After what appeared to be a strong performance against the Houston Texans in Week 1, the Patriots’ defense is bursting with deficiencies following back-to-back losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Detroit Lions.
“I mean, it’s frustrating,” cornerback Stephon Gilmore said. “I don’t like losing.”
Against the Lions Sunday, New England gave up 414 total yards, including 159 on the ground. Running back Kerryon Johnson logged 61 rushing yards before contact — the most by a Lions player since Reggie Bush in 2013. Johnson also became the first Lions player to rush for 100 yards since Bush in 2013.
“They’re a good team,” Johnson said of the Patriots. “They’re a good defense, they’re sound, they tackle, [and] they don’t make many mistakes. So, we knew it was going to be a grind, but we were ready for it. We were ready for the grind, and, I’m going to say grind again, we grinded it out.”
New England’s defense struggled to not only contain Detroit’s rushing game, but also defend its passing game. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 27 of his 36 pass attempts and notched 16 passing first downs. At one point in the first half, the Lions reached 14 first downs, while the Patriots had registered only 13 yards of total offense. Detroit also converted on seven of its 14 third downs, including three key plays on a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter.
It appeared the Patriots were on track to mount another comeback after Tom Brady and James White capitalized on rookie linebacker Ja’whaun Bentley’s interception with a 10-yard touchdown that cut Detroit’s lead to three (10-13). Things continued to trend upward when defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. sacked Stafford to open the Lions’ subsequent drive, but Detroit battled back, converting on three third downs and ending the drive with a touchdown to maintain a two-possession lead.
“We’ve got to get third-down stops,” safety Duron Harmon said. “We’ve got to do a lot of things better. We’re not doing good right now. We’ve got to start with really looking at ourselves in the mirror and figure out how we can do better.
“We’re just not playing Patriot football. We’re not doing anything that we’re supposed to do [and] not playing with good enough techniques. The thing is, when we do it, we do it well. It’s just consistency. We’re not consistent with it.”
Harmon identified at least two areas of improvement:
1. Getting off to a better start
Against both the Lions and the Jaguars, the Patriots trailed early.
“You make it hard on yourself if you start in a hole,” cornerback Jason McCourty said. “They kept driving down the field — field goal, touchdown — and then our offense went three [and out]. It is just hard to win as a team when that happens. We are not helping each other. If our offense goes three and out, we have to go get a stop and get them back, so they can get a rhythm. That’s what is hurting us right now, complementing each other to help each other out.”
2. Controlling the clock
Against the Lions Sunday, Detroit maintained possession for 12 minutes and 30 seconds of the first quarter, while New England had the ball for only two minutes and 30 seconds. Coach Matt Patricia called it a key part of the game for the Lions.
“We certainly don’t want to give the ball back to them,” he said.
With the loss, the Patriots fall to 1-2.
Harmon, however, said he’s not worried.
“We feel like the reason why we’re in this situation is because of ourselves,” he said. “I mean, we have to tip our hats to the Lions, because, obviously, they played better than us. But we know we obviously can play a lot better. We have to get ourselves out of this mess, and nobody’s going to help us. We have to do it ourselves.”
The Patriots were without three key members of their defense Sunday. Defensive lineman Trey Flowers (concussion), safety Patrick Chung (concussion), and cornerback Eric Rowe (groin) were all ruled out Saturday evening.
Their timetables for return are unclear.