“I think we’re talking about something that’s pretty common to when you have to face an opponent, there’s going to be things there that you’re very familiar with”
The Patriots New Nemesis
Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia was quoted as saying this in response to several Jets players “knew what plays were coming”. However, this also applies to the upcoming Sunday Night matchup with his former employer, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. Even with beginning his career as head coach 0-2, he still possesses an undeniable advantage. Patricia has been a benefactor of seeing Tom Brady every day in practice for 14 seasons. The last six was in his capacity as defensive coordinator and crafting the plays and philosophy charged with stopping him. In case you haven’t heard, #12 is pretty good.
So, will Matty P enjoy success and give his new team in the Motor City a puncher’s chance to win? All depends on his defense. Having the bend, but don’t break schooling drill into him can have its advantages. With him manning the controls, the former aeronautical engineering can apply every complex algorithm that he can muster. He will have to.
A Team with Nothing to Lose
The Lions are entering crisis mode. Injuries to two of the most talented players on the defense will limit their impact. Darius Slay (concussion) and Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder) will either be out or severely curtailed in effectiveness. This is today’s NFL and getting to the quarterback and covering his favorite target are premium positions. Will he be able to hold Brady enough to give his own gunslinger in Matthew Stafford a chance to score some points? He’s gonna have to get weird.
The Patriots can be stumped by unique and unusual formations. The Wildcat offense allowed the late Tony Sparano to eek out a win in 2008. Rex Ryan often deployed a new defensive wrinkle in order to even the odds. Sometimes they worked and sometimes they don’t.
In order to roll the dice and come away with the win, Patricia is going to have to gamble. Disguising pressure with pre-snap movements will be the order of the day. A phrase that has often been heard in New England is “manufacturing” the pressure. Stunts and exotic rush combinations can confuse an offensive line group and make Brady feel uncomfortable in the pocket. This can be done without exposing defensive backs to big plays and reducing coverages. Overloads on one side of the line can saturate the blockers without blitzing. And finally, delayed blitzes can allow someone who was not initially on Brady’s radar as a rusher to suddenly appear and force him into sub-par throws. I expect Patricia to explore any and all of these in the desperate attempt to get hands on Brady before he throws.
Could we see some strange and unusual personnel groupings? Two down linemen, two or even one linebackers and the remainder defensive backs? He could just flood the field and play the hand on the run and see what happens. Patricia could go the other route and blitz five, six or even seven players. The hope that one of them could get home before Brady can find the open man throw an on-target pass. Double-teaming Rob Gronkowski, especially in the end zone has proven to be effective for stretches. This would work particularly well as the Patriots are still sorting out the pecking order and effectiveness of its wide receivers.
The Counter Plan
All of these thoughts and ideas carry their own risks and rewards. The Lions are around a single touchdown underdog with what should be a high octane offense playing against an underperforming defense. I could see this as a signature game for Matt Patricia the head coach as he plays his “Super Bowl” against this old boss. A win, or an unveiling of a new defense that can flummox two Hall of Famers, will go a long way to quieting the Lions fans. You can bet that he is spending extra hours watching film, eating his meals at his desk and scribbling with his signature #2 pencil. Doing the same this week will serve the Patriots well.
All photos courtesy of Getty images unless noted otherwise.
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