The New England Patriots suffered a serious loss to the Detroit Lions on prime time Sunday Night Football on NBC. A humiliating 26-10 loss to an 0-2 team can rock an organization, especially when the opposing team is headed by a former employee. While the loss may have been extremely humbling, there were several positives to take away from the contest. Let’s dive into a few of these plays.
Play One: 2nd Quarter, 3:16
Patriots Ball. 2nd and 10 from the New England 36. Lions lead 13-0
It took a while for the Patriots offense to even begin moving the football. They opened up the game with three consecutive three-and-outs before managing a field goal drive down the field to end the first half. The fifth play of the field goal drive, New England fresh off of their first 1st down of the game, the Patriots lined up in an unbalanced line to the left of the formation.
An unbalanced line is a challenge to a defense if they are lining up in a zone defense. It puts the majority of the play-makers on one side of the field, forcing the defense to pick and choose who to cover. On this play, running back James White is lined up at the top of the screen, Chris Hogan is in the slot, while Rob Gronkowski is lined up in the H-Back spot. Rex Burkhead is to the left of Brady. Tight end Dwayne Allen is anchored on the right side of the line.
White is going to run a “clear-out” go route down the field, taking the immediate attention of the safety, who is not pictured. Hogan runs a stick route, where he settles into the zones underneath or in between the linebackers. Gronk runs a deep out and attacks the cornerback playing low, in this case that would be Quandre Diggs. Because Diggs expects Burkhead to swing out of the backfield, he is going to leave both White and Gronk to the safeties, thinking the help on the back end will cover them.
Brady to Gronk 15 yards pic.twitter.com/sBdeuWWJCc
— New Account (@ftbeard_17) September 24, 2018
The cornerback did exactly what Belichick wanted him to. He waited for Burkhead to leak out of the backfield. Instead, Tom Brady had all day to let the play develop and Gronk was wide open for 15 yards. The safety wasn’t in position to cut off his route because of the deep go that White ran down the sideline.
The bright spots here: Brady had all day to throw on this play, and for the most part of this game. When Gronk isn’t bodied relentlessly, he reminds us why he is the best tight end in football. He finds those spots in between the zones and is a tough man to bring down in the secondary.
Play Two: 3rd Quarter, 13:34
Patriots Ball. 1st and 10 from the New England 48. Lions lead 13-3.
New England took the field for the first time in the second half after forcing the Lions offense into a turnover, a horrible interception by Matthew Stafford. I know that Sony Michel has taken some heat in the Boston media for not producing early, but this play should make you feel a little bit better about him.
This is a simple toss play. It’s designed to get a running back into space and pick his way for a few extra yards. The edge is sealed by the receivers (Cordarelle Patterson and Gronk) and then the left guard pulls to the outside and becomes the lead blocker for the running back. Nothing extravagant.
This is where Michel makes his money. From what we know of his days splitting time in the Georgia backfield with Nick Chubb, Michel is electric in space.
Michel had space, and he managed to pick his way through the Lions defenders for 12 yards. This is what Sony Michel normally looks like on the field. His main issue so far has been that he missed the entire preseason due to an injury, and the first game of the season. He’s being asked to be the focal point of the running game in just his second game of NFL action and out of mid-season form.
He’s explosive and electric in space. You can only image what he will look like as the season progresses.
Play Three: 3rd Quarter, 10:10
Patriots Ball. 3rd and 8 from the Detroit 10. Lions lead 13-3.
Later that drive, the Patriots find themselves in a third and medium inside the red zone. Down by 10, they need at least a first down. The Patriots are going to go to that overload to the left side of the field again, only this time Gronk and White both line up to the right. The Lions are showing a simple cover two, meaning that the safeties are defending halves of the end zone.
Gronk is double covered here. The Lion’s best cornerback, Darius Slay, is the man up on Gronk with the red line. The safety, a former Patriot himself, Tavon Wilson, anticipates Gronk going to the end zone. He is the other coverage, represented by the yellow line. James White ends up getting covered by the nickelback, Quandre Diggs.
White made a nice double move and gained a step on Diggs. Because Gronk was indeed going for the end zone, there wasn’t a safety to help Diggs on the back-end to cut off the route. All Brady had to do was lay the pass nicely in the breadbasket of White, which he delivered perfectly. It’s a touchdown every time.
Gronk can be such a valuable decoy. Teams know how critical he can be in the red zone and will put too much effort to cover him up and not allow the play to go anywhere near him. Players like White, Michel, Hogan and Julian Edelman (when he returns from his four game PED suspension) can seriously capitalize off of the attention put on Gronk.
Other Notes: Brady, Edelman, and Gronk
Brady still has a cannon
Tom Brady has withstood Father Time better than any quarterback in modern NFL history. Now at 41 years old, he looks like he has another good year left in him, possibly even two. Brady let this bomb go deep in the fourth quarter. Even though it was incomplete, it shows off what kind of Cannon he still has.
The offense without Julian Edelman
This offense is truly struggling without Julian Edelman. The receivers can’t seem to get open, and although the offensive line can give Tom Brady all day to make a throw, the receivers can’t get in space for him to pull the trigger. Teams right now can afford to body up Rob Gronkowski, because they don’t have much else of a downfield threat. I’m warning you, this offense is going to look completely different once Edelman gets back.
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) September 24, 2018
Shutting down Gronk
The NBC crew did a great job showing this on their broadcast of the game. The Lions double covered Rob Gronkowski for almost the entire game. The worst part is that the rest of Brady’s receiving options couldn’t get open even with the attention taken away from them.
Lions weren’t gonna let Gronk beat ’em. Doubled him like they were blocking for a punt returner 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/TLSoRoTC6A
— New Account (@ftbeard_17) September 24, 2018
To summarize, the Lions simply out-coached the Patriots. Despite knowing this, we all know how Bill Belichick is. He is going to come back in full force next week, and game plan something great for their upcoming match-up next week on the road against the 3-0 Miami Dolphins. It’s early in the season, and we see this every year. They’ll be in mid-season form soon enough.