It will be an old school football game on the Gillette Stadium turf Sunday afternoon. Not only will the New England Patriots will be rocking their Pat the Patriot throwback uniforms, but the Patriots vs. Detroit Lions contest features two of the top rushing attacks in football.
No matter who is at quarterback for the Patriots, they will certainly continue to look to pound the football multiple ways. Through the first month of the season, the Patriots boast the league’s top rushing attack in terms of DVOA. They’ll now face-off against a Detroit defense that has given up the third most rushing yards in the league and ranks last in defensive rush DVOA.
As for the Lions, finding success against the Patriots on the ground may not be a surprise either. New England’s run defense — which ranks 31st in defensive rush DVOA — has been poor the last two weeks (perhaps a cause of facing Lamar Jackson and Aaron Jones), and could be without defensive lineman Lawerence Guy for a second straight week. Without Guy, room could be available on the ground for Detroit’s downhill rushing attack.
With that, let’s empty out the #PostPulpit mailbag.
@RobCoe24 How likely do we think it is that Jack Jones ends up starting by the end of the season? Also, do we think Marcus Jones ends up making his way onto the field on Defense by seasons end?
One of the biggest developments from the Week 4 game against Green Bay was the emergence of rookie cornerback Jack Jones. While Jones flashed his playmaking ability, it wasn't all perfect. His tackling was poor at times and he blew a coverage late in the game that could have resulted in a game-sealing touchdown for Green Bay.
Jack Jones' aggressiveness almost proved costly with 3:50 left in game (top of screen).— Brian Hines (@iambrianhines) October 4, 2022
Luckily Adrian Phillips tossed Aaron Jones to the side to apply pressure on Rodgers. #Patriots pic.twitter.com/fXegxitbjs
Moving forward, New England will continue to count on Jones until Jalen Mills returns from a hamstring injury. That is where things will get interesting.
The Patriots could bump Jonathan Jones back into his natural slot position while manning Jack Jones and Mills on the boundary. This would move Myles Bryant to a roll that may better fit him as a “robber” and depth corner.
However, Jonathan Jones’ play has been so strong to begin the year the Patriots may not want to move him inside. If that’s the case, they could look to move Mills inside (where he played at times in 2020 with the Eagles), or use a rotation amongst their defensive backs. Looking back in 2018, the Patriots rotated their three boundary corners of Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, and Jason McCourty to keep each fresh. If they want to get Jack Jones on the field more, that could be a potential path, then opening the door for Marcus Jones to overtake Myles Bryant in the slot.
@BostonEvan11 What’s the point of signing Collins
The Jamie Collins signing is a direct result of the poor run game the past few weeks. As the Patriots moved towards younger and faster linebackers in the offseason, the result has been a weakened run defense.
Over the last two weeks (which, again, to be fair were against Lamar Jackson and Aaron Jones), Mack Wilson Sr. struggled mightily handling motion on the ground game. In the play below, Wilson follows wide receiver Christian Watson in motion and is late to reach Aaron Jones. The result was a 20-yard rush by Jones and Wilson essentially getting benched afterwards.
With Wilson on the bench, the Pats turned to Jahlani Tavai. Green Bay then attacked the edges with Tavai’s limited athletic ability in the game.
We’d expect Collins to get the call up on Sunday if he’s ready to go. He’ll likely spend most of his time inside to help in the run game.
@BroginiAlessio Without Jonnu Smith, which player Is going to replace his open spot on offense? Thornton or others (Thaddeus Moss did visit the Pats last week) ?
Last week when Smith departed, New England relied on six offensive line packages with Marcus Cannon as a blocking tight end. They found success with that package on the ground, opening more gaps in outside zone schemes. As for Cannon, he looked as strong as he use to on the ground. A similar personnel group could be expected as they will likely look to pound the rock against Detroit.
As you mentioned Thornton, how they will use their rookie when he returns will be interesting. The Patriots already struggle to get receivers like Kendrick Bourne on the field, which makes things even more completed now putting another receiver into the mix.
With Thornton’s return, the use of more 10 personnel (four receivers, one running back) comes to my mind. If the tight ends continue to struggle, they could rotate all five receivers and also use Lil’Jordan Humphrey in that mix as a pseudo tight-end. The Patriots started to spread the field more with Mac Jones in shotgun, so why not lean into it with their bevy of receivers?
(If you really want to get crazy, let’s break out some 00 personnel when Ty Montgomery returns)
@Iterreiro Why the patriots can’t have any success with the TE position, having spent a ton of money? Is it (lack of) talent? Is it scheme? It shouldn’t be talent
As we’ve discussed previously, Hunter Henry just looks like a completely different player this year. While he’s never been known as a run blocker, he’s been a liability in the ground so far this season and has struggled in the passing attack. In Jonnu’s case, his route tree and usage has just been poor since he’s arrived.
To start, I’d look for them to try and hit either of these two up the seams more with their RPO package. They continue to stick the bubble-screen off the RPOs to begin the season and they’ll have to expand the look at sometime. It would be a strong way to increase either of the two’s usage.
@Davidkn70019674 whar are the chances mac plays, and if mac is 80% do you want mac or zappe
I still have a hard time seeing Mac suit up on Sunday. While he’ll certainly give it his all to play, a one game absence just seems to ambitious — especially with the limp he still supports on the practice field. I’d go Zappe and make sure Mac only sees the field when’s he's completely healthy.
@DynastyFBFan In your opinion is the transition to getting more athletic personnel successful? Is BB and staff still at the cutting edge of trends in the NFL or is the game passing them by?
We slightly touched on this above when discussing Jamie Collins. The linebacker position was the biggest overhaul of the offseason, transitioning to younger, faster players like Wilson, Raekwon McMillan, Cameron McGrone, etc. The early results have not been good. While I still favor in stockpiling the best athletes as possible, linebacker is a position where the brain has to be moving as fast as the legs.
As for trends in the NFL, the league is ever so changing. This year, scoring is down as team’s are playing more of the Vic Fangio system (Cover 2, 4, 6) to limit big plays. Teams have countered that by relying on the ground game more frequently to attack lighter boxes, something the Patriots — and Lions — have definitely leaned on.
In more “situational” trends, New England began the year near the bottom of the league in use of motion at the snap. While it’s increased of late, adding more mental stress on the defense with increased motion would be beneficiary.
@lukebrienNFL Only if you ask nicely.
We always ask nicely, Luke.
That’s all for this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag. If you have questions you’d liked to be answered next week, submit them on Twitter using #PostPulpit! Make sure to be following @iambrianhines and @PatsPulpit as well!