Defense Lays a Bagel On the Lions (Thanks, Brady!)
The talk leading up to the game all week was, “How is THIS Patriots’ defense going to stop the Lions?” How quickly has that changed? I’ve seen many social media posts saying, “Well, whaddaya expect? This is da Lions…right?”
Don’t fall into that trap, folks. This was an outstanding defensive game plan and performance. The Lions’ offense came into Sunday’s game averaging 35 points a game. And not only did the Patriots shut them out (the bagel reference was from Brady Goldman, and I plan on stealing it further), but they set an NFL record by denying the Lions all six attempts to convert on fourth down.
The offensive game and execution were equally as impressive, sans the red zone issues, which were partly to blame on the play-calling, which was a way to protect a rookie third-string QB. But Bailey Zappe aced his first NFL test as a starting QB. But a QB controversy? To quote Ochocinco, “Child Please.”
But in fairness, Zappe was very good at seeing the field, something Bill Belichick mentioned as what he was seeing on the field matched up exactly with what the coaches were seeing via the tablets. That is rarified air for rookie QBs.
We were glad to hear that Detroit defensive back Saivion Smith was able to fly home with the team on Sunday night after suffering a scary neck injury on the Patriots’ first offensive snap. He was taken to a hospital in an ambulance, and his injury looked very bad at the time. Here’s hoping that he makes a full recovery.
So, here are our grades this week for the Patriots-Lions game.
Zappe played very well in his first NFL start completing 17-21 (81%) for188 yards (9.0-yard avg) with a TD and an INT. His passer rating was 100. That number would have been much higher, but his pick was a nicely thrown ball that bounced off Nelson Agholor’s hands and was picked off. It happens to all of them, so that’s life.
Zappe once again showed a ton of poise. Yes, he wasn’t asked to do a ton of things, but when he did throw, for the most part, he was very good, and his play-action passing, which was something he needed to work on, was terrific.
The biggest compliment to give him on Sunday’s performance was that he didn’t look like a rookie on the field. His touchdown pass to Jakobi Meyers was a beauty over the corner but in front of the safety.
However, they did go 0-4 in the red zone, but as we mentioned above, the coaches took a very conservative approach and weren’t calling a lot of passes for him to cash in on.
Running Backs: A
The team carried only two active running backs into the game, Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. Once Harris went down with a hamstring injury, the onus fell all on Stevenson and boy, did he produce. He had a career-high 161 yards on 25 carries, good for a 6.4-yard average. He also caught two passes for 14 yards and made several good blocks in pass protection.
You know that you’ve impressed the head coach when he professes love for you as a player. “He’s always good. He does a great job with the ball in his hands. He’s a strong runner, but he can make people miss.
“He’s a good football player. I’m so glad we have him. He had a couple of blitz pickup plays right up the middle where he stepped up. He’s a good all-around back. Love him. Love him.”
He blew through the Lions’ line on his 49-yard run but was eventually caught from behind. On a 15-yard screen catch and run, he made three Lions miss. He showed very good power and elusiveness.
Wide Receivers: B-
Jakobi Meyers returned to action and was the best player of the bunch (and the team dressed seven wide receivers). He was targeted eight times and caught seven passes for 111 yards and a touchdown.
DeVante Parker was targeted twice and didn’t have a catch, but defenders were flagged for pass interference on both passes, which was good for 47 additional yards. Agholor had his one target bounce off his hands for an interception. Kendrick Bourne was flagged twice and had just a single catch for one yard.
Tyquan Thornton was activated off of IR and was eased into the lineup. He chipped in with two catches for 7 yards.
Tight Ends: B-
Jonnu Smith was out after being injured last week in Green Bay. The team activated Matt Sokol from the practice squad, and he and Hunter Henry were the only two tight ends active on the day.
Henry caught four passes for 54 yards, more than he had in the season’s first four weeks. Henry had four catches for 41 yards in the season’s first month. It is a promising sign that the coaches are finally trying to get him more involved in the passing game.
Offensive Line: A
The offensive line aces the test this week. With a 3rd string rookie QB making his first NFL start, the team wanted to (needed to) run the ball effectively. And they did just that. The Patriots rushed for 176 yards on 35 carries, which averages out to a 5.0-yard average. This is the kind of game that offensive linemen live for.
The pass protection was much better this week; the Lions had 0 sacks and 0 QB hits, and Zappe stayed clean for the game, something we haven’t said in a long time. The QB was very appreciative of the effort, giving the line all of the credit.
“They played amazing today,” Zappe said. “To be honest with you, all five of those guys, actually six, including Marcus Cannon…were the MVPs of today. We ran the ball well; Play action passed well. Kept me clean in the pocket. We were able to go through the second, and third reads, and get to your check-down. They played really well today. To be able to have those guys up front is amazing to have that.”
Isaiah Wynn had a sack wiped out due to a defensive penalty and was also flagged for holding. But overall, this was the line’s best performance in a while.
Defensive Line: A-
After two weeks of the defensive line being gashed by the Ravens and Packers’ running games, they were facing a Lions team that was one of the NFL’s top-rushing teams. They held Detroit to 101 yards on 27 carries for an average of just 3.7 yards per carry. Jamaal Williams was held to just 56 yards on 15 carries, also for a 3.7-yard average.
Christian Barmore’s game is seemingly growing every week, but it was an overall excellent team effort in holding the Lions in check and stuffing six fourth-down attempts. This was a huge “get-right type of game for the defensive line this week.
Matthew Judon was a pain in the …neck for the Lions on Sunday. Going against a good right tackle in Penei Sewell, he gave him fits. Judon had two sacks, four QB hits, and a tackle for loss. He was disruptive all game. His second sack was a strip sack that Kyle Dugger took 59 yards to the house. Bill Belichick was very pleased with Judon’s work as well.
“Ju had another great day,” he said. “Again, he is a very physical presence for us on the end of the line. Yeah, Ju had another solid game. Again, with Wise and (Josh) Uche, we have two different types of players that generally play opposite of him. That’s worked out fairly well for us.”
Elsewhere, Raekwon McMillan had a huge hit on another 4th down attempt, stopping it cold. Jahlani Tavai and Ja’Whaun Bentley were very active, notching five tackles each. Anfernee Jennings chipped in with four tackles, and a QB hit. Josh Uche flashed some pressure forcing an incompletion, and Mack Wilson broke up a pass on the goal line on yet another fourth down. The needle for this group is trending up.
The Patriots’ secondary made a bunch of big plays on Sunday. Rookie Jack Jones flashed his ball-hawking skills once again by picking off Jared Goff deep down the left sideline. He moved over to haul in the interception and then made a nice toe-tapping move to stay inbounds.
Kyle Dugger had the aforementioned 59-yard scoop and score. He and Adrian Phillips did a great job of limiting tight end T. J. Hockenson to just a single catch for six yards. Jonathan Jones made a great tackle in the open field to snuff out a fourth-down attempt.
Jalen Mills still appeared less than 100 percent after missing multiple weeks with a hamstring injury. But Sunday was an “All Hands on Deck” type of scenario.
Special Teams: B
As Bill Belichick said in his post-game presser, sometimes you kind of take Nick Folk for granted with how steady and accurate he is, especially inside of 50 yards. Folk was 5-5 on field goals on Sunday and perfect on his extra points.
“I mean, I can’t say enough about Nick Folk. He is so professional, so consistent, so dependable. When you stop and think about how hard that job is over the amount of time we’re talking about, it’s really, really impressive.” On a day when the Lions’ coaching staff didn’t trust their replacement kicker to make a field goal attempt, it makes Folk’s performance even more noteworthy.
What dropped their grade was the one 47-yard kickoff return that they allowed.
The Patriots coaches had a very good game plan, and their players executed it very well. Jerod Mayo and Steve Belichick called an outstanding defense all game and the players were extremely well prepared with what they saw.
The coaches eschewed pads on Wednesday and instead focused on going over Detroit’s different looks and tendencies. And the proof was in the pudding. Detroit was 4-18 on third and fourth downs on the day. They were outstanding at situational football.
Offensively, the job that Matt Patricia is doing with Bailey Zappe and the running of the offense is night and day better than it was in Week 1. The offense has steadily improved, and Patricia is doing a great job of running the show. It is all coming together and building every week
We’re on to the Browns…
Posted Under: Patriots Report Card
Tags: Bill Belichick Damien Harris Devin McCourty Jakobi Meyers Kendrick Bourne Kyle Dugger Mac Jones Matthew Judon New England Patriots NFL Patriots edge rushers Rhamondre Stevenson