Student assistant Mike Rodak takes a look at the television copy of Thursday’s game against the Lions and offers some of his first-quarter observations:
1. While generally solid, the Patriots’ run defense faltered on a 7-yard Maurice Morris run that gave the Lions their only first down of the game’s opening series. On the play, LE Ron Brace shot the outside shoulder of RG Stephen Peterman, leaving him out of position and opening a large hole to the right side. Morris found that hole after ILB Jerod Mayo played the same guard bubble as ILB Brandon Spikes, leaving OLB Jermaine Cunningham to put a move on RT Gosder Cherilus and trip up Morris.
2. While some of the Lions’ problems which contributed to their 2-8 record didn’t crop up until the second half, others surfaced earlier on. After his 2-yard reception which ended the opening drive on third-and-7, Morris held the ball in one hand, arm outstretched, a fumble waiting to happen.
3. The Lions’ first quarter sack of Patriots QB Tom Brady came out of their dime package, with DE Kyle Vanden Bosch and DT Nkamukong Suh standing up and then executing a stunt on their rush, freeing up DT Corey Williams to beat LT Matt Light inside. With only a 5-man protection, Brady had five receivers but none as an immediate outlet receiver. Instead, Brady pumped towards WR Brandon Tate in a short hook pattern, and then escaped the pocket to try to get a receiver open before he was chased down by Suh.
4. The Lions’ second drive of the quarter ended in a three-and-out, but only after a dropped pass by WR Nate Burleson from QB Shaun Hill, as Hill was flushed out of the pocket by pressure from LB Dane Fletcher. The attention paid to WR Calvin Johnson was evident, with RCB Kyle Arrington dropping into a deep zone and S Brandon Meriweather coming up in a short zone, trying to bait Hill into throwing to Johnson. When Hill scrambled and Johnson followed him across the field, LB Gary Guyton stayed nearby, while S Patrick Chung broke off his coverage on Burleson on the near side in order to come up on Johnson. With S James Sanders and LCB Devin McCourty cleared deep by another route, Burleson was left open.
5. Even with a perfect passer rating, there are throws Brady would probably want to have back. One came on third-and-7 from the Lions’ 8-yard line, when he hit WR Wes Welker on a 6-yard completion. It was a sound route run by Welker, with him setting up right at the first down marker. Brady may have gotten greedy on the throw, however, and tried to lead Welker to the outside in an attempt to get oncoming S Amari Spievey to over-pursue inside, hoping for a touchdown, not just a first down. Welker had to adjust by turning outside to make the catch, losing his position relative to the marker, and Spievey made a solid individual play to hold Welker short.
6. The Lions were able to convert their first third down of their first-quarter touchdown drive on a 9-yard catch by Burleson. The Patriots were in their dime package, and used Chung and Guyton in late-showing outside zones to help out CBs Darius Butler and McCourty, and possibly bait Hill. This however, left Mayo and Sanders (with Meriweather in a deep zone) to cover the three inside receivers, and Mayo stayed split between two long enough for Burleson to make the catch.
7. In the red zone, the Patriots have been applying more of a pass rush recently, to mixed results. When the Lions reached the 19-yard line on the last play of the first quarter, Guyton broke off his usual assignment on the drive of covering the tight end and instead blitzed. This left Sanders to come up in man coverage on TE Brandon Pettigrew, leaving Meriweather in a single deep zone. This put Arrington in a tougher spot on Johnson outside, and a slip by Arrington as Johnson broke back towards the ball in the end zone sealed the touchdown.