By: Brian Garland (Sports Editor)
It’s halftime at Ford Field Sunday night in Detroit. The New England Patriots’ first road trip lead them to Detroit after an equally unsightly stop in Jacksonville, Florida the previous week.
A blowout loss to Jacksonville’s Jaguars put the Patriots on edge, but it did not improve their ability to set any edges. Head coach Bill Belichick clenches his play sheet and mutters into his headset, ready to march back into the silver locker rooms.
An overdressed woman holding a microphone, NBC sideline reporter Michelle Tafoya, walks up to this man at his worst possible moment.
She catches the old coach, and force-feeds him the microphone.
“Coach Belichick, what must the Patriots improve on in the second half?”
Belichick storms back into the locker room, ready to unload the anger he kept inside his gray hoodie with torn sleeves.
The first half was a repeat of last week. New England’s pass rush was squeezed by Detroit’s offensive line, allowing the Lions to run the ball unlike they have in years.
Before kickoff, New England’s decided to leave receiver Josh Gordon as inactive after acquiring him earlier in the week. Detroit was without top defensive end Ziggy Ansah for the second straight week, and had fewer options at running back without Ameer Abdullah.
The running backs of the Lions, Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount, rushed for six yards at a time before any Patriot defenders laid hands on them, and that’s if the Patriots were able to bring the running backs down.
Defensive end Trey Flowers’ concussion left him out of Week 3’s matchup in Detroit, so Deatrich Wise and Adrian Clayborn were in change of applying pressure. Detroit’s offensive line was too much to handle.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had all kinds of time to throw and he did not miss his open targets. 6’4 receiver Kenny Golladay gave New England trouble with his size and speed, reaching up for balls that 5’10 Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones could not reach.
New England’s defense was slow to act and slow to catch up, missing assignments and open-field tackles. Patriots linebackers Elandon Roberts and Donta Hightower were stuck chasing after Detroit’s Kerryon Johnson for much of the night. Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore allowed two touchdowns to Detroit wide receivers while looking for help from Patriots free safety Duron Harmon. Veteran cornerback Jason McCourty sat for the second half in favor of rookie J.C Jackson for McCourty’s poor play in coverage in the first half.
It was an unimpressive night on all fronts for the Patriots and the lack of talent on defense means it may not improve. Rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley and his speed was the only bright spot on defense, and usually great players like Hightower and Gilmore were not playing up to their brand.
The Lions faced no challenge passing the football with Patriots defensive backs giving Detroit’s receivers plenty of space. The communication was not there as New England struggled to make tackles and help when tackles missed. The slow reaction suggests that the Patriots were not yet used to linebacker coach Brian Flores’ game plan.
On offense, Tom Brady was not connected with his receivers. Phillip Dorsett and Chris Hogan expected throws that were not even near them. The constant double-coverage to Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski made him difficult to reach, though he did make catches to extend a couple of Patriot drives.
Patriots rookie running back Sony Michel faced the rookie wall in his first real game as the top running back. He dropped passes, got beat on blocks in the passing game and could not create space for himself with his usual quickness. With veteran James White in the backfield, the Patriots were able to do exactly what they wanted Michel to do for them. This may result in White receiving more snaps in the future.
The offensive line was not spectacular but it was not an extra problem for Tom Brady and the Patriots. New left tackle Trent Brown used his size to his advantage, but he got penalized for two holding calls. The Lions pass rush was not the same without Pro Bowl defensive end Ziggy Ansah, but it had extra time with Tom Brady unable to connect with New England’s wide receivers.
Overall, The Patriots defense was slow and unable to force the Lions to punt until the fourth quarter. For as much as New England made mistakes, the game was always within reach, with it being a two possession game for four quarters. The closest New England came was a 13-10 Detroit lead after a ten yard James White touchdown catch from Tom Brady deep in the third quarter.
Two Matt Prater field goals in the fourth quarter let coach Matt Patricia and the Lions escape with their first win of the season, 26-10.
The Patriots head home to face the undefeated Miami Dolphins in Week 4 at 1PM Sunday. The Dolphins are rolling in the rushing game and New England’s defense cannot stop the run in this young season. This is the last fault before receiver Julian Edelman returns from his suspension, but there is no positive news for the slumping Patriot defense.