Wednesday, November 24, 2010 Updated: November 25, 10:14 AM ET
10 things for Patriots-Lions
By Mike Reiss ESPNBoston.com
DETROIT -- Here are 10 top areas to monitor in Thursday's game between the New England Patriots and Detroit Lions at Ford Field (12:30 p.m. ET):
1. Offensive line against physical defensive line. The blockers in front of quarterback Tom Brady have been playing at a high level, and this will be one of their tougher tests. Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch is a high-energy player who is never out of a play, while rookie Ndamukong Suh (7 sacks) is a powerful presence inside. If Brady gets time, he should be able to carve up the Lions' secondary, which is led by safety Louis Delmas and cornerback Alphonso Smith (5 INTs).
Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson will be an attention-getter for the Patriots in Detroit.
2. Defending Calvin Johnson. The Lions' leading receiver with 55 receptions and 10 touchdowns, Johnson should command consistent attention with two defenders. Bill Belichick compared him to Shaquille O'Neal posting up two point guards.
3. Tom Brady's injured foot. In the past two weeks, Thursday marked the first day that Brady practiced leading up to a game as he rested his injured foot. So this is a quick turnaround for him to be on the field in a game.
4. Unconventional plays. The Lions are 2-8 and playing on national television on Thanksgiving in a game that Belichick has told players is like Detroit's Super Bowl. Similar to three weeks ago in Cleveland, the Patriots should expect everything from onside kicks to fake punts to outside-the-box plays on offense and defense.
5. Will the Lions beat themselves? The Lions are tied for first in the NFL for most accepted penalties, while the Patriots are tied for sixth-fewest. The Patriots generally don't beat themselves in this area, while the Lions sometimes do.
6. Patriots continuing to establish running game. The past two weeks have been good examples of what can happen when the Patriots get the running game going and how it opens lethal play-action possibilities. Opponents have averaged 130 rushing yards per game this season against Detroit -- ranking the Lions 26th in the NFL -- so there should be opportunities for BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead and perhaps Fred Taylor.
7. Pass defense producing turnovers. The Lions rank 31st running the ball (80.5 yards per game) and third in the NFL when throwing it (255.9 yards per game). So expect a lot of passing, with backup quarterback Shaun Hill the trigger-man. Although Hill has shown a knack for producing yards -- and tight end Brandon Pettigrew is another top target (50 receptions, 487 yards, 3 TDs) -- he's also thrown nine interceptions. On the flip side, the Lions' defense has produced 15 interceptions, tied for second-most in the NFL.
8. Special teams fireworks. Lions kickoff returner Stefan Logan has produced some big results this season, including a 105-yard return for a touchdown. With a 27.4-yard average on kickoff returns, the Lions rank first in the NFL. But Detroit has been vulnerable on the other side, with opponents' average drive start at the 29.5-yard line, the fifth-worst mark in the league.
9. Wes Welker coming out of the backfield. Over the past two weeks, the Patriots have motioned Welker out of the backfield, creating some matchup problems for opponents. Welker looked sharp last week against the Colts with five catches for 58 yards and a touchdown as he continues to work his way back from a torn ACL in his left knee. He earned a game ball for the effort.
10. Field goal kickers with new teams. On the same week that Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski was injured (Nov. 7), the Lions had to replace their kicker, Jason Hanson, because of injury. So it's a matchup of kickers with new teams -- Shayne Graham (Patriots) and Dave Rayner (Lions).
Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.