Apparently, the message wasn’t sent or received this week. After a disastrous first quarter in Jacksonville last week, the prevailing theme was the Patriots needed to show much more urgency and energy to start this week’s primetime game against the Detroit Lions. The Lions were entering 0-2, players and fans were already rumbling about new coach Matt Patricia and a quick start it was thought would get the crowd and players doubting themselves…. Well, that didn’t happen. At all.
If anything the Patriots got out to an even worse start than in Jacksonville and you can’t blame the 99-degree heat and Florida zip code for this week’s debacle. Once again the Patriots were manhandled at the line of scrimmage badly as Detroit could do whatever it pleased on both sides of the ball and the results spoke for themselves as they cruised to 26-10 mauling of the Pats on Sunday Night Football.
While the pregame hype had more people watching Josh Gordon play catch with a Patriots coach than t.v. cameras looking for a puff of white smoke from the Sistine Chapel, they should have been watching the warmups for the offensive and defensive lines. Because for the second week in a row they were a no-show. Black smoke coming up for them.
The Patriots have some serious issues along the right side of the defense. We’ve been saying now since the Houston game, that teams were running to the left of the Patriots defense. One week in an anomaly, two weeks is concerning, three weeks is a trend. The game plan was for the Patriots to keep two safeties deep to take away the deep passing of the Lions. With three starters out on the defense, two in the secondary (Pat Chung and Eric Rowe), it made sense. But the DL didn’t hold up at all.
We mentioned in our key matchups that Detroit, after all, was averaging just 68.5 yards per game on the ground and hadn’t had a 100-yard rusher since Reggie Bush nearly five years ago. We also wrote that the Detroit running game was the key defensively to the game. Stop the run and they’re one-dimensional. If they can run the ball, then it will open up all kinds of other options for Matthew Stafford.
Detroit ran the ball down their throats at will targeting the left. Frank Ragnow totally dominated Malcom Brown at the point of attack and had him on roller skates blowing him 4-5 yards consistently off the ball. That kind of push opened the doors for Kerryon Johnson to run for 101 yards on the night on just 16 carries. That is a 6.3 yards per carry average. Worse for the Pats is the play of Dont’a Hightower, also on the left who appears slow, and physically nothing like the player we’ve come to expect.
The Patriots running game has for the past few years run to the opposite side, to the right behind Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon. They weren’t getting any push at all against Detroit’s front seven, which had resembled a sieve the first two weeks of the season. Opponents had been gashing the Lions front seven to the tune of 179.5 yards per game. That front seven swallowed up the Pats running game and spit them out.
Their smaller, speedy linebackers did a great job of negating the short passing game and Tom Brady was reduced to taking deep shots down the field into double coverage where only one pass was picked off and a couple of others may have been. It was an ugly, ugly night for the Patriots offense which gained a total of 209 yards on the night.
Detroit led 13-0 before the Patriots even had a first down, where was the urgency there? Patricia made a questionable decision to kick a field goal on the Lions first possession facing a 4th and 1 after they gashed the Patriots down the field.
But then Kenny Golladay just got the ball over the goal line on the Lions next possession before Stephon Gilmore stripped it away and it was 10-0 and things were going from bad to worse. Detroit was running the ball at will and Stafford all day to throw the ball. Offensively the Patriots couldn’t get a first down, let alone put points up.
They finally got a field goal before the half after they got the offense moving a bit and were fortunate to be down just 10 points at 13-3. Stafford then made a huge blunder at the beginning of the third quarter, trying to force a ball into tight coverage with linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley in perfect position to pick it off.
Brady quickly moved the Patriots the 52 yards to a score, capping it off with a TD pass to James White making it 13-10. But any hopes for a turnaround were dashed when Stafford led the Lions on a 75-yard drive eating up six minutes of the clock and capped it off with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones.
Gilmore had Jones and was attempting to pass him off to safety Duron Harmon. Harmon however, continued to play downhill and totally whiffed, forcing Gilmore to stop and then attempt to close again and was left far behind for an easy score. Poor communication topped off a bad night all around.
Stafford ended up 27-36 for 262 yards with two TDs and a pick. Brady finished just 14-26 for just 133 yards with a TD and a pick.
Lots of changes need to be done and this team can fix a lot of what ails it. But they have a lot of work to do before Miami who is 3-0 comes to Foxboro next week.
UP AND DOWN –
UP: (was there players trending up? Maybe a stretch)
Deatrich Wise: The second-year DE playing with his hand in a cast, tried to fire up the rest of his moribund teammates with a run stuff and a sack. A rare bit of emotion and energy from a defense that was sorely lacking in both.
James White: The Patriots talented pass-catching running back was his usual dependable self and the coaching staff would have been better served getting him more touches than trying to force feed it to rookie Sony Michel when it was clear he was laboring. White finished with 37 yards on just four carries and three catches in the passing game including the 10-yard touchdown pass from Brady for the Pats only TD.
Ja’Whaun Bentley: The rookie linebacker made a play on the interception that the team sorely needed to start the second half, giving them at least a shot at coming back. He’s now taken over the play-calling responsibilities in the middle. A big jump for the rookie 5th round draft pick.
Malcom Brown/Dont’a Hightower: This can’t be overstated. Teams are attacking the left side and those two are playing very badly right now. The Patriots tried to switch things up in the second half, going to a 3-4 look, taking Brown out and going with an extra linebacker. The former first rounders are not playing anywhere near their potential right now and may force the team to make some moves.
Shaq Mason: What happened to that run mauler that we’ve come to expect every week? Mason is being badly outplayed and beaten in one-on-one matchups every week and it is time for Dante Scarnecchia to light a fire under him and the entire offensive line when it comes to run blocking.
Duron Harmon: While Patriots fans were screaming on social media that Gilmore was toasted on that long touchdown pass to Jones, nothing was further from the truth. That was clearly on Harmon who failed to recognize what was happening and left his corner out to dry. After the Patriots had closed the gap to just three points, a breakdown of that magnitude was inexcusable.
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