By: Derek Havens
Patriots Offensive Coordinator, Josh McDaniels, has his hands full facing the Lions top-ranked NFL defense this Sunday. (USA TODAY Images)
The New England Patriots will host the Detroit Lions Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots, now 8-2 on the season, return home after defeating the Indianapolis Colts 42-20 last Sunday. The Lions, 7-3 this year, lost on the road 14-6 against the Arizona Cardinals last week.
The Patriots have won 13 straight games against NFC North teams, including a 2-0 record in 2014. Here are a few thoughts on the upcoming game.
Pregame Thoughts —
First Impressions: The Lions are the NFL’s top ranked defense this season. While their defense has shined, the offense has struggled. Despite several weapons, Matthew Stafford and Lions offense are averaging just 18.8 points-per-game. Star wide receiver, Calvin Johnson, has battled some injuries this year, but is a full-go for a potential head-to-head battle against Pats cornerback, Darrelle Revis.
Protecting Brady is Biggest Key to Victory: The Lions have an attacking front seven on defense, making it hard for opposing quarterbacks. Detroit has invested heavily on their defensive line; drafting Ndamukong Suh, Ezekiel Ansah and Nick Fairley in the first round.
The Lions have registered 26 sacks through 10 games this season. While the Patriots have settled down on the offensive line, they face a big test this week. If they can keep Brady upright, he should find success. However if the Lions can generate pressure, New England’s high-powered offense could be derailed.
Pats May Shy Away from Balance, Pass to Win: Even though Detroit’s pass rush and interior pressure is the biggest concern for the Patriots Sunday, New England should pass to win this week. In part because the Lions have allowed a NFL best 68.8 yards-per-game to opposing offenses. Better yet, teams facing the Lions have rushed for no greater than 37% less than their team rushing average.
What does this mean? With pressure from the Lions defense inevitable, expect Brady and the offense to do a lot of quick passes, screen plays and if they choose to run, draws in order to slow down the pass rush. Don’t expect another 200-plus yard rushing performance from New England. Instead, Brady and the passing game will be the focus of this week’s contest.
Revis Island for… Tate?: While many expect Revis to cover Johnson Sunday, the Patriots might switch things up for the upcoming contest. Revis could potentially cover Golden Tate, double-teaming Johnson — perhaps with Brandon Browner and safety help — in order to neutralize a threatening aerial attack.
With Revis on Tate, Johnson covered by two defenders, Bill Belichick could use Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan on the running backs or others. Stafford will still attempt passes to Tate and Johnson, as well he should, but slowing those two receivers would hurt Detroit’s chances Sunday afternoon.
Of course if Revis shadows Johnson, it will be a treat for all those watching the game. Two of the best at their respective positions going head-to-head.
Final Thoughts: This matchup will come down to strength versus strength, the Lions stout defense against the Patriots offense. The Lions have kept opposing offenses in-check for the majority of the season, but the offense has not been able to generate as many points as projected.
While the Lions present a tough challenge on defense, the Patriots have been too strong offensively in recent weeks. In their last six games, New England is averaging 40.5 points-per-game. Detroit is in a tough spot, traveling to face the NFC leading Arizona Cardinals in week 11, before coming across the country to face the AFC leading Patriots. It may be close early, but look for New England to build momentum as the game moves along and eventually hold a commanding lead in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Lions 20
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