New England Patriots

  • Rhamondre Stevenson earned a wealth of praise from his teammates and coaches following a heroic performance against the Detroit Lions.

    Taking on a vintage bell-cow role amid an injury to Damien Harris, Stevenson barreled through the Lions’ bottom-dwelling defense at a clip of 6.5 yards per touch. Perhaps more importantly, he took a lot of pressure off rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe to move the ball. Oh, and he showed good blitz pickup too.

    It was the kind of performance that showed why Bill Belichick doesn’t just like Stevenson.

    “Love him, love him,” Belichick concluded in his postgame press conference after the Patriots’ 29-0 win at Gillette Stadium. He preceded that statement by complimenting Stevenson’s ability to make plays with the ball in his hands, describing him as a “good all-around back.”

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  • Stevenson’s most explosive play of the game was a 49-yard gallop in the first quarter, which helped set up a field goal. The pure yardage was certainly impressive, especially because Stevenson showed great balance to stay on his feet after staggering through contact at the second level. But what really made the play dynamic was Stevenson making the first guy miss.

    That was nose tackle Isaiah Buggs, who had an opening around right tackle Isaiah Wynn and was in position to bring Stevenson down for no gain. But Stevenson’s slick inside cut-back not only made Buggs miss, but helped Wynn and Kendrick Bourne seal off the outside and spring him ahead. Three more potential tacklers are late to get to Stevenson, and the chunk play is on.

    The Patriots no doubt love Stevenson’s powerful and decisive running, and have to be even happier with his ability to make big plays happen even when the blocking isn’t 100 percent perfect.

    “Just going in from Monday we knew we had to run the ball well and just be physical,” Stevenson said on his performance. “When Damien went down, I just told him I have his back. He kind of knew I did and things like that. So just putting it all together. Just playing a full four-quarter game. Just trying to be physical.”

  • How the Pats approach their running back situation will be a big thing to monitor, now that Damien Harris (hamstring) is expected to miss multiple games. But they can certainly feel good about Stevenson whenever they put him on the field. He’s becoming a real playmaker at his position.


    A Stroke of Defensive Genius

    The Patriots showed an interesting look on defense in the first half. They appeared to play a 4-3 front, which has been practically non-existent in recent years. Or was it really a continuation of their recent 3-4 looks, with Deatrich Wise manning the edge as an outside linebacker?

    Wise matched up against the Lions’ tight ends during the series in question, and won his matchups handily. First, he blew right through Lions TE Brock Wright on second down to tackle running back Craig Reynolds for a short gain. On third-and-2, Hockenson ran right by Wise and left him unblocked off the edge, forcing Reynolds to cut outside, which gave safety Adrian Phillips the lane he needed to chase him down for a seven-yard loss.

    The next play was the Lions’ decision to go for it on fourth-and-9, which led to a Matthew Judon strip sack and Kyle Dugger scoop & score touchdown. Wise’s impact in this series, and the coaching move to match him up against the tight ends off the edge, helped make it happen.

  • Bailey Bobble

    Oct 9, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) hands the ball to running back Rhamondre Stevenson (38) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Oct 9, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) hands the ball to running back Rhamondre Stevenson (38) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    As much as I can’t shake the Zappe Fevah, it’s important for the rookie to continue to show good ball security. He nearly earned himself a lot of red pen when he and Stevenson botched a handoff, which could have also been a botched play-action fake. Stevenson fell on the ball, so no harm, no foul. But the play illustrated Zappe’s relative lack of size (6 feet, 31-inch arms) and inexperience playing under center.

    As long as Zappe keeps his composure and avoids turnovers, he’ll have a chance to keep impressing as the fill-in starting quarterback and give the Pats a chance to win over the course of the soft spot in their schedule. But he needs to be careful.

  • WR1

    Forget about speed and pure physical traits for a moment. Seven catches, 111 yards, and a touchdown is No. 1 receiver production. And Jakobi Meyers has been the Patriots’ clear top guy at the position whenever he’s been on the field.

    Meyers against the Lions was a microcosm of the Patriots as a team right now: elite competition might give him more trouble, but you’re a bad defense, he’ll eat you alive. His consistency and reliability is most welcome amid inconsistent starts for DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne.

  • Linebacker Rebound

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 09: Matthew Judon #9 of the New England Patriots celebrates with Josh Uche #55 of the New England Patriots and Mack Wilson Sr. #30 of the New England Patriots after a sack during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium on October 09, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 09: Matthew Judon #9 of the New England Patriots celebrates with Josh Uche #55 of the New England Patriots and Mack Wilson Sr. #30 of the New England Patriots after a sack during the second quarter against the Detroit Lions at Gillette Stadium on October 09, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)

    The Patriots needed more out of their linebacking corps outside of Matthew Judon, and it seems that the Jamie Collins signing caught their attention. This was a much better effort, particularly by Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jahlani Tavai, Mack Wilson, Raekwon McMillan, and Anfernee Jennings. Their efforts no doubt contributed to the Lions averaging just 3.7 yards per carry and tight end T.J. Hockenson making just one catch.

    Tavai (five tackles) was especially encouraging, mostly keeping a strong edge and drawing a holding penalty. He appeared to draw another hold from right tackle Penei Sewell, which wasn’t called, and led to a 13-yard gain that should’ve been wiped out. There are still things to work on, which we’ll get to below, but the linebackers deserve credit for a rebound effort here.

  • Onwenu at Home

    Patriots running back #38 Rhamondre Stevenson runs for a big gain after getting a block from #71 Mike Onwenu in the 4th. (Bob Breidenbach/USA TODAY NETWORK)

    Patriots running back #38 Rhamondre Stevenson runs for a big gain after getting a block from #71 Mike Onwenu in the 4th. (Bob Breidenbach/USA TODAY NETWORK)

    Patriots right guard Mike Onwenu is back at home. And by that, we mean by the fact that he’s playing right guard. Onwenu mainly played that spot at Michigan, but in New England, Shaq Mason was a roadblock prior to this season. Now back at his original position, Onwenu told reporters Monday it’s “like going back home.”

    Onwenu is the league’s sixth-highest grade guard at Pro Football Focus, and No. 1 in pass protection with an elite 87.9 grade. His performance has been key to the Pats’ much-maligned offensive line play coming together in recent weeks.

  • Give-and-Take

    Jack Jones giveth, and Jack Jones taketh away. The rookie’s instincts and ball skills have been a revelation in the past two weeks, and it looks like the Patriots have landed a dynamic outside cornerback out of the fourth round. But Jones’ aggressive style is also susceptible to backfiring, so he’s going to have to learn when to be more disciplined and when to pick his spots to go for the big play, preferably before he really gets burned.

    Jones’ inexperience also showed up on a 20-yard completion to Kalif Raymond. The receiver’s subtle head-fake made the rookie continue upfield as he stopped for a comeback route, leaving him wide open. Better, smarter offenses will take advantage of these things more often. Jones has plenty of time to learn from mistakes and correct things, though. It’s good to know that the pure ability is there.

  • Running Back Coverage

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 09: Jahlani Tavai #48 of the New England Patriots tackles Craig Reynolds #46 of the Detroit Lions during the second half at Gillette Stadium on October 09, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Nick Grace/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 09: Jahlani Tavai #48 of the New England Patriots tackles Craig Reynolds #46 of the Detroit Lions during the second half at Gillette Stadium on October 09, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Nick Grace/Getty Images)

    One continued area of improvement for the Patriots defense: covering running backs in the passing game. Craig Reynolds caught three passes for 68 yards in the second half, and it showed the Lions’ ineptitude on the sidelines that they didn’t exploit that more often. This is something to keep in mind as the Patriots get ready for the Browns’ dynamic running attack with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.

  • Sam Roberts’ Impact

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - AUGUST 11: Sam Roberts #96 of the New England Patriots looks on during the preseason game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on August 11, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – AUGUST 11: Sam Roberts #96 of the New England Patriots looks on during the preseason game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on August 11, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    The Patriots adjusted quickly on defense against the Lions, which was an improvement over their slower adjustments in a Week 3 loss to the Ravens. Key to their initial personnel changes was rookie defensive lineman Sam Roberts, who replaced Christian Barmore at the 5-technique (3-4 defensive end) on the Lions’ third possession. Detroit rushed five times for just 17 yards and punted. It’ll be interesting to see if this is the start of something more for Roberts in the defensive line rotation.

  • Kickoff Breakdown

    Although a missed holding call against Jabrill Peppers helped make Maurice Alexander’s long kickoff return happen, he might’ve made the play anyway due to safety Kyle Dugger and linebacker Mack Wilson angling too far inside and leaving a wide-open lane on the back side. Dugger admitted in his Monday video conference that he “overran the play” and needs to do a better job containing returners.

  • That concludes this week’s Patriots Notebook. We’ll continue to keep you covered as the Pats turn the page to Week 6, when they hit the road against the Cleveland Browns. Click here for complete New England Patriots coverage at 985TheSportsHub.com.

    Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster 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? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. Check out all of Matt’s content here.