The New England Patriots and the Detroit Lions square off in the third preseason game, which is often regarded as a "dress rehearsal" for the regular season. The coaching staff will typically have the starters play through the first half, then come back out to play after halftime to give them the feel of playing as close to a full game as possible.
As always, the preseason isn't just about the starters.
With cutdowns around the corner, this week also marks what will likely be the last we'll see of the starters until Week 1. The Patriots will probably take the fourth preseason game to evaluate the back end of the 53-man roster, with most of the other spots having already been determined by that point.
The games don't count yet, but there's plenty still at stake.
What should you be watching this week?
Tom Brady's Chemistry with Receivers Not Named Danny Amendola
The connection between Tom Brady and Danny Amendola has been heating up for months, and it reached a boiling point against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now, it's time to see if he can throw it to the rest of the receivers, or if Amendola really will be the next Wes Welker and soak up all the targets.
Rookie receivers Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins are in focus in this game, as it's likely the last of the real-game scenarios where they'll have a chance to work on their chemistry with Brady before the season begins.
Those three receivers have combined for six receptions from Brady thus far in the preseason, with Thompkins accounting for four of those receptions, so a little extra work in this week's game could go a long way towards their rapport hitting stride for Week 1.
Patriots Interior Offensive Line vs. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley
The Lions have one of the best duos of defensive tackles the NFL has to offer, and the Patriots interior offensive linemen—namely Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell and Will Svitek—will have their hands full.
Svitek slid over to guard with Marcus Cannon and Dan Connolly both nursing injuries, and while he's likely not the starting right guard in an ideal world, that's not the world the Patriots are living in right now. The truth is, Svitek could be tested like this in the regular season.
We all know Brady is at his best with a clean pocket, but more specifically, when the pocket is clean up the middle and allows Brady to step into his throws. The Lions could threaten to take that away with their interior rush, and this will be a test not only for how Brady responds to the pressure (if it comes) but also how the linemen stand up against the test of the Lions aggressive front four.
With four talented linebackers in Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins, it will be interesting to see how the Patriots mix and match the personnel depending on packages, formations and more.
Collins has been primarily a strong-side linebacker, playing with the second-team defense in both preseason games against the Philadelphia Eagles and the Buccaneers. This week could be the first time we see him lining up against an opponent's top competition.
Typically, Hightower has been the odd man out in nickel packages, with Spikes and Collins getting most of the run next to Mayo in that situation. Considering Spikes' woes against the pass, it's not hard to envision Collins overtaking that role entirely at some point in the season, and we could get a glimpse of that Thursday.
With that said, Hightower's stock appears to be on the rise among the Patriots coaching staff. He was spotted playing middle linebacker when Spikes missed practice last week. Considering the fact that Spikes has yet to play a full 16-game season, a few more opportunities to play middle linebacker could be welcome for Hightower.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or via team news releases.
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