New England Patriots

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

The New England Patriots had a hit-or-miss day in the secondary against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Mostly misses. And in terms of pure personnel, it doesn’t get any easier in Week 3 against the Detroit Lions.

Much like last Sunday’s loss in Jacksonville, the outcome of this game will likely come down to how the Lions offense performs against Bill Belichick and Brian Flores’ Patriots defense. Take a quick look at the receivers that Matt Patricia will deploy on Sunday night, and you know the secondary will be in for one of its toughest challenges of the season.

Eric Rowe, who had one of his rougher games in recent memory against the Jaguars, realizes this as well as anyone.

“I think until right now they’re probably the best corps we’re going to see,” Rowe said on Wednesday. “I know it’s only Week 3. But you know, Golden Tate and Marvin Jones and [Kenny] Golladay, they’re all deep threats, they’re all fast, they’re all explosive, they all have great routes. This could be our biggest test [so far].”

SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 16: Kenny Golladay of the Detroit Lions dives in for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on September 16, 2018 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

SANTA CLARA, CA – SEPTEMBER 16: Kenny Golladay of the Detroit Lions dives in for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium on September 16, 2018 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Golladay, in particular, has added a dynamic new dimension to the group in his sophomore season. He’s reeled in 13 catches for 203 yards and a touchdown in his first two games. The Lions took the 6-foot-4 Golladay with the 96th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft – 11 selections after the Patriots drafted tackle Tony Garcia. It’s likely that Rowe or Jason McCourty draw his assignment if they run man coverage.

But it’s Tate whose name you’ve heard in New England more than anyone. That’s because he’s been one of the league’s most reliable slot receivers over his career with the Seahawks and now the Lions, which is why he’d be a great fit in New England.

But he’s a Lion and, especially if the Patriots prioritize stopping the deep ball on Sunday night, is likely to see double-digit targets from Matthew Stafford. Slot corner Jonathan Jones is going to be one of the Patriots’ most important defensive players for this reason.

Jones is a bit of a wild card. Despite connecting for a five-yard touchdown last Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, Jones and Stafford haven’t shown the same rapport this season that they’ve had in the past. Stafford was 0-for-3 targeting him over 20 yards downfield last Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. It’s still likely that Jones draws Stephon Gilmore in one-on-one matchups, which will certainly limit his upside in the game. But the Patriots’ coverage won’t even matter on Sunday night if Stafford can’t be more accurate.

Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter will probably continue to take his shots with Jones deep, which could make the Patriots’ safety depth a bit of a concern with Patrick Chung (concussion) looking less likely to suit up.

SANTA CLARA, CA - SEPTEMBER 16: Marvin Jones of the Detroit Lions catches a touchdown pass over Ahkello Witherspoon of the San Francisco 49ers during the fourth quarter of their NFL football game at Levi's Stadium on September 16, 2018 in Santa Clara, California.  The 49ers won the game 30-27. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

SANTA CLARA, CA – SEPTEMBER 16: Marvin Jones of the Detroit Lions catches a touchdown pass over Ahkello Witherspoon of the San Francisco 49ers during the fourth quarter of their NFL football game at Levi’s Stadium on September 16, 2018 in Santa Clara, California. The 49ers won the game 30-27. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Speaking of Cooter, he’s been under fire from the locals in Detroit. Multiple defenders for the New York Jets said after their season-opening 48-17 win over the Lions that they could predict Detroit’s plays. The last thing you want your offense to be against Bill Belichick is predictable.

The Lions run a West Coast-style offense, layering their pass-catchers at different intervals down the field. It emphasizes the short-to-intermediate game, getting the running backs involved as receivers, and making yards after the catch. Running back Theo Riddick will also be in the mix, which potentially makes linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley a crucial player on Sunday. Detroit won’t run as many picks or crossing routes as the Jaguars did, but the Patriots are most certainly going to have to tackle better than they did last Sunday.

At the end of the day, it’ll come down to pressuring Stafford and disrupting his timing. But the secondary will have to communicate closer to how they did against the Texans than against Jacksonville. Because the Lions offense could give the Patriots trouble if Stafford can get the ball cleanly to his deep stable of weapons.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.