Not many Lions fans had much expectation going against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Matt Patricia and the Detroit Lions surprised the NFL with their stellar performance on primetime, Sunday night football. Though New England was not at their strongest with no Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, some injuries on defense and Patricia knowing the ins-and-outs of the weaknesses of the Patriots’ defense, it was still a significant win for Detroit.
The question that remains is: can Detroit consistently play at the level they did Sunday night? To get the fan base to buy into their hype, they need two or three more wins like last night to prove they are real contenders for the NFC North.
Detroit was able to control the time of possession. They had the football for almost half the game. It’s hard for Tom Brady and his offense to score if they don’t have the ball. Jim Bob Cooter and his offensive staff had a great game plan to exploit the Patriots defensive scheme.
As long as Matthew Stafford is the quarterback, the Lions’ philosophy offensively will always be a pass-first mentality. What has kept Stafford from getting over the hump to be an elite quarterback is not having a solid run game to balance his arm talent. Last night, the offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage in the run game. LaGarrette Blount and Kerryon Johnson had lanes to run through for most of the night as they collectively had 32 carries, for 159 yards. If Detroit can consistently run the football, their offense can compete with anyone in the league and give the Lions an opportunity to be serious contenders to win the NFC North.
The big boys up front also kept Stafford upright in the pocket like they did in week 2 against the 49ers. On 36 pass attempts, he was sacked only one time. A standing tall, comfortable Stafford in the pocket is tough to tame.
Stafford, besides one post route to Luke Willson that would have been a big play if he had thrown the ball over the top instead of trying to thread the needle and ended up intercepted, showed the accuracy Lions fans were waiting for in 2018. He threw for almost 300 yards, two touchdowns, showed great anticipation and had excellent ball placement all night.
The four-headed monster in Marvin Jones Jr, Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay and Theo Riddick out of the backfield showed to be reliable once again. Each week, any one of these guys can take over a game and wreak havoc on a defense. Collectively, they are arguably the most complete group of skilled positions in the NFL.
Areas to improve offensively
No offense ever has a perfect game. At times, the Lions offensive line struggled with holding penalties against New England. There is no denying there is some type of holding every play in the trenches, but elite offenses keep the penalties to a minimum each week.
Jim Bob Cooter likes to incorporate quick screens that get to edge quickly. Perimeter blocking is crucial to make that happen. The wide receivers inconsistently kept their blocks to allow the screens to spring open. The wide receiver group needs to be more physical on the edge moving forward.
The Lions blanketed the receiving core of New England. The window through which Tom Brady had to throw was very small. Darius Slay was able to showcase why he is the Lions’ number one corner. Brady did not give him a lot of action due to Slay consistently locking down his opposition. And when Brady went to test him, he showed off his soft hands and athleticism with an interception late in the second half.
The Lions controlled the line of scrimmage with their front seven. They kept the Patriots under 100 yards rushing, making the Patriots one dimensional in return. Even the best quarterback of all time needs a run game so a defense can’t pin its ears back and focus mostly on the passing attack.
The front seven was also able to constrict the pocket on Brady, making him unable to step up in the pocket and get more into his throws. The defense overall flew around and rallied to the football really well. They played smart, inspired defense all night.
Areas of improvement on defense
Open field tackling was hit or miss on Sunday night when the ball got outside, specifically coming from the linebacking core. They did not stay on the back hip of the ball carriers, allowing them to cut back inside and get more yards. 2nd and 8 is a lot better than 2nd and 6 because of a missed tackle.
It is important to constrict the pocket on quarterbacks to make it tougher for them to throw. The Lions did that well. However, to go from an average defense to a good defense, a pass rush must be a part of that formula long term. More consistency on edge rushes need to happen to put the defense over the top, especially with Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers on their schedule twice.
Featured image courtesy of Sports Chat Place
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