The New England Patriots were blown out by the Detroit Lions 40-9 in Week 3 of the preseason, and below are five things that I think we learned following the humbling preseason defeat.
1. Defense still has a ways to go (well, the pass rush)
I know there are some people defending the New England Patriots defense following the loss, and it is true that the 40 points flatter the Lions a little bit. But the defense was still quite poor, and the only players who stood out to me as top performers were Rob Ninkovich and Logan Ryan. Countless others, such as Duron Harmon, had awful days, and it seems like the Patriots defense as a whole just had it rough. It’s not every week that you’ll see guys like Jerod Mayo struggle, and the Pats linebackers seemed to have issues in coverage. Dane Fletcher and Jamie Collins are top coverage LBs, but even they were victimized by receiving running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell. The Patriots defense still has a few issues in coverage, and I feel like their pass rush is still awful, as only Chandler Jones looked solid in that regard yesterday.
2. Rob Ninkovich against the run
Though we didn’t really learn this, I would chalk this up in the “affirmation” department. Rob Ninkovich is somebody I have criticized in this space for being an overrated pass rusher, because he doesn’t consistently put pressure on the quarterback. He looked the part on Thursday, and he’s always been one to have inflated sack totals (Ninkovich had a half-a-sack against the Lions despite subpar pass rushing). However, Ninkovich is undoubtedly one of the better 4-3 DEs against the run in the NFL, and he had an excellent day against the run on Thursday. Ninko led the team with six tackles, and people need to realize that Ninkovich makes his game against the run.
3. Kenbrell Thompkins sews things up
Aaron Dobson had a very good game overall with four receptions for 50 yards, but he had some flaws and was criticized by many for his inability to be aggressive on passes. Both Kenbrell Thompkins and Dobson are still in the competition for the “X” receiver gig in two-wide sets, but I wonder if Thompkins has already sewn things as the New England Patriots soon-to-be second-most targeted wide receiver. He was the better receiver in training camp, and he absolutely blew up yesterday with eight receptions for 116 yards and an average of 14.5 yards per reception. He is the most polished of the rookie receivers due to his route-running, and he has good ball skills and quickness. Thompkins and Tom Brady are connecting well, and Thompkins is a reliable outside receiver with the ability to stretch the field (caught a 37-yarder on Thursday).
4. The offense is fine
What are the odds of fumbling three times in a game? Really low, right? The New England Patriots offense is fine, and I’m not worried at all that they only managed to score nine points on the Detroit Lions. The offensive line is arguably the best in the NFL, and they simply had an off day against a really, really good Lions defensive line. I don’t expect Sebastian Vollmer to have a game like that too often, and I also don’t expect Will Svitek to start at right guard (that right side was just brutal Thursday). Tom Brady looked as great as usual, Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson are threats, and Julian Edelman was reliable. The Patriots running game looked terrible, but that was thanks to some really poor blocking. It was an off day for this entire team, but I have no concerns with the offense whereas I still have a few reservations about the defense. According to the Pro Football Focus, both Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount averaged more yards after contact than they did total rushing yards (bad blocking right there).
5. Stephen Gostkowski is really good at kick-offs
Again, this is something else we already knew, but it’s always good to note something that sometimes goes unnoticed. Stephen Gostkowski gets an awful lot of unnecessary criticism, and some people just don’t realize how great of a kicker Gostkowski is. Field position is a crucial, underrated aspect of the game, and Gostkowski might be the best kicker in the game at stifling an opponent’s field position. Thanks to Gostkowski, the Detroit Lions did not return any kicks on three kick-offs, as he had three touchbacks including one beauty to start the second half.