Preseason Week 3 Preview: Patriots @ Lions

Haynesworth should see his first action as a Patriot.

With the Patriots coming off of two dominant preseason efforts, Saturday’s game in Detroit will give us our first extended look at both starting units. Following last week’s 31-14 demolishing of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, several of New England’s shiny new toys have returned to the practice field in time to suit up against Detroit.

The Lions (6-10 in 2010) boast some of the league’s best young talent, and a four game winning streak to end 2010 has analysts naming Detroit as a team on the rise. 2010 Defensive Rookie of the Year Ndamukong Suh leads a young and aggressive Lions defense that gets after the quarterback. On the other side of the ball, a healthy (for now) Matthew Stafford and the freakishly talented Calvin Johnson have Lions fans salivating over the possibilities.

There’s a lot to look forward to, but here are five things to focus on:

1. First look at Albert Haynesworth. Haynesworth is undoubtedly the Patriots’ biggest offseason acquisition, and in more ways than one. The 330 pound DT is among the NFL’s most talented players, and while the defensive line has been disruptive thus far, a motivated Haynesworth would bring their newfound attacking style to a different level. He probably won’t see much action, but quality is what the coaching staff is concerned with at this point. UPDATE: Haynesworth out per WEEI.

2. The Right Guard position. The aforementioned Suh is a nightmare for offensive linemen. Dan Connolly will draw the assignment, though he’ll have help in the form of a double team on most plays. Still, Connolly is viewed as the weak link on the offensive line, and his performance against Suh will be the key to keeping Tom Brady upright. There have also been rumblings of the Patriots trying first round pick Nate Solder at RG. It’s likely that this is simply a way to increase depth at the position, but if Belichick wants to start his five most talented linemen, then Solder at RG is the only way to make it work.

3. Debut of Shane Vereen. When I mentioned New England’s shiny new toys I didn’t just have Haynesworth in mind. Between an early hamstring injury and the emergence of Stevan Ridley, Vereen has been easy to overlook. He was a second round pick (taken ahead of Ridley) and possesses the type of breakaway speed that the Patriots have lacked at running back for several years.  His status for the game hasn’t been confirmed, but Vereen says he’s ready to go. An excellent receiver out of the backfield, look for him to be active in the screen game. UPDATE: Jeff Howe of NESN says Vereen will not play.

4. What’s the deal at safety? Brandon Meriweather has underwhelmed the coaching staff thus far in camp. The Patriots have recently used a three man rotation of Meriweather, Pat Chung, and Sergio Brown with the first unit in practice. The hope is that James Sanders’ return from injury will stabilize the position, but it remains an area of concern. Meriweather may be playing for his starting role, despite appearing in consecutive Pro Bowls. He’s a potential trade candidate as he enters the last year of his deal. We’ll also get our first look at James Ihedigbo, formerly of the New York Jets.

5. The WR Corps. Brady and Ochocinco looked out of sync against Tampa Bay. With most of the starters unlikely to play much next week, it would be nice to see some improved chemistry between the two before the games start to count. Taylor Price will suit up after missing last week’s game due to injury. Price’s stellar performance against Jacksonville and the NFL’s new kickoff rules mean that third-year man Brandon Tate may be on the wrong side of the bubble .

It’s the Old Guard versus the Up and Comers, and it’s the closest thing to real football we’ve had in months.

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