Did I change the title because I couldn't think of an appropriate Star Wars based title? Yes.
Am I going to use the excuse of doing it as some kind of superstition so we can defeat the evil Patriot Empire? Maybe.
This week, our 1-3 Lions head to Foxborough to face an old "friend" turned enemy, the bearded apprentice who ran back to his Darth Sideous of a master with his tail between his legs. Yes, it is time for us to stare down Matt Patricia and make him pay for what he did to us by defeating the Belichick Empire. Hell, they'll even be wearing their Sith red throwback unis...
As per usual for our little series, we're gonna take a look at the Patriots roster, see what matchups we can exploit, set out our keys for victory, and make our totally inaccurate yet fun predictions.
New England Patriots
1-3 (W against Steelers/Ls against Dolphins, Ravens, and Packers [OT])
Expected W/L: 1.4-2.6
The Patriots have had a littttttle bit of an injury crisis in their QB room. So instead of facing Mac Jones (who?) (LP-ankle) or Brian Hoyer (IR-concussion), we shall face former Western Kentucky Hilltopper and multiple NCAA record holder Bailey Zappe (who is four months younger than me...). The good news from this: we will be facing a rookie in his first-ever start. The bad news? We have little to no tape to go off, and we all remember what happened the last time we faced a rookie QB making his first-ever career start... In the 43 snaps he's seen so far, Zappe has gone 10 of 15 (67%) for 99 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs, a passer rating of 107.4, and a 15.9 QBR. He's also averaging 6.6 yards an attempt, 4 completed air yards per attempt, and 3.9 yards after the catch per completion. This suggests Zappe is creating the offence rather than the WRs, which is different from the kinds of offences we've faced in the past few weeks. He'll be backed up by Garrett Gilbert, who you might remember from the 2015 preseason.
As for the offensive line in front of him, they've given up a sack on 7% of dropbacks (22nd in the league) and pressure on 15% of dropbacks (3rd in the league). Unfortunately for us, it seems that their interior is especially strong, so any hopes of the line being able to generate pressure up the middle might not be realised until after the bye. What does project well for us pass rush-wise is that when it comes to protecting Zappe in particular, these numbers rise to pressure on 28% of dropbacks (29th in the league) and a sack on 17% (only Fields has a higher percentage). Wynn (LP-hip) also had a rough game last week against Rashan Gary, and this week it is likely he will face Hutch, so maybe this could be a bounce-back game for our second overall pick. In the run game, the line has generated 329 yards before contact, or roughly 3 yards per rush (9th).
After contact, their backs have created a further 1.6 yards after contact per rush (t-21st). Their lead back is Damien Harris, who has toted the ball 53 times for 246 yards (4.6 Y/A), 13 first downs and 3 TDs. He's backed up by Stevenson, who has 43 carries for 211 yards (4.9 Y/A), 14 first downs and 1 TD so far this year. WRs Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne also have 1 carry each on the season for a first down, and 7 and 15 yards respectively. These stats are worrisome, as I am not so sure we will be able to stop the run, especially with the focus on changing up the front seven to generate more pressure in the passing game. Hopefully, we won't sacrifice stopping the run purely to keep Zappe under pressure like we tried to last week by zero-blitzing Geno.
As for the receivers, the leader in the clubhouse is Meyers (LP-knee). He has 13 catches on 19 targets (68%) for 150 yards (11.5 Y/R), 6 first downs and 0 TDs. Behind him is Agholor with 18 targets, 14 catches (78%) for 225 yards (16.1 Y/R), 7 first downs and 1 TD. Offseason acquisition Parker has 8 catches on 16 targets (50%) for 189 yards (23.6 Y/R), 7 first downs and 1 TD. Despite having the most expensive TE room in the league, they've underperformed. Jonnu Smith (LP-ankle) has been targeted 11 times for 7 catches (64%), 58 yards (8.3 Y/R), 3 first downs and 0 TDs. Hunter Henry has 5 catches on 9 targets (56%) for 41 yards (8.2 Y/R), 2 first downs and 0 TDs. Stevenson is the third down back, with 14 targets, 11 catches (79%), 57 yards (5.2 Y/R), 2 first downs and 0 TDs. These numbers aren't groundbreaking, but it would be just our luck that it is this week that Henry puts up a performance like he used to for the Chargers.
Now to see how I would line up against this offence. Hutch will go against their RT, so either Wynn if he gets healthy or Marcus Cannon. This means Charles Harris (LP-groin) will take on Trent Brown. On the interior, I'm hoping that it will be Alim and Meech for passing downs, as these two likely offers the best chance of an interior pass rush, while Buggs and Jones will sub in on early downs to stop the inside zone. My starters at linebacker would be Rodrigo (naturally) and Board (DNP-knee) (who has been grading out well on his limited snaps). I hate to say it, but I would bench Amani and Mike Hughes, even with how limited the Patriots' pass game seems. In their places, I'd put Lucas on Meyers and Will Harris on Agholor, allowing Okudah to shut down their deep threat in Parker. At safety, it'll be Elliott and Joseph. On the top of the secondary, I'd play more zone, and more C3 looks specifically. Currently, we lead the league in the amount of man coverage played. This isn't good as it's predictable. Mixing in more zone will not only allow our corners to keep everything in front of them but also will help Kerby acclimatise to the pros as he played in a C3 scheme at Illinois.
The Patriots' pass rush is interesting, to say the least. Judon leads the team in pressures with 12 (4 sacks, 4 hits, 4 hurries), yet both he and Wise Jr. have 4 sacks. Wise is second on the team in pressures (4 sacks, 1 hit, 1 hurry). Our old friend Tavai has 3 pressures on 5 blitzes (1 sack, 2 hurries), as does former Wolverine Josh Uche (3 hurries). The other starters with stats in this department are Bentley (1 sack and 1 hit on 11 blitzes), Barmore (1 sack and 1 hit) and Godchaux (1 hurry). This bodes well for our offensive line, who have been really good at not giving up pressure, even with the likes of Dan Skipper and Evan Brown starting at the guard spots (16.1% pressure rate is 4th in the league, 3.2% sack rate is 2nd).
In the run game, Wise leads the way with 1 FF, 4 TFLs, 10 solo, 8 assisted and 0 missed tackles. Judon has 3 TFLs, 7 solo, 9 assisted and 0 missed tackles. Dugger (LP-knee) has 2 TFLs on 10 blitzes, along with 8 solo, 2 assisted and 2 missed (17%) tackles. Bentley, Phillips, Tavai, Wilson and Barmore all have 1 TFL as well. Jonathan Jones has 2 FFs, 12 solo, 3 assisted and 3 missed (17%) tackles. Jack Jones, a former teammate of Chase Lucas, has 1 FF and 1 FR for 0 yards, 5 solo, 4 assisted and 2 missed tackles (18%). Peppers, Myles Bryant and Brender Schooler are the other defensive players with FRs (1 each). I trust that our OL can get some push and open some holes for Willaims, Reynolds and Jackson to run through.
Three Patriots have secured interceptions, with the aforementioned Jack Jones turning his into a 40-yard pick-six. The other two are Jonathan Jones (returned 15 yards) and Jalen Mills (returned 13 yards). Jonathan Jones leads the team in PDs with 3. Jack Jones, Mills (LP-hamstring), McCourty, Phillips (LP-ribs), Bryant, Judon, Wilson and Ekuale all have 1 PD to their names. Focusing specifically on coverage stats for the secondary starters, things point towards attacking the middle. The two ILB starters have given up 90% of throws their way (9/10) for 7.6 yards per completion. In particular, McMillan (LP-thumb) has given up all of his targets for a 107.3 passer rating in coverage. Starting slot CB Bryant has given up 12 catches on 16 targets (75%) for 8.5 yards per completion and a 112.0 passer rating. Veteran safety McCourty has given up 5 catches on 7 targets (71%) for 13 yards a completion, 2 TDs and a 139.9 passer rating. Beside him, versatile piece Kyle Dugger has allowed 3 catches on 5 targets for 6 yards a completion and a 67.1 passer rating. On the outside, Mills has allowed a 67% completion rate (12/18) for 14.8 yards per completion, 1 TD and a 94.0 passer rating. On the opposite side, Jonathan Jones has given up 11 catches on 19 targets (58%) for 18.1 yards per completion, 1 TD and an 89.6 passer rating. These numbers suggest that while the middle should be our main focus (I'm looking at you Hock), the occasional shot to Chark (LP-ankle) and Reynolds (LP-ankle) off play action could yield results.
As for matchups, it really depends on who's healthy. If Jonah Jackson (LP-finger) is able to return to his LG spot, I'd move Skipper to RG if possible as he'd provide the best blend of pass pro and run blocking. Sewell, Decker (FP-knee) and Ragnow (LP-foot) are perfect as always. As for trying to exploit their secondary, make Hock (LP-hip) the focus again. The middle of their defence is liable to easy catches, so use that against them. They have also said they want to make stopping the run a focus after their performance in that regard over the past few weeks. So again, use that against them. Do a lot of motion and play action, draw their eyes to the backs and then hit them over the top.
Not much I need to say here. Folk is a decent kicker and Bailey is a good punter; they have one of the best ST units in the league. One sliver of hope is that low touchback rate. If whoever out of Raymond, Alexander or Jackson is returning kicks can field the ball well and find a crease, we could see some explosive returns.
Keys to Victory:
Use play action- We're good at running the ball. They've been bad at it so far and so want to use us as a chance to change that. So use that to our advantage. Use play action to hit the big play and make them pay.
Don't be afraid to mix it up- I know Jamaal is seen as a power back. I know Goff has the reputation of being a Checkdown Charlie. I know Hock is known as more of a possession TE. This is the chance to prove everyone wrong. Get Jamaal going on some outside zone. Let Goff hit some deep shots to develop some chemistry. Throw Hock on some crossing patterns where he can get some YAC like he did last week.
Stop the run- We're facing a non-mobile rookie QB on what's a relatively weak offence (especially since our least favourite offensive play-caller is on the headset). Stop the run, make them one-dimensional, and get them in third-and-longs.
Don't blitz all the time- It was so obvious that we were going to blitz on obvious passing downs that Seattle was able to recognise that at the line and check into plays to beat it. So stop it! Mix things up. Use stunts every so often. Get creative with formations. Don't let them know what we're doing.
Goff- 25/38, 330 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 108.4 passer rating
Williams- 17 carries, 85 yards, 1 TD, 2 targets, 1 catch, 10 yards
Reynolds- 8 targets, 7 catches, 105 yards, 1 TD
Hutch- 4 tackles, 2 solo, 0.5 TFLs, 4 pressures, 1.5 sacks
Rodrigo- 10 tackles, 8 solo, 1.5 TFLs, 1 pressure, 1 PD
Okudah- 5 tackles, 4 solo, 1 PD, 1 INT
Zappe- 22/35, 220 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 78.3 passer rating
Harris- 13 carries, 55 yards, 2 TD, 3 targets, 2 catches, 15 yards
Agholor- 10 targets, 8 catches, 85 yards, 1 TD
Wise Jr.- 5 tackles, 4 solo, 1 TFL, 3 pressures, 1 sack
Bentley- 7 tackles, 4 solo, 1 pressure
Phillips- 5 tackles, 2 solo, 1 PD
Hot take- Reynolds has at least one catch on each of the Patriots' three Jones DBs
Score- Lions 34, Patriots 30
How do you think the game will go? Can our Lions win the battle against the AFC Sith, or will Darth Patricia Force choke our season? Who do you think will be the stat leaders, and what will the final score be?
Pod Links: linktr.ee/roarofthelionsuk