When the Patriots ran:
Detroit entered the game with the worst run defense in football having allowed touchdown runs over better than 60 yards in each of its first two games. If not for three garbage time runs as time expired by James White that totaled 32 yards, the Patriots wouldn't have cracked the 60-yard mark as a team. Sony Michel once again assumed lead back duties and once again was stymied. He carried 14 times for 50 yards and a paltry 3.6-yard average. He broke off one 12-yard run in the second half that made those modest totals look better than they were. Consider he was handed the ball twice on third downs needing less than a yard and lost yardage on both attempts. Those two attempts were not solely his fault as the offensive line was consistently blown off the ball by a front that had trouble maintaining the point of attack in its previous games. Shaq Mason got manhandled on one of the attempts and Michel dealt with multiple players in the backfield before he had a chance to get any positive momentum moving forward. New England finished the night with 89 yards on 19 carries for a more-than-respectable 4.7-yard average, but as we already mentioned White picked up 32 of those yards on three carries as time was running out and both teams were already headed to the locker room.
When the Patriots passed:
Few teams have done to Tom Brady what the Lions did Sunday night, and it ultimately provided the difference in the game. The Patriots woes running the ball were not entirely unexpected but the play of Detroit's secondary was. The Lions bracketed Rob Gronkowski all night and were determined not to let the All-Pro tight end beat them. They succeeded, holding Gronk to just four catches for 51 yards. Having been forced to look for secondary options, Brady was unable to find any for the second week in the row. He completed 14 of 26 passes for just 133 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The one highlight came on his 10-yard dart to White for the touchdown on a play in which safety Quandre Diggs was in decent position but could do nothing about an absolutely perfect throw. Otherwise, this was a mess. Chris Hogan (three catches, 31 yards), Cordarrelle Patterson (one catch, 12 yards) and Phillip Dorsett (zero catches on five targets) were unable to get open and Brady had no answers. Detroit's ball control attack on offense also prevented New England from having many opportunities, but the Patriots opened with three straight three-and-outs on offense and that contributed greatly to Detroit's massive 40-20 edge in time of possession as well. And when the Patriots went into comeback mode late, the Lions pass rush got to Brady on a couple of occasions to make sure the momentum never swung. The offense was a mess Sunday night.
When the Lions ran:
Detroit hasn't been able to run the ball in the entirety of the Matthew Stafford era, which is in its 10th season. The last time the Lions had a 100-yard rusher was Thanksgiving 2013, a span of 30 games. That streak snapped against a Patriots front that has struggled stopping the run for more than a year at this point. Rookie Kerryon Johnson consistently gashed the Patriots between the tackles, often managing to get to the second level without contact before hitting the secondary for healthy gains. He finished with 101 yards on only 16 carries for an impressive 6.3-yard average. LeGarrette Blount was effective at times early and then was tasked with running out the clock in the fourth quarter when the Lions were content to keep it on the ground despite the Patriots stacked looks. He finished with 16 carries for just 48 yards and Detroit wound up piling up 159 yards on 33 attempts for a solid 4.8-yard average. Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown split time inside next to Lawrence Guy but were consistently moved off the pile. The same could be said of first-year player Keionta Davis, who was knocked back on a number of running plays while lining up in various spots up front. Detroit is known as a finesse offense but Sunday night they strapped on the pads and took it to the struggling Patriots defense.
When the Lions passed:
Stafford can push the ball downfield with the best of them, but Matt Patricia understands how the Patriots like to play defense and formulated a plan to keep things short and simple. Stafford rarely went for the big play and instead picked the undermanned Patriots secondary (Patrick Chung and Eric Rowe were inactive) apart. He completed 27 of 36 passes for 262 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also threw an interception to Ja'Whaun Bentley early in the third quarter that briefly changed momentum, but he followed that with perhaps his best drive (of many) of the night in which he capped the 75-yard march with a 33-yard touchdown to Marvin Jones (four catches, 69 yards). Golden Tate was his typically elusive self with six catches for 69 yards while Kenny Golladay added six for 53 more. Otherwise Stafford was content to use his backs on short stuff that allowed his playmakers to outrun the Patriots linebackers for first downs, which they did effectively throughout the game. Detroit converted 7 of 14 third downs and those numbers were more impressive until late when the Lions shut it down in an effort to run out the clock. The secondary was missing some key pieces and didn't get any help from a pass rush that finished with one sack, which also was the only hit recorded against Stafford. Not good.
Special teams continue to be a very limited aspect of the Patriots games in the early going as neither side turned in any notable plays. Patterson opened the game with a 45-yard kickoff return to allow the Patriots to set up shop at the 42, but the offense promptly went three-and-out. Patterson also had a 33-yarder out to the 29, and even though those returns yielded nothing in terms of points they were enough to earn the Patriots the edge. Stephen Gostkowski recorded touchbacks on all three of his kickoffs. Ryan Allen was up and down and allowed Jamal Agnew to average 9.3 yards on his three punt returns, one of which went for 16 yards. But the Lions also committed a pair of penalties, one that negated a 31-yard Agnew return. Matt Prater went 4-for-4 on field goals but the longest went for just 38 yards. Not much action to remember on special teams but the Patriots made fewer mistakes.