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Patriots vs. Lions: Fan Notes from the Preseason

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Notes, musings, and observations from Week 3 of the preseason.

NFL: New England Patriots at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots looked both amazing and terrible in last night’s preseason matchup against the Detroit Lions. Some players made a strong case for their place on the team, and some players really didn’t do themselves any favors. In a game that saw the starters play for most of the 1st half, the offense looked unstoppable and the defense looked stout. It all kind of fell apart as the night wore on...but isn’t that how Friday nights are supposed to go?

  • I’m convinced that there is inherent value to playing the starters for the bulk of the game during the third week of the preseason - far more valuable than weeks one, two, or four. It isn’t some unwritten rule or expectation or anything like that, otherwise there is zero chance that Belichick would do it. You figure it’s far enough away from the regular season so that coaches still have time to adjust and coach up their starters, plus they can nurse any injuries they may have. It’s also close enough to the season so that coaches can make sure some guys are where they need to be.
  • That I just wrote seven lines on a meaningless game I stayed in on a Friday night to watch tells you everything you’ll ever need to know about me.
  • Even the announcers admitted that this game meant more to the Lions than the Patriots. Again, I’m all for intensity during the preseason and will never make fun of it. That said, I understand the people who do.
  • How about the Patriots opening up the game in hurry-up and no-huddle?
  • And how about Julian Edelman going down with a non-contact knee injury and pointing right to the spot where his ACL is? Crap.
  • Edelman was carted to the locker room right after that injury. Of course, my first thought wasn’t, “man, I hope he’s OK - I’m concerned about his health.” It was “man, I hope he’s OK - he helps the Patriots win games.” I’m a terrible person.
  • “You know that was the time I was most frightened, waiting for my turn? I'll never put on a life jacket again." Take away the life jacket part, and that was me after the Edelman injury. It’s stupid to feel this way, but I think that preseason injuries are way worse than regular season injuries. It’s ultimately just as much of a crapshoot no matter what game you’re playing, but I don’t know...if a guy is going to go down, you kind of want him to go down gaining some yards that matter.
  • That first drive was an absolute offensive clinic. Tommy B had a clean pocket the entire time, the receivers were running middle option routes, and I don’t think they even needed a third down to get to six.
  • I also didn’t have any chance to take a look at the defensive starters - they generated a turnover too quickly.
  • They also scored too quickly for me to realize what the hell just happened. Basically, from the Edelman injury on I had absolutely no clue what was happening.
  • What a catch by Hogan though on that second TD. I have absolutely no clue how he came down with that.
  • Some of you may remember a 2013 preseason game against the Lions where Detroit absolutely blew the Patriots out. It was a shellacking of a lifetime. Jim Schwarts harnessed his inner Pete Carroll and celebrated every single play like he made it himself. It was rough. Apparently Bill Belichick remembers as well, because the Patriots really went for the throat in this game. Detroit didn’t do themselves any favors with poor angles, weak tackling, and silly penalties...but man. If you’re using this game as a barometer for your own team by bringing it against the defending champs
  • Right after a big gain to Danny Amendola to pick up a first down, the Patriots went no-huddle and ran the ball right away. The back juked right, weaved up the middle, juked again, and picked up six yards. I thought it was Dion Lewis - but it was James White. I don’t want to project that one play onto the rest of the year, but those were moves that White just plain didn’t have in the run game last year.
  • I felt kind of bad for Chris Speilman and Matt Shepard, the announcing crew for Lions preseason games. They were both so excited at the beginning of the game in their analysis of how tough the Lions have looked thus far, and before the first ten minutes of the first quarter, they were literally yelling into the microphones like two guys at a drive-thru trying to order a Big Mac into a shoddy speaker.
  • For all his extra point shankiness, Ghost was on point with his kickoffs; every one seemed to land inside the two yard line. It certainly helped that he got the opportunity to kick off every three minutes or so.
  • Interesting to see Jordan Richards playing with the ones. Not only that, interesting to see Jordan Richards playing with the ones and having a solid night.
  • Of course, Richards was out there with the twos and threes as the game wore on, so who knows.
  • Sweet Tebow, Jim Caldwell, move. Blink. Speak. Do anything one time.
  • Lots of vanilla pass rush...but there was a pass rush. Straight push moves from the front four with the occasional linebacker stunt blitz. Overall, much better than what we saw against Houston.
  • The level of surprise and dismay that came out of Chris Speilman and Matt Shaepard team every time they saw Tommy B come back out for another series was hysterical. They were two kids in high school who hadn’t done the homework, but the teacher hadn’t asked to collect it yet and all they could do was keep looking at the clock willing the bell to ring.
  • What I liked about what I saw from Mike Gillislee: lowered the shoulder at the point of contact, good ball protection, solid jump cut, seemed to understand his blocking assignments.
  • What I didn’t like about what I saw from Mike Gillislee: got overpowered several times by linemen, missed a few holes, what should have been three yard gains became one yard gains.
  • How crazy is it that I had completely forgotten that Gronk was playing in this game until midway through the second quarter when he registered his first catch.
  • There was a a relative lack of replays in last night’s game, which was annoying for a guy who is analyzing a game with zero intention of watching it more than once.
  • One area where the Patriots excelled last season was chasing down the QB and completing the sack on broken plays. I’m sure we all have nightmares about past seasons where quarterbacks ran around in the backfield like Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl as Patriots players dove at his feet repeatedly and missed before connecting deep downfield. There were a few times last night where Stafford was scrambling and looking for a man to get open and the Patriots couldn’t bring him down.
  • My favorite play of the day was a 3rd and 1 following the Eric Rowe interception late in the 2nd half. The Patriots came out in a jumbo package, and Detroit matched. They telegraphed a run to the right side with Allen on the strong side - and they picked up four yards on a Gillislee run. That’s exactly the kind of play Gillislee was brought in to make.
  • On the ensuing play, however...a real miscommunication between Tommy B and Chris Hogan. Brady seemed to think he was posting to the deep corner, and Hogan cut in. He was double covered regardless, so not the best decision...but still. Those are the things that still need to be fine tuned.
  • Also - why wasn’t Cooks the man on that route? DAMMIT I WANT DEEP BALLS!!
  • Not the best night for David Harris, especially as a coverage linebacker. He got caught sleeping on a couple of backfield adjustments and left the middle zones open on a few occasions.
  • Detroit’s best drive of the game came after the Brady pick - 80 yards on just six plays, ending in a 23 yard TD pass to Marvin Jones over Malcolm Butler where Butler hesitated at the line and didn’t have the closing speed he needed to have. On much of that drive, Detroit exploited the edges of the field while showing run to keep the linebackers honest.
  • For the most part, twos were all in on both sides when the 2nd half kicked off, which allowed Harvey Langi and Trevor Bates some reps. The results? Something of a mixed bag:
  • Langi actually looked really good at that right edge position. He played mostly as a standup edge rusher who dropped back on occasion. His angles were solid, and he had a few great stunts to the interior to generate pressure. The major, major problem, however, is that he got consistently overpowered by larger linemen and couldn’t shed his blocks due to his size. If your size prevents you from really making an impact, then there isn’t really a non-long term fix for that.
  • Bates had something of an off night. He was slow to react and missed a few tackles. Missed tackles has been something of a theme for the Patriots this preseason, and I feel like at this point it’s just something that will have to improve as the season goes on.
  • Watching a Tom Brady-led screen develop vs. watching a Jimmy Garoppolo-led screen develop is kind of like watching 90s Gary Busey and then watching 2000s Gary Busey.
  • Man, talk about a tale of two halves. If the NFL was a league of “my backups can beat your backups,” it would appear that the Lions would be a dynasty.
  • New England’s 2nd half offense summed up: DJ Foster run, DJ Foster run, incompletion, punt.
  • New England’s 2nd half defense: 3 yard run stop, delayed blitz up the middle, Rudolph rolls to his left, hits a receiver for a completion, Lions score.
  • My boy DJ Killings had a rough night. As the Lions passed and scored at will, he always seemed to be one step behind the ball.
  • Things I liked about the 2nd half? Lawrence Guy. Stuck his blocks, wasn’t pushed around, and dictated the direction of the RB.
  • Also liked Ryan Allen. Boomed a few punts downfield and had good out of bounds direction.
  • Other than that....yeah. It’s almost as if the Patriots played so well early that they decided that they were good for the week and completely mailed it in after that.
  • And if they’re going to mail it in...so am I.

The only thing that really matters right now is Julian Edelman and his knee. I’ve heard everything from doctors saying it was definitely an ACL to doctors saying he wouldn’t have had his knee bent on the cart if it was an ACL so was most likely a sprain. We likely won’t know for a while...but until we get news one way or another, I can’t imagine anything else I write is going to have much impact.