Lions vs. Patriots: 10 things to watch in third preseason game

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Here are 10 things I will be keeping a close eye on in the Detroit Lions' preseason game against the New England Patriots.

The Detroit Lions continue the 2013 preseason on Thursday night at home against the New England Patriots. Here are 10 things I'm planning to keep a close eye on:

1. Can the Lions repeat 2011?

Before the Lions began their run to the playoffs in 2011, they really set the tone in the preseason with a dominant performance against the Patriots. It was a nationally televised game at home, and the Lions and their fans made it feel like it was the regular season. The Lions put together an outstanding performance en route to a 34-10 win, and they were led by Matthew Stafford, who went 12-for-14 for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns. A repeat of this seems unlikely given what's happened in the first two weeks of the preseason, but if the Lions could set the tone like that again, they would have a lot of positive momentum going forward.

2. Will the No. 1 offense finally find the end zone?

A repeat of 2011 might be too much to ask for, but I'll settle for the Lions' No. 1 offense simply sustaining a drive long enough to score a touchdown. This unit has been extremely disappointing through the first two weeks of the preseason, and the Lions need to put a stop to these slow starts.

3. Clarity on the offensive line

The Lions will be done with the preseason a week from Thursday, but they haven't yet decided on who their starters will be on the right side of the offensive line. Dylan Gandy, Jake Scott and Larry Warford all seem to be in the mix at right guard, and Jason Fox and Corey Hilliard remain the two contenders at right tackle. It'd be nice if the Lions could bring these position battles to a close following Thursday's game and make some decisions on what their first-team offensive line is going to look like.

4. What will Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley do next?

Suh and Fairley have looked like the NFL's best defensive tackle tandem so far in the preseason. They have wreaked havoc with opposing offensive lines, both from their normal spot on the D-line and even from defensive end on a couple plays. I really am just looking forward to seeing what they will do this week. They are the Lions' best defensive players, and it's really not even close.

5. Pressuring Tom Brady

On a related note, I'm looking forward to seeing what the Lions' D-line will be able to do as a whole against Brady and the Patriots. Cliff Avril had 2 sacks in that 2011 preseason game against New England, and it'd be nice if Ziggy Ansah and some of the other defensive linemen could put some serious pressure on Brady on Thursday.

6. Does the pass defense even stand a chance?

Brady has been nearly perfect this preseason. The Lions' pass defense, on the other hand, has been pretty bad. They will get their toughest test of the preseason on Thursday against Brady, and I'm really quite concerned over just how poorly this could go for the Lions. Brady is on another level compared to the quarterbacks the Lions have seen in the preseason so far, and simply managing to contain the Patriots' passing attack would be a big win.

7. Will Calvin Johnson play?

Johnson missed last week's game because of a knee contusion, and he's missed practice as well because of that injury. He wants to suit up for the Lions on Thursday, and it's pretty clear the No. 1 offense could use his help. However, will the Lions take a chance by putting him on the field in a preseason game when he's dealing with a knee injury?

8. Will Louis Delmas actually make his preseason debut?

Similarly, Delmas wants to play this week despite still dealing with a knee injury of his own. Delmas hasn't played at all in the preseason, and the plan all along has suggested that we won't see him on the field for a game until the regular season. Might the Lions reverse course and get him a series or two in their dress rehearsal for the regular season?

9. Can somebody make a play as a returner?

The Lions' returners haven't had a ton of chances so far in the preseason, and time is running out for some of the guys in the mix to return kicks and punts. Patrick Edwards could make the 53-man roster based on his ability to contribute at wide receiver, but someone like Steven Miller needs a big moment on a return to win that job and ensure he won't get cut.

10. Health

The Lions have been extremely fortunate so far on the injury front. No big-time contributors have been lost to serious injuries, and the hope is that this good fortunate will continue on Thursday. Staying healthy is much more important than winning, and the main thing is for the Lions to make it through the Patriots game without any starters going down.

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