New England Patriots vs Detroit Lions: Game Preview & Prediction


Nov 16, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; New England Patriots quarterback

Tom Brady

(12) gestures at the line of scrimmage during a game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. New England defeated Indianapolis 42-20. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The AFC East leading New England Patriots face-off against the NFC North leading Detroit Lions this weekend at Gillette Stadium in a battle of contrasts. The Lions defense is built around a powerful defensive line that pressures the quarterback and stuffs the running game. The Patriots defense is built around a dynamic secondary and their athletic linebackers. On offense, the teams have different philosophies but the Lions offense has struggled since looking like a juggernaut in 2011 under former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. New England, under offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, has continued to adapt and change on a game-by-game basis depending on the opposition.



Nov 9, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver

Calvin Johnson

(81) during the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Ford Field. Detroit won 20-16. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Lions offense is transitioning to a new philosophy under head coach Jim Caldwell. Inexperience offensive coordinator Joe “Grandson of Vince” Lombardi has faced scrutiny this past week after the Lions offense failed to get the ball to explosive wide receiver Golden Tate who had just two targets against Arizona after having five 100-yard receiving games over the previous six weeks. This has led to Lombardi coming out during this week and indicating the Lions were trimming down the playbook.

 Lombardi was the quarterback coach for Drew Brees in New Orleans previously and the young first-time coordinator has brought over the same offensive scheme. That means multiple formations for the Patriots defense to defend as the Lions will present a number of different personnel groupings and formations to try and get a favorable match-up. The Lions have been stymied by injuries to All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Reggie Bush. who were expected to be key components of the offense.

The Patriots are catching the Lions coming off a week where they put up two field goals and quarterback Matthew Stafford had one of his worst games going 18 of 30 for 183 yards with an interception and no touchdowns. The Cardinals matched their top cornerback, Patrick Peterson, on Calvin Johnson most of the time. Having the luxury of Antonio Cromartie as their number two cornerback allowed them to slow the Lions attack. The expectation is that Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis will draw Johnson, but if Tate has a strong start like Reggie Wayne did for Indianapolis last week, the Patriots could again switch things up in the middle of the game.

 Detroit has both Joique Bell and Bush injured with ankle injuries but both are expected to play. The Lions have yet to have an explosive running attack with just two games topping 100 yards all season and their high being week three against Green Bay with 115 yards on the ground. Without a rushing attack, the one-dimensional offense has suffered. However, with tight ends Eric Ebron, Joseph Fauria, and Brandon Pettigrew all battling injuries, the multi-player and formation passing offense has sputtered so far. With Pettigrew expected to return this week, the athletic and explosive tight ends of Detroit could be an x-factor for the Detroit offense this week.



Nov 16, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; New England Patriots tight end

Rob Gronkowski

(87) is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. New England defeated Indianapolis 42-20. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

As legitimate an overpowering offense as the Patriots have had, Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has his unit as explosive and dangerous. After spending just one season as a coordinator (at Florida in 2010) and the last three seasons as the secondary coach of the Baltimore Ravens, Austin is making the most of his opportunity. Despite being known as a 3-4 defensive guru, he has done a lot of 4-3 fronts with a one-gap attacking style. Instead of the blitz schemes many expected, Austin has instead maximized the talent he has by using different looks and putting the players in the best position to succeed. The Lions players have embraced that approach and have had the best defense in the league to date.

The big match-up will be slowing All Pro defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and C.J. Mosley and defensive end Jason Jones and Ezekiel Ansah. The Patriots offensive line play has improved since settling on Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell at guard and rookie center Bryan Stork inside. With the interior settled, tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer have shown vast improvement. However, the Patriots offensive line has not been tested with an individual such as Suh who demands at minimum a double-team in the running and passing game.

To slow Detroit’s aggressive defensive line, the Patriots have to flip from their power running game plan against Indianapolis back to their spread look that worked well against Denver in week nine. Denver–boasting the second-best run defense behind Detroit–saw the Patriots come out and spread the Broncos out. An extra tight end, fullback or power back (Jonas Gray) were on the field only 23 of 86 snaps (all statistics courtesy unless otherwise noted.). In fact, for almost three-quarters of the game the Patriots had receiving back Shane Vereen on the field with three wide receivers with Danny Amendola or flex tight end Timothy Wright going four wide with Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, and Brandon LaFell.

While New England ran the ball 25 times against Denver, almost half of them came when New England led by multiple scores with the clock running down. Thirteen rushes came on the final drive of the third quarter and the fourth quarter when they already led 37 to 21.  The Patriots ran enough against Denver only to freeze the linebackers and open up the intermediate middle of the field for Gronkowski, Edelman and LaFell. Versus Denver, Brady was six of seven for 91 yards and a touchdown for a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating on passies over the middle between 10 to 19 yards versus the Broncos (per–subscription required).

The secondary in Detroit is vulnerable if the Patriots give Brady enough time to scan the field and step into his throws. The best passing attack faced by the Lions this season has been Drew Brees and New Orleans in week seven (Green Bay was still dysfunctional in week three). Brees attacked that same intermediate middle of the field to the tune of seven of nine passing for 135 yards against the Lions. For the day Brees finished 28 of 45 for 342 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. The Saints led 23 to 10 in the fourth quarter on the road before a 73-yard pass to Golden Tate, a timely interception by Glover Quin, and a late strike to Corey Fuller pulled off an improbable win for the Lions.

Expect the Patriots to continue their spread formation with Gronkowski tight to the line, Edelman and Amendola lining up all over the formation and LaFell split wide. With Vereen at running back the majority of the time, the Patriots will force the Lions out of their preferred defensive sets and forcing their linebackers to the sidelines (other than DeAndre Levy who does not leave the field) and force the Lions to lean on weaker players in secondary such as back-up cornerbacks Cassius Vaughn and Mohammed Seisay and force safeties Glover Quin and James Ihedigbo into coverage more than they would want to be.



Oct 26, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots fans celebrate from the stands during the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bears at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots won 51-23. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Just like last week (having picked the Patriots to win 38 to 27 over the Colts) this should be another game that the score is a little higher than predicted by most. The Patriots will have too much on offense for the Lions secondary. Look for a usually complementary piece to have a big game on offense for the Patriots (Shane Vereen? Danny Amendola? Tim Wright?) as New England spreads out the Lions defense and attack with a quick-strike four-receiver set. The Lions will find a tough match-up with New England cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Brandon Bolden, Kyle Arrington, and Logan Ryan playing well.

Look for the Patriots to win 31 to 17 over the Lions on Sunday.