Monday, August 29, 2011

2011 Lions Thrash 2010 Patriots, 34-10

What would happen if the 2011 Detroit Lions played the 2010 Patriots? Well, that scenario took place in Saturday’s preseason game, and the match up quickly turned into a mismatch.  The Patriots appeared very mortal in a 34-10 loss to a thoroughly dominant and motivated Detroit Lions team. The Patriots left most of their significant 2011 additions at home for the game, and the advantage clearly went to this year’s Lions squad.

On Saturday, the Patriots started exactly
two players who were not on the roster last year: work-in-progress receiver Chad Ochocinco and part-time defensive end Mark Anderson. They did get some playing time for rookie offensive tackle Nate Solder and free agent defensive end Andre Carter. But no Albert Haynesworth or Shaun Ellis on the defensive line, no Leigh Bodden or Ras-I Dowling in the secondary, and no Stevan Ridley or Shane Vareen in the running back rotation.

And so it went that 2011 Detroit’s starters posted a decisive 27-10 beat down of the 2010 Patriots starters. Which makes it pretty clear that if Matthew Stafford had played last Thanksgiving the Lions would likely have walked off the field with a victory.

The more important question is what this game tells us about both teams. In a nutshell, here is what I learned:

Lions aren’t a 16-0 squad (sorry Ndamukong Suh), but if Stafford stays healthy, they are a legitimate playoff contender. The Lions quarterback makes great decisions and has excellent pocket presence, and with a lot of talent at wide receiver, the lack of a go-to running back should not matter in the pass happy NFL.

They are also fast and big on defense, with a head coach who oversaw the best Tennessee Titans’ defenses (Jim Schwartz) and a very talented defensive coordinator (Gunther Cunningham). Their front four, lead by Suh, created havoc on most every Patriots passing play, and most of the time Detroit’s defensive line will make up for what they lack behind them.

The Lions did not excel running the ball or stopping the run last year, and appear headed for the same short-comings in 2011. But the NFL is a quarterback’s league, so if Stafford stays upright for 16 games the Lions they should contend for a playoff berth. Their biggest problem is their division, which has both participants from the 2010 NFC Championship Game: the Bears and Packers. But the rest of the NFC divisions appear weak enough to allow one (or even two) NFC North teams in as wild card entrants.

As for the
Patriots, their talent grab on the defensive line won’t amount to much if they can’t get the secondary healthy and playing together. The Lions offense did not slow down when edge rusher Carter entered the game or when the Patriots blitzed cornerbacks to get pressure. Stafford and backup quarterback Shaun Hill simply went with short routes and quick releases to defeat the blitz.

Last Saturday’s secondary looked a lot like last year’s, with
Devin McCourty holding his own against one receiver and Kyle Arrington, Darius Butler, and Jonathan Wilhite giving up play after play. On Saturday, Stafford went 12 for 14, 200 yards, 2 touchdowns, and completed passes to 8 different receivers -- in the first half. That “bend and then break” defense probably looked too familiar (and a little frightening) to Patriots fans.

New England will likely get their pass protection schemes straightened out, and there is no indication that Bodden and McCourty won’t start the season together. Add in either Ellis or Haynesworth to an already improved defensive line, and the 2011 Patriots would have given the 2011 Lions a much tougher time.

This game wasn’t exactly a tale of two teams headed in opposite directions. But it showed that Schwartz has remade the Lions to compete with one of the league’s best teams. Pretty good progress for a team that too often used to compete for the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.

- Scott

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