After erasing question marks that arose following his knee injury scare with a surgically precise performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 2 of the preseason, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will have his sights set on continuing to develop a chemistry with his new pass-catching targets against the Detroit Lions on Thursday night.
Meanwhile, Jim Schwartz's club is in the process of shaking off a disastrous 2012 campaign by fine-tuning its offensive efficiency and tightening up the back end of the defense.
In a Week 3 preseason game that should feature a good amount of playing time for each club's first team, here's what you need to know before tuning in.
New England Patriots' Major Storyline No. 1: Will New Pass-Catchers Continue to Shine?
In the second week of the preseason against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Danny Amendola caught six of his seven targeted passes from Brady for 71 yards and a touchdown. Undrafted free-agent tight end Zach Sudfeld, who's made waves during training camp, snagged two passes for 32 yards and reeled in an acrobatic touchdown. Even rookie Aaron Dobson got into the mix, as Brady connected with him for a 23-yard gain.
Each day, it's looking more and more like the Patriots will begin the 2013 campaign without their top five pass-catchers from a season ago.
With an unprecedented amount of turnover at such a vital position, the play of Amendola, Sudfeld, Dobson, fellow rookie Josh Boyce and even undrafted wideout Kenbrell Thompkins has to be a major storyline for New England.
New England Patriots' Major Storyline No. 2: How Will the Defense Look?
The Buccaneers played without standout guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph against the Patriots, and boy, did it show.
Quarterback Josh Freeman went 2-for-3 with only eight yards passing and was sacked three times.
Defensive end Chandler Jones, a 2012 first-round pick, had one of those sacks and looked fully healthy after a nagging ankle injury limited his availability and overall production as a rookie.
As a whole, New England's defense dominated, overwhelming Tampa Bay's first team on offense in every phase.
Playing against the Lions' high-powered attack will allow us to see where the Patriots' defense really is as a unit.
Detroit Lions' Major Storyline No. 1: How Will Reggie Bush Produce?
The Lions acquired Reggie Bush this offseason, not necessarily to be the team's traditional, between-the-tackles feature back, but to be more of a versatile offensive weapon that could be utilized often in Detroit's spread-heavy attack.
As a rookie with the New Orleans Saints, the former USC Trojan dynamo averaged only 3.6 yards per carry, but he caught 88 passes for 742 yards.
In the Lions' preseason opener, Bush, who still possesses exhilarating burst and straight-line speed, received three carries and mustered only five yards. He was targeted twice, but didn't make a catch.
Last week against the Cleveland Browns, Bush didn't fare much better on the ground, although he led the team with five catches on seven targets for 44 yards.
We already know what we'll get from Calvin Johnson in the regular season, but we aren't exactly sure how the implementation of Bush will affect Detroit's offense.
Against a secondary that's been relatively shaky over the past two years, it'll be interesting to see how Bush fares as a pass-catcher.
Detroit Lions' Major Storyline No. 2: Defensive Line Facing a Top-Tier Offensive Line
Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are disruptive enough to warrant being called the best defensive tackle tandem in football this season.
In 2012, ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required) ranked both interior trenchmen in the top five at their position.
While the middle of Detroit's defensive front is an obvious strength, raw, but amazingly athletic, defensive end Ziggy Ansah was selected with the No. 5 overall pick.
The Lions' secondary has struggled of late, but their defensive line is arguably one of the most effective in the NFC, if not all of football.
In contrast, the Patriots' offensive line has been sound for years. Last season, ProFootballFocus ranked it as the second-best run-blocking unit and as a top-10 pass-blocking unit.
It's hard to predict how much game-planning each team does before an exhibition outing, but this trench battle will be a fine barometer for both teams in what is typically known as the "regular season dress rehearsal."
Expect Brady to be sharp when leading New England's first team. Matthew Stafford has been good, but not great, this preseason, although he has yet to let it rip down the field.
Shaun Hill is one of the game's best backup quarterbacks and although Ryan Mallett has the arm to make a plethora of "wow" throws, inconsistent play has been the theme of most of his exhibition efforts early in his career.
While Brady and Co. should take a lead into halftime, Hill will lead a heroic preseason comeback for the Lions.
Final Score: Lions 34, Patriots 27
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