Going to battle in opposition to the NFL’s top-ranked scoring offense with a fourth-round rookie quarterback would usually spell sure doom on Sunday.
And but every single day forward of this weekend’s kickoff with the league-leading Lions, the Patriots have been slated as dwelling favorites. Why?
Because Detroit, whereas proficient and threatening and unusually succesful this season, additionally owns the NFL’s worst protection. The Lions rank useless final by factors allowed, Football Outsiders’ opponent-and-situation-adjusted metric DVOA, and backside 5 at Pro Football Focus. Opponents have run and handed on them with little resistance.
So sure, even Bailey Zappe or a hobbled model of Mac Jones can reverse course on a 1-3 season by going by way of Detroit on Sunday.
1. Pound the rock outdoors
The Patriots’ operating sport took the gloves off final week, pounding out 167 dashing yards and the offense’s first back-to-back landing drives of the season at Green Bay. Damien Harris and Co. shouldn’t put the gloves again on now.
The Lions are permitting 5.6 yards per carry, worst of any protection within the NFL. Half of their eight highest-graded run defenders at Pro Football Focus are defensive backs. Their high defensive linemen are all pass-first gamers: Charles Harris, Aidan Hutchinson and Julian Okwara.
Meanwhile, the Patriots personal the league’s No. 1 dashing assault by DVOA. They’ve thrived by attacking off-tackle, precisely the place the Lions are weakest. Look for offensive play-caller Matt Patricia to dial up energy runs, crack tosses and outdoors zone hand-offs, then counters off of these to punish an typically over-pursuing protection. Linebackers Alex Anzalone and Malcolm Rodriguez have already mixed to overlook 19 tackles this season.
2. Ramp up play-action
Eventually, the Patriots will face apparent passing downs in opposition to Detroit, occasions when they may possible use screens or easy ideas to guard their quarterback.
But the thing Sunday needs to be to eradicate as a lot of these third-and-medium or third-and-long eventualities as doable. So, move earlier than you should.
Last week, all of Zappe’s greatest throws got here off play-action, together with his 25-yard landing to DeVante Parker and a 21-yarder to Nelson Agholor. Overall, the Patriots are averaging 4 extra passing yards per try off of play-action than customary dropbacks. The menace of a run pretend ought to have even better energy over a protection like Detroit’s, which is aware of the Pats will probably be coming for its deadly flaw.
So round a gradual weight loss program of handoffs to Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson, throw in just a few fakes to assist Zappe out, too.
3. Identify the blitz
If the Lions one way or the other strike first on protection with a sack or turnover, you’ll be able to guess will probably be on a blitz.
Through Week 4, Detroit owns the third-highest blitz charge within the league at 37.6%. The Lions routinely roll the cube and put beginning cornerbacks Jeff Okudah and Amani Oruwariye on islands. Their guess is the move rush will get dwelling earlier than both nook is uncovered downfield by a foul matchup.
If they don’t assault outdoors, the Patriots ought to have favorable 1-on-1 matchups to hunt within the slot or at tight finish. The key will probably be figuring out the place the blitz is coming from pre-snap, to allow them to dam it up and ultimately get the ball out earlier than it’s too late.
“We’ve gotta make sure me and (Zappe) are on the same page, seeing it the same way,” Pats heart David Andrews mentioned this week. “(Detroit’s) kind of a spin-the-wheel blitz team, too. Kind of everyone’s coming.”
“Very aggressive team. A lot of pressure. It’s probably as much or in the ballpark as Miami from a percentage standpoint. They bring a lot of people,” Bill Belichick mentioned. “Secondary players, linebackers, and things like that. They’re fast. They pursue well. Good, aggressive football team.”