In his Wednesday press conference, coach Bill Belichick spoke about a few things that make the Lions offense dangerous. He explained that he can see the fingerprints of offensive coordinator Mike Martz, former head coach of the Rams, all over the Lions offense.
"It's always a challenge with Mike [Martz]. I mean he's got so many formations and looks," explained Belichick. "They attack vertically down the field. [With] most teams you can play a little bit of the down-and-distance tendencies, but not with Mike. Third-and-18 doesn't bother them. Everybody else, and me – I shudder at the thought of being in third-and-18. Third-and-18 they throw 20-yard in-cuts and hit them. They'll run 20-yard seam routes, slim posts. They don't care. They run a screen on the three-yard line. They run a shovel pass down there inside the 10. They go empty backfield and lineup in shotgun on the one-yard line. You just don't know what you're going to get, and you've got to be ready for everything.
"They've got a very talented team. I can see them kind of getting a little better each week, as they get more comfortable with their system. They're really a play or two away from winning a lot more games. I mean each game seems like it's a key play here or a turnover or a penalty or something like that. They're playing very competitively and I have a lot of respect for their organization, staff and what they're doing. We know we've got to play better than we played last week."
Late in last week's game against the Bears, a frustrated Rex Grossman took to slinging long passes up to his receivers in hopes of either connecting with deep threat Bernard Berrian or drawing pass interference penalties to move the chains. It worked to a degree, with safety Artrell Hawkins flagged for interference late in the third quarter, and cornerback Ellis Hobbs called for the same penalty in the fourth. Those interference penalties supplied the Bears with 75 yards of combined help, and either flag could have cost the Patriots the game if not for further defensive stops.
This week, the Lions bring with them an offense designed to catch defenders off guard and stretch the field, according to Belichick. And they also have two of the most athletic receivers the NFC has to offer.
One of those receivers is Mike Furrey, who you might remember as the Rams starting free safety last season. That's right. He played receiver during his first two NFL seasons before successfully making the switch to safety last season. By the end of 2005, he led the Rams defense with four interceptions. Martz brought him to Detroit this season and converted him back to a wideout.
Furrey's 650 yards on 56 receptions this season ranks 13th in the NFC. He's averaging 11.6 yards-per catch, and could be a problem for the Patriots secondary, which has held together well despite being hit with a myriad of injuries.
What makes him so dangerous?
He'll be getting off the bus with wideout Roy Williams, who will require a lot of double-teaming in this game, leaving Furrey to be handled unassisted by one of the Patriots cornerbacks.
"[Being double-teamed] is week in and week out for me," said Williams on Wednesday in a conference call with the New England media. "It is very hard sometimes because you get taken out of the ball game and you want to be a part of it. It is hard because you have two guys on you. We have some things to try to defeat that and what not. Double teams are something I have to get used to."
Williams is currently perched atop the NFC's receiving yards chart with 993 yards, and he's had three games this year in which he averaged 20-plus yards-per catch. This season, Williams is averaging 16.6 yards-per reception.
He's so athletic; he once single-handedly led his Odessa Permian High School track team to a fourth-place finish at the 2000 Texas 5A state track meet by finishing first in the long jump, second in the high jump and third in the 100-meter dash. You might remember him from the film "Friday Night Lights," which has been made into a television show this year. He had a role in the film along with former Patriot Ty Law, as it was about Williams' former high school and his brother was on the team the film is based on.
Quarterback Jon Kitna will be looking to link long passes to Williams and Furrey, according to Belichick.
"They stretch [the field] probably as well as anybody in the league does. They run a lot of deep patterns. They're very aggressive throwing the ball down there. [Mike Furrey] has done a nice job. And then, of course, Roy Williams is having an outstanding year. He's been as productive as any receiver in football," said Belichick. "Kitna, he's obviously an experienced quarterback, but he's gotten on some tremendous streaks. And these guys can score. It seems like every game, they have a three or four-play, minute-and-20 second touchdown drive. They slap one out there every single game. [They'll] hit two or three plays and boom, boom, boom – they're right down the field. And that's what you've got to defend against. You can't let those things happen. I mean they're going to hit one of them or maybe two of them, but when they hit three or four in the same drive, you can pretty much forget about it."
The bottom line is that Detroit boasts a passing game that's currently the seventh best in the NFL, no matter what their record reflects.
Patriots strong safety Rodney Harrison will be out again this week with a broken shoulder blade, and free safety Eugene Wilson, who's missed seven of the last eight games, is still 'Questionable' on this week's injury report. Hobbs and safety Chad Scott are both listed as 'Questionable' this week as well, leaving Hawkins, Samuel and James Sanders as the only healthy defensive backs who've started this season. These guys are going to have to pull together in coverage, avoid the kind of penalties that happened last week and get lots of help up front or the Lions offense could pull off the upset.
The Patriots held practice on the game field at Gillette Stadium today, marking the fourth time the team has been on the new FieldTurf together (including last Sunday's game). The media was present for stretching and two sets of drills. … Safeties Eugene Wilson (Questionable) and Rodney Harrison (Out) were not present during the portion of practice available to the media, nor was rookie lineman Ryan O'Callaghan (Questionable). … Quarterbacks Tom Brady, Matt Cassel and Vinny Testaverde were not wearing their usual non-contact red jerseys. … Practice squad cornerback Antwain Spann wore a red non-contact jersey and wideout Chad Jackson wore a second jersey with the number 11 on it, marking him as the scout team version of Roy Williams. … Practice squad receiver Bam Childress wore a black jersey, indicating that he was last week's Player of the Week.