First Impressions – Patriots @ Lions

| August 30, 2011

When Tom Brady starts the second half of a preseason game against the opposing team’s third-string quarterback, the story of the first half is self-explanatory. In what was a highly anticipated matchup for each team – after handling their first two opponents rather easily – it was the Lions who shot out of the gate while the Patriots seemed content to limp to the finish line.
.
On the topic of limping, the Patriots are lucky not to have lost Tom Brady to injury on top of losing Dan Connolly and Wes Welker. The much-hyped Lions’ defensive line played so well that you could almost call them underrated. Generating pressure from inside and out, Brady was left ducking for cover and running for his life. Matthew Stafford, on the other hand, looked the part of the unanimous MVP. He only had two incompletions–one of which was a dropped touchdown–and looked in complete command of the offense.
.
This game was less a story about the Patriots than it was about the Lions. I would be reluctant to cast a lot of doubt on the Patriots’ chances this season based on this one game, but, after watching Detroit shred them like an old credit card statement, consider the days of Lions’ fans wearing brown bags over their heads a thing of the past.
.

Detroit – Three Things of Note
.

Matthew Stafford didn’t just look good, he looked great. It wasn’t the first time this preseason, either. As I mentioned in the open, one of the only reasons he didn’t lead three touchdown drives was that one of his touchdowns Nate Burleson let slip through his hands. Yes, there were a few absences on the Patriots defense, but given much of Stafford’s damage was done on Patriots standout, Devin McCourty, I don’t know how much their presence would have mattered. I think it’s safe to say that if Stafford’s shoulder doesn’t get separated this season – which has proven to be as difficult as winning the lottery the past few seasons – the Lions will snap their eleven year playoff drought.
.
● You know the saying about when you’re on top, the only way to go is down? Well, commentators have put the Lions’ defensive line on a mountain and in this game they climbed to Everest. It’s not just about the guy who is the size of Everest, Ndamukong Suh, either. Everyone down to Willie Young got in on the Brady-stomping action. Suh had the easiest matchup against Dan Connolly and Rich Ohrnberger, forcing pressure on a number of plays. Ohrnberger, in particular, had more trouble getting a hand on Suh then most people have spelling his last name. Another notable player was Cliff Avril, who registered two sacks going up against one of the better right tackles in the league, Sebastian Vollmer.
.
● The one area that is still in question for the Lions is the running back position. Jahvid Best and Mike Bell didn’t play in this game, giving an extended look at two backs working to earn a lion-share (pun intended) of the team’s carries. In this game, though, neither Jerome Harrison nor Aaron Brown really laid claim to the job. As a matter of fact, if there was one thing the Patriots were rooting for, it’s that Stafford would hand to ball off instead of continuing to devastate the secondary with his arm. Of the two, I thought Brown had the better showing, highlighted by a few good plays in the passing game, which I’m not sure really answers the running question at hand. At some point the running game woes will become problematic, but until then the Lions can be thankful it is no longer 1972 when not having a running back might really have been a big deal.
.

New England – Three Things of Note
.

● The story of this game will likely be how much pressure Tom Brady faced. That story would be incomplete without mentioning how poorly Brady threw the ball, even on plays where he wasn’t under any pressure. If you were to erase the name from the back of the jersey, there might be serious questions if that quarterback was a capable starter for an NFL team. He was throwing so many wobbly ducks and one-hoppers that he looked like someone convinced him his receivers could play it off the bounce. One of the most egregious misses was underthrowing Wes Welker who was wide open after breaking past the safety, but slid to a stop as the ball bounced three yards shy of him and skittered past his open arms. Even some of his completions were really just good plays by his receivers, like when Aaron Hernandez had to reach and make a one-handed catch on a screen play before running 15 yards for a first down. It wasn’t a stellar day for the unanimous MVP but, given the infrequency of these games over his career, Patriots fans should be happy that at least this one didn’t cost them a real loss.
.
● The offensive line welcomed Matt Light back, but even that didn’t keep Brady safe. Everyone on the line had problems–other than maybe Logan Mankins – but the biggest culprits were Vollmer, Connolly, Ohrnberger, and rookie Nate Solder. Vollmer was twice beat around the corner by Avril for sacks. Connolly allowed Corey Williams to spin off of him and flatten Brady like a pancake. Ohrnberger, relieving Connolly after injury, looked to be as much a match for Suh as a hot dog is for Joey Chestnut. And finally, Solder had one of his first games where he looked like a rookie. None of Solder’s problems seemed as physical as they were mental, like a play where Solder blocked inside, allowing Willie Young to do his best Lawrence Taylor impersonation rushing from Hoyer’s blindside. The only good news leaving this game is that they don’t have to play the Lions every week.
.
● When a quarterback’s numbers are as impressive as Stafford’s were (12-of-14 for 200 yards and two touchdowns), you have to at least take a second look at the secondary. To start, this was essentially the same secondary that finished 30th against the pass last season as Leigh Bodden didn’t play in this game. Unlike last season, however, a lot of the damage was done against McCourty. He allowed long catches to both Burleson and Calvin Johnson, and nearly a touchdown if Burleson was able to secure it. On a positive note, most of those plays were better throws and catches then bad coverage. The secondary player who really looked behind was Kyle Arrington. He allowed two touchdown passes in the first half, including an ugly one to Tony Scheffler who will hardly be the fastest player he’ll cover. It would have been a good game for Darius Butler to look better than Arrington, but he continued to have problems with receivers like Tim Toone, virtually assuring the Patriots won’t be relying on him too heavily in the upcoming season … if at all.
.

When the final whistle blew, the scoreboard read 34-10 in favor of the Lions. Since that doesn’t mean all that much, let’s conclude with some good news and bad news for each team:

Lions: Good News – in the preseason games that teams traditionally treat as close to a regular season game as possible, you wiped the floor with an NFL team that went 14-2 last season. Bad News – come the regular season, this game won’t mean a thing.

Patriots: Good News – come the regular season, this game won’t mean a thing. Bad News – a team that didn’t make the playoffs last season just wiped the floor with you in the preseason game traditionally treated as close to a regular season game as possible.
.
.

Follow Rodney on Twitter: @PFF_RodneyHart … and be sure to follow our main Twitter feed as well: @ProFootbalFocus
.
.

.
.
.

  • tom

    Would you entertain the thought that Belichick was only going to run certain plays/schemes (ie; downfield throws, press coverage) and certain groupings only to see what the response from his team would be? If this were the regular season, we would see more quick throws to RB’s & TE’s as well as Welker in the face of pressure, not plays designed for 15-20 yds downfield. Also, on defense the CB’s are rarely called on for press coverage like they were in this game. This was a schemed game plan to evaluate what his Off & Def could do outside of their usual schemes.

    • Rodney Hart

      With Belichick, I would entertain any thought. He is so focused on situational football that I think he could communicate to his team anything as a learning experience and situation.

      That being said, I would tend to agree more with your defensive argument (more press) then the offensive one. One play that stands out in my mind was Darius Butler flying up and pressing Stovall who is a much bigger receiver. I think that HAD to be a scheme, because I don’t think Butler’s confidence level is high enough at this point to do it on his own..especially on a bigger, physical receiver. As a side not, Butler disrupted the receiver and caused an incompletion, but was flagged for interference, but I think that all the contact was within five yards and was one of the better plays I have seen Butler make recently.

      The reason I wouldn’t necessarily agree with your offensive point in this game is two fold: the first is that I thought they did run a good number of screens in this game, and I think both Welker passes (the one Brady missed and the one he hit for a touchdown) seemed to be plays where Welker broke his route deep based on what he saw from the defense and not necessarily that they were designed to be that way. The second reason is that I don’t think the risk/reward is too heavily in their favor when you consider how much experience Brady already has with the deeper passing game (slight reward) compared to the risk associated with letting Brady take any excess shots against a defensive line who has proven to be a tough test for the Patriots offensive line in their two previous meetings..ultimately it is still a preseason game.

      What do you think?