in position to possibly be in action, providing the first look at how they might help the team. The Lions were one of the teams high on Dowling as a second-round option, as he brings good size to the position. Vereen is the team's fastest back.
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.
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