Blocking Ndamukong Suh, Containing Calvin Johnson Will Be Key for Patriots With Roster Cutdown Looming

Devin McCourtyThe third preseason game is always the most telling for teams. So, the Patriots should get a good feel for their overall progress during Thursday night’s battle down by the 8-Mile Road in Detroit.

The Lions haven’t looked great so far this preseason, downing the Jets in their preseason opener before getting trounced by the Browns by three scores last week. But some early preseason struggles shouldn’t overshadow the amount of talent spread across the Lions’ roster.

Calvin Johnson is the most obvious danger at first glance, breaking the single-season receiving record last season, but he’s far from the only weapon on the team. Matthew Stafford has thrown for nearly 5,000 yards in two straight seasons, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are two of the most intimidating pass rushers in football, oh, and they added Reggie Bush during the offseason.

With so many playmakers expected to see extensive playing time for the Lions on Thursday, the Patriots will certainly have their hands full. Tom Brady will get a nice, long look with his revamped receiving corps for the first time, as the first-team offense is expected to play into the third quarter. The defense will also have their challenges, but Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and company should have their group up to the task.

There are plenty of storylines to keep tabs on entering this all-important third preseason game, but let’s narrow it down and take a look at the top three in this week’s version of Patriots Three and Out.

1. Containing Megatron The Lions like to lean heavily on their passing game, and it’s no wonder why. Johnson is the best receiver in the NFL, as he proved without a shadow of a doubt in 2012, and he’ll make even the best defensive backs look foolish at times. Aqib Talib will be tasked with shadowing Megatron on Thursday, and it will be a good litmus test to see exactly how much the defense can rely on their No. 1 corner. It will also be interesting to see if Devin McCourty, who’s missed the team’s first two preseason games, will play. He would normally play a big role in containing Johnson over the top.

2. How will the offensive line handle Suh and Fairley? Bill Belichick knows what he’s going to get from Logan Mankins, Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, it’s the two other spots on the offensive line where questions arise. Ryan Wendell has endured his share of struggles against elite pass rushers in the past and Will Svitek, who’s in just his third week at the guard position, will probably get the start at right guard again.

3. Popping the roster bubble There are more than a dozen guys sitting firmly on or right around the Patriots’ roster bubble as they inch closer into the 75-man cutdown. A few position battles to watch will be at running back, where LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden duke it out, at tight end, which may feature a knockout battle between Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells, and along the defensive line, where a slew of players like Jake Bequette, Michael Buchanan and Jermaine Cunningham are still uncertainties. Plenty more could, and will likely, be decided on Thursday. These are just a few of the key areas to keep an eye on.

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