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Scouting the Matchup: Offense looks to get in gear in Detroit

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WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN

Advantage: Lions

The New England rushing attack absorbed a big blow when Jeremy HIll suffered a torn ACL in the third quarter of the season-opening win against Houston and was lost for the season. Rookie Sony Michel, one of the team’s first-round draft picks this year, has been limited by a knee injury but made his NFL debut last week and gained 34 yards on 10 carries against Jacksonville. Rex Burkhead leads the team with 86 yards on 24 carries (3.6 ypc). Fortunately for the Patriots, the Lions defense hasn’t been great against the run this season. Detroit allowed 169 yards rushing in a Week 1 loss to the Jets and 190 yards on the ground during last Sunday’s 30-27 loss to San Francisco. Matt Breida ran for 138 yards and a touchdown against the Lions last week. However, big plays by both the Niners and Jets greatly contributed to the Lions woes, and the Patriots haven’t generated that type of firepower on the ground as of yet.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS

Advantage: Patriots

Detroit has one of the league’s best cover cornerbacks in Darius Slay, who tied for the league lead with eight interceptions last season, but Slay left last Sunday’s game against the 49ers with a concussion and missed practice time this week. Defensive end Ziggy Ansah is the best pass rushing threat the Lions have up front, but he could still be at less than 100 percent after he injured his shoulder in the third quarter of Detroit’s Week 1 loss to the Jets. Ansah recorded 12 sacks last season and had one against New York before he was injured. Even without Ansah, the Lions sacked Jimmy Garoppolo six times last Sunday. Although short-handed at wide receiver, the Patriots have excellent receiving threats at tight end (Rob Gronkowski) and running back (James White), and oh by the way Tom Brady is still the quarterback.

WHEN THE LIONS RUN

Advantage: Patriots

Running the football is not what you would call Detroit’s strength, and it hasn’t been for a long, long time. The Lions haven’t had a player rush for a least 100 yards in a game since Reggie Bush gained 117 yards against the Packers on Thanksgiving Day in 2013. Bush ran for 1,006 yards that season, which is the last time Detroit has had a 1,000-yard rusher. After finishing last among NFL teams in rushing last season, Detroit signed former New England running back LeGarrette Blount and traded up in the second round to select Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson. The Lions also used their first-round pick on Arkansas guard Frank Ragnow. The Patriots run defense hasn’t been particularly effective in the early going but every team has the edge in this department against the Lions.

WHEN THE LIONS PASS

Advantage: Lions

Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford is an ironman — he entered this year having started every game over the last seven seasons — and has an arm capable of making any throw required of an NFL QB. Where he struggles is turnovers. He committed 17 last season, seven of which were fumbles, and many witnessed his four-interception performance in Week 1 against the Jets. Stafford doesn’t have a big-name receiver to work with, but Marvin Jones, Golden Tate and Kenny Golladay are a solid group of wideouts. Jones emerged last year when he had his first 1,000-yard receiving season. The Lions also have one of the best third-down backs in the league in Theo Riddick, who excels as a receiver and a pass blocker. As long as Stafford doesn’t give the ball away, this is where the Detroit offense could do some damage against the Patriots secondary that struggled badly against Blake Bortles and the Jags last week.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Advantage: Patriots

Special teams was supposed to be a strength for Detroit this season, but the Lions have already allowed a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown, a 90-yard kickoff return and a 43-yard punt return. The team cut gunner Bradley Marquez one day after an embarrassing 48-17 home loss to the Jets. Matt Prater kicked seven field goals of at least 50 yards last season but has misfired twice in Detroit’s first two games. Punter Ryan Allen and kicker Stephen Gostkowski give the Patriots an edge over most teams in the kicking game, but New England is still searching for a consistent punt returner. Cyrus Jones, who was recently re-signed off the Raven practice squad, could get the job this week if Patrick Chung (concussion) is out. The investment in Cordarrelle Patterson will likely pay off on kickoff returns at some point but it’s unlikely to happen this week inside Ford Field.

OTHER FACTORS

Advantage: Patriots

Although Detroit head coach Matt Patricia knows a lot about the inner workings of the New England organization, this is still a teacher (Bill Belichick) versus pupil (Patricia) matchup. Patricia’s time as Detroit’s head coach is off to a rocky start. He wasn’t given much of a grace period by Detroit fans and media, as there was heavy criticism directed at him after a 31-point loss to the Jets. One Detroit columnist wrote that Patricia “is in over his head” as the Lions head coach. There may be trouble in the locker room as well, as some Detroit players reportedly said they were unhappy with how hard Patricia worked the team during training camp and the many team rules he has put in place. At least the Lions will be playing in front of their home crowd, and at 0-2 they will be the more desperate team. But if the Patriots get out to an early lead, the environment could prove more hostile to the hosts.

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