Patriots at Lions Final Thoughts:Michael Roberts catching passes from Matthew Stafford – maybe; job competition in the secondary -- probably; Patriots improving after winning the Super Bowl -- really; Jake Rudock meeting Tom Brady – finally – and expectations for position battles, the run game and more.
Rookie tight end, game on: Roberts has caught countless passes from Stafford in training camp, and he had four catches – and two drops – in the first two games. But with extended playing time for the starters in Game 3, this could be the first time Roberts gets to catch passes from Stafford in a game.
"That's the goal, to play with No. 9 – play with the first team," Roberts said. "That's what everyone's working toward."
Roberts, a fourth-round draft pick from Toledo, has shown promise and improvement in the preseason. He had two catches, two drops, and a near fumble against the Colts and came back against the Jets last week to catch two passes.
Roberts learned quickly in practice that Stafford throws the ball unlike any quarterback he's seen. The advice from veterans to be ready at all times proved to be true.
"He's very precise," Roberts said. "He has his own way of throwing. He's amazing. You're actually open when you're covered with him.
'He does it every day. As soon as you come out of your break, be ready. Don't come out not expecting the ball with someone covering you, whether you're open or not. You're always open with him."
Secondary market: Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin caught his players' attention with his comment earlier in the week that Glover Quin and Darius Slay were starters, but "other than that, guys are fighting for positions."
Taking Austin at his word, that leaves two weeks to settle starting jobs at strong safety and one cornerback, plus all-around depth. That can make for intense battles.
"You never want to hear that there's not a place for you," said Miles Killebrew, who had a significant role as a backup safety last year. "We're all just competing to play. That's what going on."
Austin also said that it's the strongest secondary as a whole that he's had in four years – starters and backup.
"We have a tight knit group back there," Killebrew said. "We build off each other. The fact that they believe in us is exciting."
Patriots – moving up: A 14-2 record and winning the Super Bowl – with a rally from a 28-3 deficit – could make some franchises complacent.
Not the Patriots, of course.
Getting wide receiver Brandin Cooks in a trade with the Saints could make the offense better. Same for the defense, by signing free-agent cornerback Stephon Gilmore, formerly of the Buffalo Bills, who play in the same AFC East as the Patriots but hardly qualify as rivals.
QB 'M' Club: A lot was made of the connection between Tom Brady and Jake Rudock last year when the Lions drafted Rudock in the sixth round. Brady was a sixth-round pick by New England in 2000, and both played at Michigan.
So, quarterback brothers in arms? Close confidantes? Brady mentoring Rudock?
"I have not met him – unfortunately," Rudock said.
Will he seek him out before the game?
"It really depends," he said. "We have to get ourselves ready."
What about after?
"If I can find him, I'll try to say hello."
A hint: He wears No. 12.
Play time: The snap count for most starters in the first two games was similar to what head coach Jim Caldwell employed in his previous three seasons. Don't expect the pattern to change.
"We've traditionally done it pretty much the same way," Caldwell said.
On offense it would mean boosting the snap count to a half for Stafford and the starting receivers and running backs, and possibly a little more work in the second half for the offensive line. And the same for the defense, although the defensive line rotation could be spread out to include part of the second half.
Position battles: If he hasn't already, Greg Robinson could lock up the starting job at left tackle on the offensive line with another solid performance. Depth jobs are still open, but Joe Dahl seems to show up at every spot at some point.
The secondary will get a stiffer test than it did the last two weeks from whoever plays quarterback for the Patriots. If the Patriots find a weakness, they'll hammer it. This would be a great opportunity to show cover skills and sure tackling.
Dwayne Washington has taken a step – or two or three – forward to add depth at running back.
Running game: The average of 3.2 yards per game makes it look better than it has been. Take away Rudock's three scrambles for 35 yards, and the average drops to 2.88679. Charitably, I'll round it up to 2.8868. Anyone feel better?
Actually, it will be better when Ameer Abdullah gets more than five carries for 18 yards.