The Patriots did not have their best day at the office tonight, as they took a beating at the hands of the Detroit Lions by a score of 40-9. There were a lot of negative things that came from this performance, but there was also a few bright spots that coach Bill Belichick and company can take away from the loss.
Here are five “rapid reaction” takeaways from tonight’s contest.
1. Sloppy Offense
This was easily the story-line of the game from the Patriots perspective. A normally sharp and efficient Brady-led attack was sloppy, and uncharacteristically turnover prone. Rookie Zach Sudfeld led off the game with a fumble inside the 10 yard line on the Patriots opening drive. Fumbles by Shane Vereen, and Brandon Bolden followed, along with a Tom Brady interception. This was obviously not the Patriots best day on the offensive side of the ball, but I promise you that Belichick will use this as a learning experience for this relatively young New England offense. This team needed some adversity, and they got it in the form of the Detroit Lions.
2. First Team Defense Impresses
The Patriots offense put their starting defense in a number of tough situations throughout the first half, but the defense stood strong, and only surrendered 16 points in that half. In particular, the front four really impressed me with their play, specifically with the fact that they were playing without Pro Bowl defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. Defensive end Rob Ninkovich was great on the edge, as he blew up a number of running plays in the backfield, and he frequently pressured quarterback Matthew Stafford into rushed decisions. He and newcomer Tommy Kelly combined for the Patriots only sack on the night, with an impressive rush sequence late in the first quarter. Rookie Joe Vellano stood strong in the trenches alongside Kelly, and save for a few breakaway runs by Reggie Bush, they smothered the Lions inside running game. Chandler Jones followed up his brilliant performance last week against Tampa Bay with another solid outing tonight versus Detroit. The secondary covered very well again, and they were led by veteran Aqib Talib and rookies Logan Ryan and Justin Green. Talib showed us once again why he is considered one of the top one on one cover corners in the league, by locking up the man opposite him throughout the night. Both Ryan and Green have both been very impressive this preseason, despite their rookie status. They both turned in solid outings again in tonight’s loss.
3. Patriots Offensive Line Struggles
Coming into tonight’s tilt against the Lions, we all knew that the Patriots offensive line would have trouble with Detroit’s talented, albeit troubled front four. But at the same time we all thought that the Pats offensive front may rise to the challenge and make a big statement against a front with the pedigree of the Lion’s. That did not transpire tonight as the Pats were dominated at the point of attack on the offensive side of the ball. New England only managed 68 yards on 29 carries tonight, and surrendering two sacks and multiple quarterback pressures to that vaunted front. They will have to be better as the regular season begins, because no matter how good quarterback Tom Brady is, he needs time to effectively manipulate the opposing defense.
4. Kenbrell Thompkins With A Big Day
Another positive that can be taken out of this otherwise horrid day of football, was rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins. Thompkins finished the night with eight catches on 12 targets for 116 yards. He displayed his incredible ability to beat press coverage with a couple of sick juke moves in the first half. He has a great feel for the outside, and has developed an impressive rapport with Tom Brady. Thompkins also showed off his hands on a couple of tough catches outside the numbers, and that will come in handy when he is forced to make a tough catch on one of the few times where he is unable to separate Thompkins had a bad drop early in the first quarter, but I think he more than made up for it with his stellar play the rest of the way.
5. Running Backs Putrid
As I mentioned above, the Patriots offensive line played a pretty horrendous game tonight. However the running backs didn’t do them any favors. Lead back Stevan Ridley carried the ball nine times for a total of six yards, and LeGarrette Blount, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden combined for 38 yards on 15 carries. There was no explosion to be found from these players, and when they had a hole, they were unable to exploit it and hit it hard the way they are supposed to. The Patriots running game had been great in their previous two preseason matchups, but they definitely took a big step back in tonight’s game.