View from the other side: Lions vs. Patriots
LIONS VS. PATRIOTS
Kickoff: Sunday, 8:20 p.m., Ford Field, Detroit
TV/radio: NBC/WJR 760
Records: Lions 0-2, Patriots 1-1
Line: Patriots by 6.5
View from the other side
Kevin Duffy covers the Patriots for the Boston Herald. He breaks down the Patriots for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Sunday’s game against the Lions. You can follow him on Twitter @KevinRDuffy.
Question: What, if any, impact does Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's relationship have on game planning for this matchup?
Duffy: Probably not a huge impact. Patricia is familiar with the way Josh McDaniels calls games. He'll have a solid grasp on what the Patriots will try to do offensively. But how much will that matter? From a distance, the Lions’ defense appears to be a mess. So even if Patricia has an idea of what the Pats want to do, I'm not sure Detroit will be able to stop them. And on the other side of the ball Jim Bob Cooter is calling the shots. So Belichick's familiarity with Patricia won't be a factor there.
Question: Are there any noticeable differences with the way the defense operates under Brian Flores' stewardship?
Duffy: During training camp, several defensive players noted that the defensive playbook is "easier" under Flores. Linebacker Dont'a Hightower said Flores' defense will allow the Patriots to play faster and more aggressively.
The defensive line was highly disruptive against Deshaun Watson and the Texans, and the Pats didn't need to bring extra rushers to create pressure in that game. Last week at Jacksonville, Blake Bortles was basically untouched back there. The Pats tried a few blitzes to bring pressure, but those backfired. So it's hard to tell exactly what the differences are right now. It's been a small sample size. From a personnel standpoint, particularly at linebacker, the Pats are still figuring it out.
Question: Josh Gordon was on the practice field an hour after Belichick rejected questions on the receiver, saying the transaction wasn't complete. Par for the course, I'm sure. Is it reasonable to expect Gordon to suit up Sunday night and what do you believe is a realistic snap count with just one week of practice?
Duffy: Yes, absolutely par for the course (as I'm sure you guys are learning up in Detroit with Matty P).
My guess is Gordon will suit up Sunday night and play a limited number of snaps. He won't have a firm grasp on the playbook, but they'll install some stuff for him. And he can play the “X” receiver spot and run go routes. It doesn't take much practice to do that. I'm sure the Pats will take some deep shots to Gordon. His mere presence should free up opportunities for guys like Rob Gronkowski in the middle of the field, as well.
Question: Every time the Patriots suffer an early-season defeat there are people who fire up the narrative that the dynasty is crumbling. Is this year's team actually more flawed than the previous incarnations, which have always bounced back to Super Bowl contender status?
Duffy: I don't think they're as good on offense this season as they've been in years past. The offensive line will be fine with Dante Scarnecchia still leading the room. But the Patriots miss Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola, and Brandin Cooks at the skill positions. It could end up OK. We'll see. Right now, though, there are question marks at those positions. My feeling is that the Patriots really need Sony Michel or Josh Gordon (or preferably both) to emerge as legitimate contributors. We don't know for sure what Julian Edelman will look like coming off his ACL tear, and Rob Gronkowski's durability is always a concern.
At this point, the New England offense isn't nearly as dynamic as it's been. Defensively, they should be better than they were a year ago, provided they stay healthy.
They'll probably be right there near the top of the AFC again. Teams like the Jaguars and Chiefs will be compelling challengers this season.
Question: The Patriots have a way of punishing opponents after a loss. Are the Lions in for a long night in front of a national audience?
Duffy: Probably. But the Lions are in for long nights against pretty much anybody this year. Even though it's on the road and in primetime, this is a nice "get right" spot for the Pats. Detroit's defense has been miserable, and I don't anticipate that suddenly changing in Week 3. I think the Pats will jump out to a big lead and coast to an easy win.
Score prediction: Patriots 38, Lions 17
Patriots to watch
■ Rob Gronkowski, TE: Through all the injuries he's battled over the years, Gronkowski has remained one of the NFL's most dominant forces. The Lions will likely look to take a page out of the Jaguars' game plan after Jacksonville slowed him last week, but Detroit doesn't have the same level of defensive talent to execute it. If they can keep him out of the end zone, that might have to be good enough.
■ Ja'Whaun Bentley, LB: The Patriots have a long tradition of strong linebacker play and appear to have unearthed another gem in Bentley, a fifth-round draft pick out of Purdue who has quickly snatched a major role in the team's defense. The 255-pounder can thump with the best of them coming downhill and has made big strides in coverage since arriving in New England.
■ Josh Gordon, WR: Yeah, Gordon might not play. He's listed as questionable for the contest with a hamstring injury. And even if he does suit up, his snap count will be limited after coming over in a trade earlier this week. But every time he steps between those white lines, all eyes will drift to the speedy deep threat, who just needs one chance to take the top off the defense and alter the course of a game.