BOSTON (CBS) -- The Patriots return to the scene of their dramatic Super Bowl LI victory on Saturday night.
The stakes, however, are just a tad bit lower this time around.
The Patriots continue their preseason slate in prime time on Saturday night, squaring off against a familiar foe in the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. The two teams shared the practice field at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia during the week, and given they squared off twice last season (not to mention the handful of former Patriots players and coaches on the Texans staff), they have a pretty good feel for each other.
It will be interesting to see what both teams trot out come Saturday night, given they'll square off against in just over a month at Gillette Stadium in a game that actually counts for something. We'll likely see an extremely bland and vanilla gameplan from both sides, which really makes it a hard sell for one of the final Saturday evenings of the summer (there's also a pretty big baseball series going on in Boston). But either way, we'll get to watch some Patriots football -- even if it's just a quarter or less of actual real Patriots football.
Here's what we'll be watching for when they take the field in preseason game No. 2 in Houston:
Will First-Teamers Make Their Preseason Debut?
Just about every starter sat in last week's preseason opener against the Jaguars, getting their work in during joint practices. The starters got in some more great work during their two joint sessions with the Texans, especially the offense against one of the best defenses in the NFL.
But that doesn't mean we won't see the starters make an appearance this time around, even if it's just a quick one. Chances are we'll get a few quick cameos from the likes of Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and New England's stable of running backs (minus the injured Mike Gillislee).
The game doesn't count for anything, but Tom Brady has a pair of new targets in Brandin Cooks and Dwayne Allen, and while Brady and Cooks have become an instant hit in practice, Allen could certainly use some run with his new quarterback in game action after struggling in training camp. Even if Brady doesn't play, Allen should see the field to get a better feel for the offense (as vanilla as it may be on Saturday).
As for Brady, if he does play, it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to make it an extremely brief appearance. While his offensive line may get some run, we know that Nate Solder and LaAdrian Waddle won't be playing, leaving Cam Fleming as the likely starting left tackle. That's a terrifying thought against a talented Texans pass rush, especially if the likes of JJ Watt, Jedaveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus see the field when Brady is out there. Bill Belichick may decide that he's better off saving next Friday's preseason tilt against the Detroit Lions as the game for Brady to knock off any offseason rust.
Does Jimmy Show More Progress?
We've already seen Tom Brady do anything and everything over the last 17 years. Jimmy Garoppolo, not so much.
He got off to a rough start against the Jaguars last week, taking a pair of third-down sacks to end his first two drives before firing an errant pass on third down to end the offense's third drive. After that he was a pretty smooth operator, finishing his evening 22-for-28 for 235 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including one right before the half. He showed some escapabilty along the way, and more importantly, made some good decisions with the football.
Jimmy G. is going to have a much bigger challenge Saturday night against the Texans, and whatever he does in game action will paint a better picture of what Garoppolo is evolving into than what he's shown so far in practice.
Do The Patriots Have A Defensive Line?
Rookie Deatrich Wise Jr. won't be playing after suffering a head injury last Thursday. Rookie Derek Rivers may not play at all this season.
So who the heck is going to get after the quarterback on Saturday (or this season, for that matter, but that's a bigger topic to tackle)? Without that aforementioned rookies, it will be up to Trey Flowers, Geneo Grissom and Kony Ealy to get to Houston's collection of quarterbacks. We'll probably also see undrafted rookie linebacker Harvey Langi get some run on the edge, a position the Patriots used him at quite a bit in the training camp and last Thursday. The undrafted Caleb Kidder fills out the bottom of the depth chart.
Ealy really hasn't inspired much hope to start his Patriots career, but maybe he can start a swing in the right direction with a bigger role along the edge. Either way, one of the Patriots' few roster concerns just got a little big bigger.
Can Bubble Guys Step Up?
A fun part of the preseason is to see which bubble players stand out the most in their quest to earn a roster spot. In the preseason opener, it was receiver Austin Carr and tight end Jacob Hollister who captured the hearts of those who braved the exhibition game from start to finish.
Now comes the tough task of not only matching those outings, but taking another step or two forward with more competition expected in the fake Week 2. Hollister may have turned heads by catching third-and-long passes and hurdling defenders against the Jaguars, but now he's not got Matt Lengel and James O'Shaughnessy to worry about, with both likely getting some run against the Texans. Carr was already fighting an up-hill battle with New England's stacked receiving corps, and he probably won't be catching any passes from Tom Brady, which may be his only way onto the 53-man roster (though a spot on the practice squad remains a possibility).
And though he may not be on the bubble, it'd also be nice to see more out of Cyrus Jones, both in the secondary and in the kicking game. He held onto the ball on kickoffs, but didn't really do much else with a handful of average returns.
Elsewhere, D.J. Foster didn't hold onto the ball after catching a Garoppolo pass in the third quarter, and that miscue will stand out much more than his touchdown when it comes down to trimming the roster.
Tune in to Patriots-Texans on 98.5 The Sports Hub and WBZ-TV -- the flagship stations of the New England Patriots. Kickoff is scheduled for 8pm with pregame coverage begining on 98.5FM at 5pm and on WBZ-TV at 7pm!
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