NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
In an embarrassing 40-9 loss at the Detroit Lions last night, the New England Patriots, who had previously impressed over their first two preseason outings, provided cause for concern, failing to protect the football and being dominated in the trenches by Detroit’s fearsome defensive line. Read on for five takeaways from last night’s troubling loss.
1. Surprising amount of turnovers the main factor in blowout loss
Typically a team which consistently dominates the turnover differential, New England played an uncharacteristic game this week offensively, crippling their chances via a series of costly turnovers, beginning with Zach Sudfeld’s first-quarter fumble on a play which otherwise would have brought New England within Detroit’s ten-yard line, poised to take an early lead. Brandon Bolden’s fumble two drives later did not directly lead to any additional points for the Lions, but did pin New England deep within its own territory on a drive which culminated in a Tom Brady interception, Chris Houston coming away with a pass intended for second-round pick Aaron Dobson. That turnover gave Detroit excellent field position on a drive which resulted in another field goal. Shane Vereen’s fumble on the next drive allowed the Lions to score another field goal after starting on New England’s seven-yard line. Although Detroit incredibly managed just nine points off of those four turnovers, three of which began Lions drives in New England’s territory, the Patriots still wasted numerous opportunities to score points of their own.
2. Both interior and outside pressure disrupt Patriots’ passing attack
Tom Brady was sacked on two separate occasions by defensive end Jason Jones, both of which effectively ended Patriots drives. The first caused a nine-yard loss which set up third-and-fifteen on New England’s own eight-yard line, forcing a theoretically conservative rushing attempt by Shane Vereen which in practice resulted in a costly fumble. Brady was sacked by Jones again late in the second quarter, causing a second-and-twenty which proved just barely insurmountable for the Patriots’ offense, the drive ending on a fourth-and-one punt by Zoltan Mesko. However, those are just two examples of the impact Detroit’s pass rush had on New England’s productivity, which was particularly curtailed by interior pressure created by standout defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh. To say the least, starting right guard Will Svitek, who turned in two encouraging performances at the beginning of preseason, failed to distance himself from Dan Connolly and Marcus Cannon and appears to be on track for a swing reserve role with the organization moving forwards.
3. Rushing attack uncharacteristically impotent against a stout defensive front
One of the factors which was most conducive to Detroit’s victory was their defensive front’s ability to smother any of New England’s attempts to build a reliable rushing attack, with Patriots runners gaining over ten yards on just two separate occasions, a seventeen-yard carry by LeGarrette Blount once the game was, for all intents and purposes, out of reach, and a twelve-yard scramble by lead-footed quarterback Ryan Mallett, in what could not be considered indicative of future production. The Patriots opted not to abandon the run game even when trailing, ultimately carrying the ball on twenty-nine occasions but gaining just sixty-eight yards on those attempts for a pitiful 2.3 yards-per-attempt. Seven of those attempts resulted in a loss of yards, and both Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen committed turnovers. Starting running back Stevan Ridley contributed just six yards on nine attempts. New England’s offensive line appeared overmatched in the run game, just as they did in pass protection, but stubborn, uncreative playcalling is also partly to blame.
4. Defense a bright spot for limiting Detroit’s early scoring despite excellent field position
One of the bright spots of the game, perhaps paradoxically in light of Detroit’s high scoring, was New England’s starting defense, which repeatedly kept the game within reach even as the Patriots’ offense failed to bring the game closer. Detroit’s offensive production on their first drive was somewhat skewed via a short pass from Matthew Stafford to Reggie Bush which wound up as a sixty-seven-yard gain in what was otherwise a nondescript drive by the Lions, their other eight plays on the drive (not including David Akers’ 23-yard field goal) combining to gain twenty-eight yards. Even after Jason Jones recovered a Brandon Bolden fumble on New England’s eight-yard line, the Patriots held Detroit’s offense to just thirteen yards on a drive which resulted in no points. New England, defending from their own seven-yard line following a Shane Vereen fumble, caused the Lions to lose another six yards on the following drive and limiting the damage to a field goal. Ultimately, six of Detroit’s drives during the first half failed to result in a first-down.
5. With strong performances, Thompkins, Dobson appear to have secured substantial offensive roles
With Danny Amendola sidelined in what appears to be a precautionary measure but which is nonetheless troubling given his history of injuries, an opportunity was created for an escalation in production from New England’s rookie options at the position, more specifically wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, and Josh Boyce. Those options did not disappoint, providing a combined 184 receiving yards through the air, with Thompkins posting an 8-116-0 line, Dobson contributing 4-50-0, and Boyce adding two catches for eighteen yards. Only four passes intended for Thompkins fell incomplete (two each from Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett), while targeting Dobson resulted in Brady’s interception but otherwise just two incompletions. With three of Boyce’s targets falling incomplete and his overall production lagging behind Thompkins and Dobson, as of now, New England’s wide receiver battle appears to have reached its preseason conclusion, with Amendola, Thompkins, and Dobson emerging as the Patriots’ top three options.