Tom Brady and the New England Patriots literally carved up Detroit’s defense. Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions were absolutely shut down by the Patriot’s defense until the end of the first half.
It’s an understatement to say the Lions defense is shorthanded. Season-ending injuries have decimated an already thin defensive line and against the Patriots it is quite possible they have lost OLB Tahir Whitehead for the season with a knee injury. With so many backups playing as starters plus some unseasoned rookies and it wasn’t hard for Tom Brady to work his magic as he led the Patriots to 24 first quarter points.
As for Tahir Whitehead, he’s in the final year of his contract. If he has suffered a season ending injury it is very likely he will be cut and offered an injury settlement. From a cap space perspective, Detroit could save nearly $3.5 million by releasing Whitehead outright, but he will receive a settlement so that figure will come down a little. Even so, saving $2 or $2.5 million would be plenty to sign a veteran DE like 37-year-old Dwight Freeney, who is one year removed from logging eight sacks. That kind of experience and production would serve Detroit well for one season.
New England’s offense
There is more than one reason the Patriots have won five Super Bowls, namely Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. The preseason is not about winning, it’s about evaluating your players and can they execute your offense. The Lions defense didn’t execute against an extremely efficient Patriots offense that did. It was so one-sided that many of the Lions defensive linemen were gasping for breath before the first quarter was over.
But there’s more to the Patriots story. Consider these NFL rankings from the last three Super Bowl years. Scoring Offense: third in 2016, fourth in 2014, and third in 2011. Scoring Defense: first in 2016, eight in 2014, and 15th in 2011. Passing Offense: fourth in 2016, ninth in 2014, and second in 2011. In contrast, the Detroit Lions only cracked the top ten three times, once in 2011 in Scoring Offense, and in 2014 in Scoring Defense and Passing Offense. As much as the Lions GM Bob Quinn has done to improve his roster, he hasn’t had the time or money to bring in 22 new starters.
Matthew Stafford has played the Patriots before and the results were unfortunately much the same as this preseason game. His receivers couldn’t get open and when they did they either didn’t secure the catch or turned the ball over. Before Detroit could run its fifth play on offense, New England had scored three touchdowns. Ouch.
One of the Lions points of emphasis this year has been the running game. Bob Quinn addressed the offensive line and held serve with his stable of running backs. Ameer Abdullah is Detroit’s lead back and he had a respectable 60 yards on 13 carries but much of that came against the Patriots second team defense. Dwayne Washington saw more playing time because Zach Zenner is nursing his own injury. On the whole, Washington had a decent night but as a running back playing primarily against the Patriots backups, he only accounted for 15 yards on seven carries.
Overall the Lions ran for 99 yards but take away backup QB Jake Rudock’s 16-yard scramble and Detroit fell back to its anemic 83 yard total. There’s not much time to fix the running game, if it can be fixed. One quick note – The Lions pass protection has been very good this preseason. New England only sacked Stafford once and he’s only been sacked twice all preseason. Against non-Super Bowl champions the Detroit Lions just could survive until their wounded return.
New England’s defense
In last year’s Super Bowl the Patriots defense was torched for 28 points before the midpoint of the 3rd quarter. Then New England’s defense shut out the Falcons the rest of the way and went on to win an epic Super Bowl 34-28 in OT. As dramatic as that was, the Patriots defense was just as dramatic against the Lions without waiting until the second half. Two turnovers in the first half cost Detroit any chance of being competitive as Belichick’s 2016 number one scoring defense dominated until late in the 2nd quarter.
Detroit’s positives and negatives
On the positive side, the Lions offensive line has been one of the best stories this preseason. Their pass protection has improved night and day from last year. Now, that doesn’t mean Stafford isn’t pressured but having only been sacked twice in three games means the Lions QB can trust his OL to keep him clean. Another bright spot is the depth Bob Quinn has acquired. The Lions backups dominated the Patriots backups.
On the negative side, Detroit can’t afford any more injuries whether they’re in the preseason or the regular season until some of their starters return. There’s a saturation point to the call of “next man up”. With regards to the defensive line, Detroit has reached that point. The preseason ends next Thursday in Buffalo. Fortunately, most of the starters will not play, so, injuries won’t be as much of a concern.
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