The New England Patriots will have a new face on the sideline Sunday night when they encounter a familiar one in Matt Patricia and the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.
The Patriots (1-1) have seen a revolving door at wide receiver over the last few months, with numerous players coming and going as the team looks to open up the offense for Tom Brady.
Josh Gordon is the latest wideout to join coach Bill Belichick’s crew, with the former Pro Bowl wideout boasting incredible upside to go along with a checkered past that has led to suspensions from the NFL. The Patriots acquired the 27-year-old Gordon and a 2019 conditional seventh-round pick from the Cleveland Browns on Monday in exchange for a 2019 fifth-round selection.
Brady can benefit from the presence of the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Gordon after being limited to 234 yards and two touchdowns in New England’s 31-20 setback to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
The three-time NFL Most Valuable Player will look to feast on a Detroit secondary that could be without Darius Slay, who has yet to practice this week and could miss Sunday’s game with a concussion. The Lions (0-2) added depth to the secondary by re-signing fellow cornerback DeShawn Shead, who was one of the last cuts coming out of training camp.
Brady and company will see a familiar face on the opposite sideline in Patricia, who spent 14 seasons with the Patriots and routinely had his charges challenge the decorated quarterback in practice when he served as the team’s defensive coordinator from 2012-17.
When asked on Wednesday about his “secret” to containing Brady in practice, Patricia showed his quick wit.
“Probably the fact that it was practice,” the 44-year-old Patricia said in a conference call.
Jokes aside, Patricia knows that execution will be key as he faces his mentor (Belichick) and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for the first time as a head coach.
“I think in the end, it really comes back to just having a good game plan and good execution, hopefully coaching well enough to give the players the opportunity to come out and do it the right way,” Patricia said. “I don’t think it’s anything really more than that. It’s really about the players and the game itself more so than I would say it is about anything else.”
Patricia hasn’t been laughing much since being hired by the Lions on Feb. 5, one day after the Patriots fell to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. He has seen his Lions yield 78 points and an NFL-worst 359 rushing yards.
It’s not all gloom and doom in Detroit, however.
Patricia’s stamp on the defense has been evident, notably with the club recording eight sacks already this season.
Devon Kennard and Jarrad Davis each registered two sacks and fellow linebackers Christian Jones and Eli Harold had one in last Sunday’s 30-27 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
“When we need to, we’ve got to make the quarterback uncomfortable, we’ve got to try to be disruptive,” defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said. “And (our linebackers) work, fundamentally and technique-wise, they’re working as hard at that as they are stopping runs. So, they understand it and they’re excited about it and they’re a hell of a group to work with.”
Belichick is very much aware of what the Lions’ aggressive defense brings to the table.
“They have very good coverage players, they have good pass rushers and they have multiple variations in their scheme that make it hard for quarterbacks to find open receivers,” Belichick said. “They do a good job disguising and mixing up their coverages and the looks and the leverage that they play on different patterns and receivers. So, all those lead to problems in the passing game.”
Running back James White could serve as a quick outlet for Brady, a decision that would keep the Lions’ aggressive defense at bay. White led the Patriots with seven catches for 73 yards in Week 2.
Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford rebounded from a four-interception performance in a 48-17 season-opening setback versus the New York Jets to throw for 347 yards and three touchdowns against the 49ers.
Kenny Golladay has taken a big step up in his second season with 13 receptions for 203 yards and a touchdown while fellow wideout Golden Tate has 14 catches for 188 yards and a score.