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Some quick-hit thoughts on the Patriots’ prime time tilt against the Lions

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

The broadcast operations and graphics departments of NBC’s Sunday Football certainly have their work cut out for them this week. The amount of narratives and angles littering their office white boards that must be crammed into dozens of statistical overlays and inter-play multimedia segments by Sunday must be staggering.

However, having already reached a full Belichick vs. Patricia saturation level, here are a few points of interest as Sunday Night’s contest approaches.

The Patriots at Ford Field: 2-1

The Patriots have made two regular season trips to Detroit’s Ford Field since it opened its doors in 2002. The first was an uninspiring 20-12 road victory over the Marty Mornhinweg-led Lions in November of the stadium’s inaugural season in which Tom Brady did not throw a touchdown and was intercepted by in the red zone by rookie cornerback Chris Cash. Fortunately for New England, rookie quarterback Joey Harrington was tremendously on-brand; throwing zero touchdowns while tripling Brady’s interception total.

The Patriots’ last regular season trip to Detroit was a wild Thanksgiving affair in 2010. With six minutes left in the second quarter, a Maurice Morris touchdown gave the Lions an 11-point lead. From then on, Tom Brady began carving up Detroit’s defense like *Thanksgiving pun redacted*. Wes Welker and Deion Branch each hauled in a pair of touchdowns, rookie tight end Rob Gronkowski caught five balls for 65 yards, and newly-signed veteran kicker Shayne Graham — brought in following the demise of Stephen Gostkowski’s 56-game start streak due to a season-ending torn quad the week prior — was perfect on one field goal and six extra point attempts. When the dust settled, the Patriots left town with a 45-24 win.

The Patriots were handed their first “L” at Ford Field last summer in week three of the preseason. While the “dress rehearsal” began smoothly, Julian Edelman’s ACL tear quickly put a damper on things. While the Patriots still came out on top in the box score (30-28), losing a starting wideout for the year in a preseason contest can never be categorized as anything other than a loss.

A trio of concussions

Each defense experienced key personnel losses via concussion in week two. For New England, top edge defender Trey Flowers and safety Patrick Chung have been held out for practice this week, meaning the NFL regular season debuts of Derek Rivers and perhaps even JC Jackson could take place on Sunday evening.

In Detroit, lock down cornerback Darius Slay has also been held out of practice while in the NFL’s concussion protocol. The team may have tipped their hand in regards to their feelings about Slay’s status for Sunday’s game by re-signing cornerback DeShawn Shead.

The 6’2”, 215-pound Shead — a physical press corner who gained prominence in Seattle — signed a one-year deal with Detroit this offseason that guaranteed him $1.6 million and was worth up to $6.5 million. Surprisingly, the Lions cut him before week one. While his return could strictly be considered Slay-related, it could also speak volumes about the organization’s thoughts on 2017 second round pick Teez Tabor, who earned the first start of his NFL career last weekend in San Francisco, but was benched for a large portion of the contest for miscommunication issues.

3rd down and wrong

Sunday’s game features a match up of two who units who simply aren’t getting the job done on third down.

According to Pride of Detroit’s Jeremy Reisman, The Lions’ offense ranks 22nd in third down conversion percentage (34.5%) despite ranking 14th in yards-to-go on third down (6.83). In fact, through two games, the Lions are actually converting at a higher clip on third down and 15+ yards to go (2/5) than they are on third down and between 4-10 yards to go (5/13).

On the flip side, the Patriots’ defense, in its typical bend-but-don’t-break fashion, have allowed a less-than-stellar 48% of third downs to be converted against them. That’s good for 28th in the league.

A case for the ground game

The Lions’ front seven has been porous — to say the least — as they’ve yielded 359 yards and three touchdowns on the ground to the Jets and 49ers through the season’s first two weeks.

Former Patriot Ricky Jean Francois, who won a starting gig over former second round pick A’Shawn Robinson this summer, has struggled mightily to hold up at the point of attack — as has fellow free agent acquisition Sylvester Williams. According to Jeremy Reisman, the unit hasn’t been able to set the edge with any kind of consistency, and while rookie five-tech D’Shawn Hand has been a bright spot so far, teams have quickly adjusted and attacked other areas of the defensive line.

Couple these factors with a linebacking core that hasn’t been able to shed blocks with regularity, and the stage is set for a flurry of heavy-personnel package deployment from the Patriots offense on Sunday evening. Look for Josh McDaniels to get Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel into a rhythm early and often.


Lil Jon will be performing at half time.

That is all.

Follow Brian Phillips on Twitter @BPhillips_SB