The 8-2 New England Patriots and 7-3 Detroit Lions will kick off Week 12 at 1 p.m. Sunday in Foxborough. But before the two sides do, here are some pregame points to monitor.
Gray Matters: It has been a roller coaster of a week for first-year Patriots running back Jonas Gray. After rushing for a team regular-season record four touchdowns, as well as a third all-time 201 yards in Week 11, Gray missed Friday’s practice after arriving to the facility late. According to ESPN’s Josina Anderson, the 2012 undrafted free agent was told he would not start against Detroit. It is, however, expected that both Gray and the freshly re-signed LeGarrette Blount will be active.
Two Early Outs: Defensive end Chandler Jones and rookie offensive tackle-turned-tight end Cameron Fleming will not be active versus the Lions, as the team ruled both out on Friday’s injury report. Jones, who suffered a hip injury against the New York Jets in Week 7, has been inactive for the Patriots’ last three games. And Fleming, who had been sidelined for five consecutive games with a finger injury, returned last Sunday before rolling up his ankle in the fourth quarter.
Covering Lions: The Patriots’ secondary will have its hands full with the 6-foot-5, 235 pound Calvin Johnson, yet the recipe for containing the eighth-year wide receiver is in good hands with starters Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis. Facing a vertical threat of Johnson’s caliber will pose a difficult test for the two veteran cornerbacks, particularly off the release and downfield at the catch point. Even so, expect the 6-foot-4, 221-pound Browner to be called upon to do so as the primary press corner, for his success against length was evidenced against Demaryius Thomas earlier in the season. Revis, meanwhile, figures to match up with the sudden, strong-handed Golden Tate on the other side of the field. And watch for slot cornerback Kyle Arrington to approach the Lions’ Jeremy Ross, perhaps with shell coverage from safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty overhead.
Stork and Suh: Bryan Stork has been waiting, and now, the fourth-round rookie will get his chance against Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Look for the likes of Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly to help on the three-to-one-technique, but much of it will hinge on how the Florida State center works in a phone booth on his own.
Edelman Set: With the Lions’ first-ranked defense looking to generate pressure on quarterback Tom Brady, keep an eye on how influential wideout Julian Edelman is in the offense. Short, concise timing routes could add up.
A Defensive Levy: Many have said this, but it’s worth repeating: DeAndre Levy is the best linebacker you’ve probably never heard of. By now, the Patriots have. And there’s reason to believe much of this past week was spent game-planning to neutralize him. Levy will get into the flats and handle running backs, but he will also get into the seams and handle tight ends. And with responsibilities against the likes of Shane Vereen and Rob Gronkowski forthcoming, his performance could be the difference.