After a dreadful performance this past Sunday in Jacksonville, the New England Patriots look to rebound this week as they are off to Detroit to battle the Lions. Coached by their former defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia, the Lions are still in search for their first win of the season. It has been a shaky start to Patricia’s coaching career, as his team sits at 0-2 and have already given up 78 points. The defensive-minded head coach looks to down-tempo that number in his 3rd career game as head coach, but it will be an extremely strenuous task to stop an angry Tom Brady.
Quick Stat: The Patriots are 12-0 with Tom Brady as their starting quarterback against teams that start 0-2 or worse. In those games, Brady has 34 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and a passer rating of 123.9. Geez.
The Lions kicked off their season on Monday Night Football as they faced off against the New York Jets. It was a game to forget for Detroit, as their leader and quarterback Matthew Stafford threw 4 interceptions including a pick-six. It was an atrocious debut for the Patricia-led defense as they allowed rookie quarterback Sam Darnold to complete 16 of his 21 passes for 198 yards and 2 touchdowns. Jets running back Isaiah Crowell racked up 10 rushes for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns, so it is clear that the Jets offense was dashing up and down the field on the Lions defense.
In their second game of the year, the Lions showed improvement but still weren’t able to come out on top. They traveled to San Francisco to duel with the all-to-familiar Jimmy Garoppolo led 49ers. Stafford picked up his slack and put up substantial numbers as he went 34-53 with 374 yards and 3 touchdowns. However, his efforts were not enough to be victorious as the Lions lost 30-27. It was another bad outing for the Lions defense, as Garoppolo put up 206 yards and 2 touchdowns and completed 18 out of his 26 passes. Running back Matt Breida had a career day as he rushed 11 times and racked up 138 yards and one touchdown.
As the defense looks like a topic of concern for the Lions, let’s break down the talent they provide on the defensive side of the ball:
The secondary for the Lions is one of their stronger points on defense. Cornerback Darius Slay is an elite lockdown corner who can take away an opposing team’s number one receiving threat. Slay had an imposing 8 interceptions last year, which was tied for the most in the league with Titans safety Kevin Byard. In last week’s game against the 49ers, Slay suffered a concussion and has been out of practice as a result of the injury. It will be worth keeping track of Slay’s availability for Sunday as he is by far the teams best cornerback.
On the opposite side of Slay is 5th-year veteran Nevin Lawson. Lawson stands at 5’9 and weighs 192 pounds, which indicates that there could be matchups used to exploit Lawson’s smaller size. In his 5 years in Detroit, Lawson has yet to record an interception. If Slay is a no-go for Sunday and Lawson has to play the cornerback number one role, it could be another long night for Detroit’s defense.
Headlining the safety group for the Lions is Glover Quin. The former pro bowler is entering his 10th year in the league, but he is still showing that he is able to play at a high level. Quin had a combined 84 tackles last year which is the second most he has totaled in his career. He also intercepted 3 passes last year, so it is no secret that Quin is a sturdy tackler with firm ball skills.
Quandre Diggs is the starting strong safety for the Lions. Diggs is an average safety in this league, but he already has 3 pass deflections this season. To put that into context Diggs only had 9 pass deflections in 2017, so he is off to a hot start this season.
At the linebacker position, Jarrad Davis is the leader and starting middle linebacker of the group. Davis had an impressive rookie tenure as he had 96 combined tackles in 14 games. Through the first two games of this season, the Florida Gators prospect already has 10 tackles and 2 sacks this season. Davis obtains a solid speed which allows him to be athletic and fly all over the field.
Former Patriots linebacker Marquis Flowers signed with Detroit this offseason to pair up with Matt Patricia. Flowers provides solid depth at the position and is a significant special teamer.
At outside linebacker, the Lions have Devon Kennard and Christian Jones. Kennard was drafted in the 5th round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He spent his first 4 years of his career as a member of the New York Giants and totaled 9.5 sacks throughout that time. So far, Kennard has 3 sacks in his first two games in a Lions uniform which is a major improvement compared to his previous years.
Like Devon Kennard, Christian Jones is entering the 5th year of his career and his first season with Detroit. Jones was on the Chicago Bears for his first 4 years of his career where he put up impressive numbers. Last year, he had 90 combined tackles and assisted on another 30 tackles. Jones was a two-time second-team All-ACC player during his time at Florida State.
When diving into the defensive line of the Lions, the first name that pops up into everyone’s head is Ezekiel Ansah. The superstar defensive end is making $17 million this season as he is playing under the franchise tag. In his first 5 years on the Lions, he totaled 44 sacks and 10 forced fumbles. Last year, Ansah proved his dominance with a prominent 12 sack season in 14 games played. Ansah is the biggest threat on the Lions defense and has the ability to take over a game and cause nightmares for opposing quarterbacks.
On the opposite side of the line, Kerry Hyder obtains the other starting role. Entering his 4th year, Hyder showed lots of promise as he had 8 sacks in his first year playing. However, Hyder suffered a torn Achilles in last years preseason opener which ended his season. If Hyder can return to his 2016 self, he and Ansah can be a great pass rushing duo.
Another familiar face in Ricky Jean Francois is a member of the Lions defensive tackle group. Him, Sylvester Williams, and A’Shawn Robinson will be rotating in and out of the starting line up throughout the season. Robinson is still establishing his role on the line, and while he does that Williams can be used in the run game to clog up holes and make it difficult to run up the middle. The interior line of the Lions is a weak spot on the defense, so establishing the running game early will be key for a successful day on Sunday for the Patriots.
Lead by the 2014 pro bowler, quarterback Matthew Stafford has been an above average gunslinger for the Lions for the past decade. Many can argue that Stafford is a top-10 quarterback in the league based on his production and epic 4th quarter comebacks. Last season, Stafford finished the year with 4446 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. His yardage from last year ranked 3rd in the NFL behind Tom Brady and Philip Rivers. Stafford can instantly have a hot hand and take over a game, but we saw in week one that things can go downhill quickly for the former first overall pick.
The Detroit Lions running back group is led by LeGarrette Blount and Theo Riddick. Blount’s success in New England is well documented, as the bulldozing back rushed for 1,161 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2016. His efforts helped the Patriots win their 5th Lombardi trophy that year and complete the greatest comeback in NFL history. Blount spent last year with the Eagles, where he averaged an impressive 4.4 yards-per-carry. The running back is will be turning 32 years old in December, but his age has yet to stop his consistent production over the last few years.
Theo Riddick pairs greatly with Blount, and Blount is a ground-and-pound back while Riddick is a receiving back. In 2017, Riddick had 53 receptions for 444 yards and 2 touchdowns. When catching the ball out of the backfield, he averages 8.8 yards per reception which ranked in the top-10 of running backs last year. The nifty back can create problems for an opposing linebacking core, especially if that core lacks speed.
When it comes to the offensive line, Pro Football Focus has the Lions ranked 8th in the NFL as a group. Last year, they let up 47 sacks which were the most sacks Stafford has endured throughout his career. The Lions offensive line is led by right guard T.J. Lang, who joined the team in 2017. He was signed for a hefty 3 year, $28.5 million with $19 million guaranteed. Lang proved he was worth the money last year as he made the pro bowl for the second time in his career. Over the last three years, the Lions general manager has focused considerably on improving the offensive line. The Lions drafted 3 offensive linemen in the 2016 NFL Draft and signed 2 more in 2017 during the offseason. The offensive line for the Lions is a young but talented group that can create holes for Blount to plow through.
The wide receiving corps for Detroit is loaded with talent, as Golden Tate and Marvin Jones are becoming one of the best wide receiving duos in the league. Over the last 4 years, Tate has put up 90 catches or more and averages 11.3 yards per reception over that span. He caught 92 balls for 1003 yards and 5 touchdowns last year, while his counterpart in Marvin Jones hauled in 61 balls for 1101 yards and 9 touchdowns. Marvin Jones has the ability to be a number one receiver for any team, but having him at the number two spot allows him to go against an opposing team’s 2nd best cornerback. Both receivers provide stellar playmaking ability which makes Stafford’s job a lot easier.
After spending his first five seasons in Seattle, Luke Willson signed with Detroit this offseason. The Lions also released former first-round pick, Eric Ebron, this past offseason, giving Willson the opportunity to be the starting tight end this year. In his best year in Seattle, Willson had 22 receptions for 362 yards and 3 touchdowns. Luke Willson is a solid number two tight end, but his production over his career doesn’t show number one tight end ability. However, we will have to wait and see if Willson can have a more advanced role in the Lions offense.
Sunday night should be filled with familiar faces for Patriots fans. If Slay is unable to play, expect Brady to pick apart the Lions replacement for Slay. If Josh Gordon is able to make his debut, what better way to boost his confidence than chucking up some deep balls to him against a lower caliber cornerback. As the days go by, we will know more and more about Gordon’s availability. But for now, let’s cross our fingers and hope the Patriots defense can return to their week one form.
-Adam Pasquale, Jr. is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @adampasqualejr