Ben Volin identifies five things to look for as the Patriots and Giants face off in the final preseason game on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.:
1. Protecting the quarterback.
The Patriots’ offensive line got tossed around by the Lions’ defensive front last week, allowing Tom Brady to be sacked four times and hit five times in the first half of the 40-9 loss. And the running game gained just 32 yards on 18 carries in the half. The Giants are likely to sit Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, and most of their starters, but the Patriots’ offensive line still needs to improve its performance as it gears up for the regular season.
2. Who will carry the football?
The Patriots have four running backs likely battling for two or three roster spots: Brandon Bolden, LeGarrette Blount, Leon Washington, and fullback James Develin. The way Bill Belichick uses them against the Giants could be a sign as to which players will make it. It really won’t be a good sign for Washington if he isn’t used on kickoff returns for the second straight week.
3. A chance to make amends.
Several offensive players found themselves in the doghouse after last week’s game: Zach Sudfeld, Shane Vereen, and Bolden all lost fumbles, while Aaron Dobson’s inability to fight through traffic at the line of scrimmage led to an interception and a failed goal line throw. The three fumblers were benched for most of the game, but now will get one last chance to redeem themselves.
4. Last shot in position battles.
The defensive line has several players — Jermaine Cunningham, Marcus Benard, Justin Francis, Jake Bequette, Michael Buchanan — battling for a couple of spots. Can undrafted rookie Justin Green supplant Marquice Cole as the fifth cornerback, or convince the coaches to keep him as the sixth? Can Daniel Fells convince coaches to keep him over Jake Ballard? Will Tavon Wilson survive, or lose out to veteran Adrian Wilson? And can punter Zoltan Mesko hold off rookie Ryan Allen?
5. Tebow, Tebow, Tebow.
Tim Tebow is the main attraction after not getting off the bench last week. Belichick has said several times that Tebow has shown improvement throughout camp, but Tebow’s performance in two preseason games has been fairly dismal. Tebow figures to play a lot Thursday night and could use a good showing to win a roster spot and keep his detractors at bay. If the Patriots do cut him, Thursday night’s game could be the last time we see Tebow in an NFL uniform.