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Patriots' Belichick wary of Lions' offensive weapons

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Allen Park — The New England Patriots are the hottest team in the NFL, riding a six-game winning streak into Sunday's matchup against the Lions. The last two victories have been decisive blowouts of the Broncos and Colts, two of the top contenders in the AFC.

This week, the Patriots defense will get a test facing one of the top receiving tandems in the league, in the Lions' Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. That has Patriots coach Bill Belichick uneasy, despite Detroit's offensive struggles in recent weeks, including producing only six points against the Cardinals.

"Those are two great players and it's a hard team to match up with, period, just because of the ability level of the skill players," Belichick said Wednesday via teleconference.

"We've watched the Lions play 10 games and they're an explosive group on offense and have a lot of different guys that can hurt you and can score from anywhere on the field."

Tate, who leads the NFC with 68 catches and is second with 950 yards, has distinguished himself as a potent complement to Johnson, giving quarterback Matthew Stafford another target beyond Johnson.

"Tate is a difficult player to defend, given his ability to attack the defense at all three levels," Belichick said. "He can take a short play and turn it into a long one, like he did against New Orleans. He's good in intermediate routes and he can obviously get behind the defense. That's a problem."

Although Johnson has battled injuries all season, he's still as dangerous as ever, especially with the defense having to pay extra attention to Tate.

"Calvin Johnson, every superlative you could say about him, it's all true," Belichick said. "His production since he's been in the league is historical. He speaks for himself there."

Johnson has returned from a high-ankle sprain but has totaled 34 catches for 520 yards and three touchdowns this season, including just five catches for 59 yards against the Cardinals. Arizona's secondary, with Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie, played a role in the lack of production — Tate and Johnson combined for seven catches for 100 yards — and the Patriots can provide a similar quandary, with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner.

Revis has been an All-Pro cornerback, but in his first year with the Patriots, has brought some of the same level of coverage that earned him the "Revis Island" moniker. But Belichick isn't counting on the Lions staying in their offensive doldrums because of their recent struggles.

"The matchups across the board are hard on our defensive backs on their receivers, but the tight ends and backs are hard matchups too, and the quarterback is good," Belichick said. "It's a tough team to prepare for and a tough team to match up against. We'll have to figure out what the best way to do it is, but they certainly create a lot of problems with their players and their scheme."