The Patriots have their first primetime matchup of the season this Sunday as they head to Detroit for a meeting with the team’s former defensive coordinator and current Lions head coach Matt Patricia. This is an important early season game for New England as they attempt to rebound after a tough loss to Jacksonville last Sunday.
The Lions had a mediocre season in 2017, finishing second in the NFC North but still only managing a 9-7 record. They had one of the better passing offenses in the league, averaging over 260 passing yards per game. Unfortunately, they paired that with the worst ground attack in the league, averaging a measly 76 yards per game. Their defense was not spectacular either, averaging in the bottom half of the league in most categories, including scoring, opponent rushing yards, and opponent passing yards.
They made some attempts to bolster their roster this offseason with mixed results. They signed running back LeGarrette Blount and tight end Luke Wilson in the offseason, which should help improve their running game and their passing game as Wilson is an underrated pass catcher. During the draft, they spent their first two selections on offensive lineman Frank Ragnow and running back Kerryon Johnson. An Auburn product, Johnson is a power back that can help Blount breath life back into the Lions running game. Ragnow will also play a huge part by bolstering a Detroit offensive line that struggled in 2017.
Defensively, the Lions made very few improvements to a unit that could’ve used an infusion of talent. They re-signed defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, one of the better pass rushers in the NFL. After that, however, their moves did not make many headlines. They signed depth pieces like Sylvester Williams and Jonathan Freeny and resigned Tavon Wilson, but that is the extent of their moves. That has been evident already this season after giving up 42 points to the Jets in week one and 30 points to the 49ers in week two.
Matt Patricia should be a healthy addition to the Lions, but he has not received the warmest welcome. There were reports of Lions players complaining throughout OTA’s and camp for Patricia making them do things like run as a punishment. In addition, there have been reports over the past two weeks of more mumbling from players, and a lack of confidence in their head coach. Now I can’t predict how Patricia’s tenure will turn out. But whether or not he becomes a Detroit legend, or is bounced in just a few years, the Lions players should really take a good hard look in the mirror. They’ve only been to the playoffs three times this millennium, and while Patricia’s game plan wasn’t perfect in week one, nearly every single player on the Lions roster played embarrassingly bad. Patricia is coming from an organization and a culture that has unparalleled sports success. Maybe they should listen a little bit instead of acting like a bunch of spoiled babies who have never won anything.
But I digress.
The Patriots should be able to have more success against the Detroit defense than they did against Jacksonville last week. The Lions linebackers are not nearly as fast or as talented as the Jaguars, which is going to be one of the most important factors for New England. The Lions secondary also took a hit with the concussion suffered by Darius Slay. Detroit’s top corner may not be available to play Sunday after spending most of the week on the sideline.
The Patriots receivers should have a much better game this week as they exploit weaknesses along the Detroit secondary. Chris Hogan may finally be able to rack up some serious yardage, and Phillip Dorsett will be more involved this week than he was against the Jaguars. His speed will be a mismatch against the Detroit defense. The biggest factor in the passing game, however, will be Rob Gronkowski. He was a nonfactor last Sunday thanks to fantastic coverage by the Jacksonville linebackers and safeties. The Lions do not have nearly as much talent in their defensive backfield, and the Patriots tight end should be able to run all over them. Obviously, Matt Patricia is familiar with Gronkowski, but it will be hard to scheme him out of the game because of the serious talent gap between Gronk and the Lions defense.
*Yes Josh Gordon will play. However, I’m not going to try to even begin to guess how he will impact the game because he has only just arrived and may or may not be included in the team’s overall gameplan. Yes that’s a cop out, but it’s the best I can do right now.*
The Patriots run game should also be able to have a much better day than they did against the Jaguars. The Detroit defensive line has a star in Ansah but is pretty bare outside of him. The Lions gave up over 100 rushing yards to Isaiah Crowell in week one, and over 130 to Matt Breida in week two. The Patriots should be able to exploit this and control the game on the ground with Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel, and James White. This could actually be Michel’s coming out game; he had a decent first performance against the Jaguars considering the circumstances, and a much weaker Lions defense could set him up for a huge introduction to Pats nation as the team’s lead back.
Oh yeah, and the Patriots have Tom Brady. He should do okay.
The Patriots defense needs to have a major turn around after a dismal performance against Jacksonville. Their defensive line was almost invisible, getting absolutely no pressure on Blake Bortles and having no real effect in the run game. The secondary and linebackers were disappointing in pass coverage despite facing a subpar skill group, and need to improve this week. It will not be an easy task, however, as the Patriots defense is up against Matthew Stafford, Golden Tate, and a potent passing attack.
Don’t start with me. I get it. Matthew Stafford is still the butt of many jokes and has not had an overly successful career despite being a number one overall draft pick. However, he is still one of the better quarterbacks in the league, and should not be underestimated. The Patriots defenders were just embarrassed by Blake “BOAT” Bortles, who isn’t even remotely as talented as Stafford. Tate is also a talented receiver who runs fantastic routes and is tough as nails. He will be flanked by Marvin Jones and Luke Wilson, both of whom can cause issues for the Patriots.
The success or failure of the Patriots defense is going to start on the defensive line. Stafford isn’t exactly a “mobile” quarterback like Bortles or Watson. However, he is a talented and experienced player who will be able to better sense pressure and release the ball quicker. The Patriots need to generate a pass rush to prevent him from getting as ridiculously comfortable in the pocket as Bortles was. This will not be easy, as Trey Flowers may not play on Sunday after suffering a concussion against the Jaguars. Deatrich Wise and Adrian Clayborn will have a lot of pressure on their shoulders to make a big impact. Danny Shelton and Malcolm Brown will also be important in creating interior pressure that was entirely nonexistent last week. Dont’a Hightower could also play a pivotal role as an edge rusher who could get to Stafford. The Patriots defensive line has to be stout in the run game and does not have any legitimate excuses as the Lions rushing attack is theoretically improved from last season, but is still not exactly menacing after totaling only 137 yards so far this year. They need to dominate the line of scrimmage and force Stafford to have to throw the ball.
In coverage, the Patriots are going to have a challenge. The question will be whether they keep Stephon Gilmore locked on Golden Tate all game, similar to the way he was locked up on DeAndre Hopkins in week one and Donte Moncrief in week two. Tate is a more agile receiver and may pose a harder matchup for the longer Gilmore. The Patriots may choose to just play sides with their corners, and work to keep Tate out of the middle of the field. Ja’Whaun Bentley will also be important to the Patriots game plan. The Lions have not heavily targeted their tight ends over the last two weeks, but after Bentley’s down game against the Jaguars, the Lions may try to test him in coverage. With Patrick Chung potentially out due to a concussion, the Patriots may rely on Bentley in coverage. In addition, Jason McCourty and Duron Harmon may end up manned up on tight ends throughout the day, and both need to be better in coverage than they were last week.
Overall, the Patriots defense needs to be much better on third down. They were putrid against Jacksonville, giving up 10 first downs on 14 third-down attempts by the Jaguars. That is a recipe for disaster, and cannot turn into a trend for the team. That comes from a combination of a pass rush and coverage. The Patriots defensive front needs to be able to get to Stafford, and the team’s secondary needs to be able to cover well enough to not leave receivers 10 yards open like they did last week. If they can get off the field in a timely manner, then they should be able to have success against the Lions offense.
Matt Patricia is obviously familiar with the Patriots. However, Bill Belichick knows exactly what his opponents are thinking. He knows how Patricia will try to attack him, and Belichick will know how to thwart his attempts. The Lions have a lack of talent across their roster and are not entirely checked in mentally. While they most likely should have beaten the 49ers last week, they are not an imposing team, and the Patriots should have no trouble taking care of business and getting back on track.
New England 37 Detroit 16