Foxboro Mass --
INSIDE SLANT: The Pats matchup with the Detroit Lions is another Bill Belichick v. assistant bowl. Bill Belichick faced his former Offensive Coordinator, Bill O' Brien, in Week One against the Houston Texans and now he faces former Pats Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia in Week Three. Both teams will be desperate for a win. The Pats want to respond after a poor showing in Jacksonville in which the defense gave up 481 yards. It is a defense that is looking for respect.
"I feel like here in New England unless you play offense there is always adversity. We are never good on defense. We have won Super Bowls and still have not been good on defense," Devin McCourty said Thursday.
McCourty, though, does not want fans to feel bad for the defense.
"Most of us grew up dreaming of playing in the NFL. If you are going home at night and mad that you got Tom Brady on the other side then you are doing something wrong."
The Detroit Lions are looking for their first win after losses to the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers. Down 30-13, the Detroit Lions showed resiliancy against the 49ers - scoring two touchdowns late in the game to make the final score 30-27. After a poor showing in their first home against the Jets that caused the home fans to boo, the Lions will be motivated to show that Patricia was a worthy hire and that the fans should pay attention to this team.
Bill Belichick is impressed with the downfield passing ability of Lions QB Matthew Stafford. He must be concerned about how his defense can stop a Lions passing game that features wide receivers Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay. Belichick said the Lions downfield passing game is as good as there is in football.
"He’s (Stafford) got great weapons. He does an excellent job of seeing down the field in all situations. No matter how much pressure he’s under, he seems to find guys down there. Sometimes it appears that they’re covered, but he can put the ball where [Marvin] Jones in particular, but also [Kenny] Golladay, can go up and make plays on the ball. He’s very accurate and he’s got a strong arm. He can stand in there and make those throws, with or without a rush, in or out of the pocket, stationary or on the run. He’s extremely dangerous – one of the very best in the league for sure," Belichick said Wednesday.
The Detroit Lions have eight sacks through the first two games and can pressure the quarterback.
"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. 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," Belichick said.
SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season game, Patriots lead 7-4. The Pats have won the last four meetings. The last time the Detroit Lions beat the New England Patriots was in Detroit on Thanksgiving Day 2000. The Lions won 34-9. A rookie backup QB named Tom Brady came in late in mop up duty and completed one pass for 6 yards. It was his only completion of his rookie season. No one knew that Brady would be the greatest player of all time that day. The teams played in Thanksgiving in Detroit again in 2002 and 2010 with the Pats winning both times. Under the current scheduling format, the teams meet every four years. Given that they are from different conferences, the only way for the teams to meet in the playoffs would be in the Super Bowl and this has never happened.
NOTES, QUOTES: The last time these two teams met in the regular season was in 2014 at Gillette Stadium when the Pats won 34-9. Tom Brady threw for 349 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Bill Belichick coached with Detroit Lions in 1976 and 1977. He got his coaching start in 1975 with the Baltimore Colts.
Lions head coach Matt Patrica was a longtime Pats assistant from 2004-2017. He coached the offensive line, safeties and linebackers before becoming defensive coordinator in 2012. He served in that capacity until 2017.
Lions QB coach George Godsey, offensive line coach Jeff Davidson and strength and conditioning coach Harold Nash also served as Pats assistants.
Lions RB LaGarrette Blount played in New England from 2013-2016 where he helped the Pats win two Super Bowls. Blount rushed for 1161 yards in 2016 - his best year in New England. The Steelers released Blount in 2014 late in the season after he walked off the field and Blount resigned with the Pats. Blount was on the Philadelphia Eagles last year when they won a Super Bowl. He has collected three rings in the last four years. Blount was ejected last week for shoving opposing 49ers players while on the sideline. It is always fun, interesting or crazy with Blount.
Rob Gronkowski has mastered the art of answering questions in the Belichick way in his ninth season when asked what it would be like to play against Patricia - the Pats former defensive coordinator. "It’s the NFL. There’s guys, there’s coaches, every single year, basically every game, where you play and you’ve been on their team before, you’ve been on their side before. It happens all the time. It happened with Houston, and you’ve just got to go out and execute. It’s all about execution. You can know what they’re going to do, but if you don’t go out and you don’t out-perform the other team, it just doesn’t matter," Gronkowski said Wednesday.
BY THE NUMBERS: 300 - Owner Robert Kraft looks for his 300th win as owner of the team on Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Kraft would reach the milestone in his 25th season - the earliest an NFL owner will have reached the milestone. Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen reached the feat in 30 seasons while Al Davis accomplished the feat in 31 seasons
10 - the number of receivers the Pats have released since training camp began. The group includes Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt, Malcolm Mitchell, Eric Decker, Chad Hansen, Riley McCarron, Devin Lucien, Corey Coleman, Bennie Fowler and Paul Turner.
19- number of catches newly traded for Pats WR Josh Gordon has since 2015. Gordon, who the Pats acquired from the Cleveland Browns Tuesday, had his best year in 2013 when he had 87 catches for 1646 yards. He had seven catches, 151 yards and one touchdown in a game against the Pats when Gordon was with the Browns.
15- the amount of receiving yards Gronkowski (who was limited in practice Thursday because of an ankle injury) had Sunday against the Jaguars.
4 - the number of catches WR Cordarrelle Patterson and Chris Hogan each have in the Pats first two games.
0- The number of sacks the Pats had against Jaguars QB Blake Bortles last Sunday.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL: Trey Flowers: The fourth-year defensive lineman did not practice Wednesday (concussion) and his loss would be a big one for the Pats. Flowers is clearly the team's best defensive lineman.
Eric Rowe: the Pats No. 2 corner, if he plays, must show that he can rebound from a terrible performance against Jacksonville. Jason McCourty replaced Rowe because he could not cover Jaguars WR Keelan Cole. The Lions have depth at receiver and will look to expose the Pats weakness at this spot.
Cyrus Jones: The Pats resigned Jones, who they released at the end of training camp, off the Baltimore Ravens practice squad because they are looking to find an adequate punt returner. The Pats gave up on RB Kenjon Barner, who was supposed to help with the punt return duties, after only a week on the roster. Barner was inactive in Sunday's loss to the Jaguars. The Pats currently have Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Jason McCourty, Cyrus Jones, Keion Crossen, Cyrus Jones and J.C. Jackson at corner.
Marcus Cannon: It would be beneficial for the Pats if their right tackle returned. Cannon was inactive Sunday and LaAdrian Waddle started in his place. Cannon is a clear upgrade over Waddle.
PlAYER SPOTLIGHT: Duron Harmon/Devin McCourty. It would be helpful if one of the Pats free safeties recorded an interception. The Pats could use more plays out of their defense, especially against the Lions strong wide receiving core which performs well in the deep passing game.
GAME PLAN: The Pats must deal effectively with the Lions deep passing attack. The Lions will watch the Patriots/Jaguars game and think big plays can be made on the Pats defense. The Patriots emphasize that their defensive struggles are not because of one area, but rather they need to play to better team defense. This is correct - a pass rush would prevent the secondary from having to cover for such a long period of time and the secondary could bail out the front seven by making more plays.
Offensively, Tom Brady will need to avoid holding onto the ball too long because the Lions have speed up front and can get after Brady. Also, the Pats should get James White involved as much as possible. He can counter the Lions pressure by catching screen passes and he can be a workhorse in the running game and wear down the Lions defense. The Pats also must find a receiver (and maybe Phillip Dorsett is answer) who can take the pressure off Rob Gronkowski who had only two catches for 15 yards Sunday against Jacksonville. Dorsett has 12 catches in two games which is how many catches he had in all of 2017.
QUOTES ON GAME: Rob Gronkowski on how Josh Gordon can succeed in New England.
"Work hard. Do your job. That explains it all."
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: WR Golden Tate v. CB Stephon Gilmore (Gilmore has covered DeAndre Hopkins and Donte Moncrief well in his first two games. He will likely be matched up against Tate, for at least part of the game, who has 14 receptions in the Lions first two games. Gilmore must prevent Tate from taking over the game as he is capable of doing).
RB James White/Sony Michel v. LB Devon Kennard (Kennard, who the Lions signed this offseason from the New York Giants, has paid dividends so far this season with three sacks including two last week against the 49ers. If he blitzes, a running back will be called to pass block and White would be ideal for this role).