Tonight, for the first time since winning Super Bowl LIII in February, the New England Patriots will take the field as a team in uniform for a football game. Granted, it’s still the preseason, but there is still plenty to watch for when the Pats and Lions face off tonight. The preseason is when previously unknown players can make a name for themselves. For the Patriots specifically, its when decisions are made about the all-important back half of the roster. From major position battles to what’s going on on the sideline, here is what to watch for in Detroit tonight…
1Berrios vs. Meyers
It’s still early, but based on what we’ve seen in camp so far it appears 2018 6th round pick Braxton Berrios and 2019 UDFA Jakobi Meyers are battling for the 5th and final wide receiver spot on the 53-man roster. After spending last season on IR, Berrios entered training camp as the leader for the spot backing up Julian Edelman, as well as a favorite to win the kick/punt return job. However, Meyers has been one of the standouts of camp at any position, and after adding returner to his resume this week during joint practices, is poised to give Berrios a run for the spot. What they do on offense is obviously important, but if/when Meyers gets any return reps, it will be a great chance to see if he has what it takes to supplant Berrios.
With Ben Watson suspended for the first four weeks of the season, the question has yet to be answered who will be the Patriots TE1 to start the season. Stephen Anderson and Matt LaCosse have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, but now can one top the other? It’ll be a little tough to tell between Ben Watson being on the field and Tom Brady not out there throwing the ball, but we should get a good idea of how each of them fit into the offense tomorrow night. There’s also a battle at the back of the tight end depth chart between Andrew Beck and Ryan Izzo. Both are blocking tight ends, so if one of the two shows an improved ability to catch the ball, that could be the difference.
3On The Edge
After offseason acquisition Michael Bennett, there is still much to be determined as to how the Patriots will distribute edge rush snaps this season. Deatrich Wise looks to be the frontrunner, but after him you have the likes of Derek Rivers (who has had a strong camp), John Simon, and rookie Chase Winovich competing for that third spot. Keep an especially close eye on Winovich. He had a big week in joint practices in Detroit, but we’ve yet to see him in NFL game action. Thursday night will be an important step in his development.
4The Punter Battle
As I’ve said a number of times, all of the training camp practice stuff is great when evaluation the punters but we wouldn’t really know much until the first preseason game. Well, today is the day. Jake Bailey has been impressive in camp, but Ryan Allen seems to still be holding on to the starting job. The distribution of work tonight will give us some good insight as to how the Patriots view both Allen and Bailey. Consider this a rare instance, but those following this positional battle should hope the Patriots get a good number of chances to punt in this game.
Will Bill Belichick be communication to the defense over headset, or will an assistant take over as ‘Defensive Coordinator’ like last year? If it’s not Belichick, Jerod Mayo seems like the favorite to take over defensive playcalling duties this season. We don’t know much about Mayo as a playcaller, but we’ll get a good chance to pick up on what he may change and what will stay the same from Flo’s defense last year. Also, it’s not unlike the Patriots to have two or three assistants call plays during their preseason games, so will somebody else on the defensive coaching staff step up and challenge Mayo for the job? Steve Belichick perhaps?
If you think you can spread your focus even more, CLNS Media’s Evan Lazar has his preview of tonight’s game from Detroit, you can watch that below…