Questions facing the Patriots heading into week five

Oct 2, 2022; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; New England Patriots running back Damien Harris (37) celebrates with quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) after scoring a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 2, 2022; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; New England Patriots running back Damien Harris (37) celebrates with quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) after scoring a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

The Patriots head into week five against a high-powered offensive juggernaut in the Detroit Lions this week in what is a must-win game for New England.

The start of the 2022 season hasn’t been an easy one and more bumps in the road appear as both Mac Jones and Brian Hoyer remain injured. Facing an easier schedule over the next several weeks, the Patriots will need to take advantage of these stretch of games and get back above .500 to compete with the rest of the AFC.

With their matchup against the Lions just days away, there are a few questions that will need answering before (and during) the game.

With Brian Hoyer placed on IR and Mac Jones appearing at practice with a noticeable limp, how will Bailey Zappe help the Patriots win?

After an impressive performance under the circumstances in his NFL debut last week, Bailey Zappe is poised for his second start this upcoming week.

Facing a much weaker defense this week than previously in Green Bay, Zappe could be given more opportunities to throw downfield and gain big yardage. Throwing for 5,967 yards and 62 touchdowns while also accumulating a 69% completion during his last year in college, it’s clear he has a strong arm and can make the impressive plays needed to win a game.

It would be nice to see the passing game involved more in the game plan this week, as they had much more time to prepare knowing that Zappe was likely going to be getting the start. Exploiting Detroit’s poor run defense will of course be at the top of the priority list, but it’s clear (although sometimes erratic), Zappe’s passing can be a threat the Patriots should use to their advantage.

Will Marcus Cannon start at right tackle in place of Isaiah Wynn?

The Patriots offensive line has had its fair share of troubles this season, stemming from a brutal showing throughout preseason games. Since their poor performance against the Dolphins in week one, the line has made a massive improvement in protecting their quarterback and creating holes for the running backs to move through.

But one part of the line has continued to be an issue despite their improvements. Isaiah Wynn has consistently been a problem in not only protection but also accruing penalties. In just four games, Wynn has been penalized six times for holding and false starts, negating several positive yardage plays for an already struggling offense.

His performance last week resulted in his benching and Marcus Cannon replacing him for much of the game. Now that Cannon has been signed to the 53-man roster, it wouldn’t be at all shocking if Wynn gets less playing time going forward.

Since his move from left tackle to the right side, Wynn has struggled to acclimate to the change. With Cannon back on the team and performing as if he had never left New England, it would be a wise choice to keep Wynn off the field unless he manages to make a complete turnaround, especially as they are down to their third-string quarterback.

Can the Patriots’ defense stop the top-scoring offense of the Lions?

Despite both teams entering the game with a record of 1-3, the Lions have continuously put defenses to the test as the top-scoring offense in the league. Through the first four games, Detroit is averaging 36 points per game, while the Patriots sit at just half that averaging a mere18.

Jared Goff has had quite the bounce-back season thus far, with the help of a much-improved team. From a young offensive line and explosive receivers like Amon-Ra St. Brown to a consistently effective run game; the effectiveness of their offense makes their record that much more difficult to comprehend. Goff sits in fifth place league-wide for yards with 1,126 yards and tied for first in touchdowns with 11.

As great as all that information is, and it’s silly to not acknowledge the utter dominance the offense has shown through four weeks, Goff is yet to face a tough defense. One of the biggest reasons the Lions have had the chance to run up the score is because of the lack of commanding defenses they’ve faced.

The Patriots’ defense will need to come out aggressive from the start of the game, making Goff and his receivers uncomfortable with their pressure. They’ll also need to make a quick turnaround in defending the run. It has been a weak spot on the team for a few years, but throughout the last six quarters of gameplay, the defense has allowed a lot of yards on the ground.

If they can take away their passing game, great. But leaving the Lions open to dominate on the ground is a surefire way for the Patriots to lose another winnable game.

Can the Patriots’ defense step it up and take down the top offense? And can Goff overcome the difficulties of facing an aggressive defense?

Will Jakobi Meyers and/or Lawrence Guy return from injury?

The 2021 leading receiver for the Patriots returned to practice on Wednesday and has continued during the week as a limited participant. Assuming Zappe will once again be the quarterback for this game, Meyers’ reliability will be much needed for the rookie on Sunday.  Although other receivers have had stand-out performances in his absence, Meyers’ presence on the field will give Zappe a comfortable option in the passing game.

On the other side of the ball, Lawrence Guy injured his shoulder in last week’s matchup against the Packers and did not return to action for the remainder of the game. Because he has not been a participant in practice this week, it’s appearing the defensive end will likely miss more action.

In his absence, the defensive line has struggled, especially in stopping the run. With the Lions coming off another impressive offensive performance, it’s imperative they dramatically improve their approach in limiting running backs or face the inevitable loss of being run completely over.

Can Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson steer the offense to victory?

As the Patriots’ offense continues navigating through their struggles this season, relying on the run game has been a constant throughout games so far. Fortunately for them, they’re set to face the third-worst run defense in the league, making it fair to assume we will see lots of production from both Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson.

Through the first four games, the Lions are allowing an average of 165 rushing yards per game and are coming off a loss to the Seahawks that totaled 235 rushing yards and three touchdowns. If Matt Patricia is not comfortable with allowing Zappe to throw downfield as it appeared in last week’s game, relying on their running backs could be the key to winning.