By Dan Zeigarnik, Patriots Daily Staff
The much-ballyhooed matchup against the Colts found a way to live up to its astronomical hype. It played on every string of the storied rivalry. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick found a way to win (as always), while Peyton Manning posted amazing stats and clearly carried a mediocre team. In the end, the allure of Foxborough held up, and as happy as fans are about the win, they are understandably weary of how close the Patriots came to defeat. Fans could barely watch Manning’s inevitable march to victory in the 4th quarter.
With all due deference to Peyton Manning’s greatness, Patriot fans still find New England’s defensive ineptitude inexcusable. They are the worst 3rd down defense in the history of the NFL. The whole history! Considering how likeable this defense is with the likes of Chung, Mayo, McCourty, Spikes and Wilfork and the rest, it’s hard to decipher whether we, as fans, are just huge homers. I remember the Celtic days of yore, not the Bird era but the wilderness after. Fans fell in love with the likes of Gerald Green, Milt Palacio, Adrian Griffin, Marcus Banks, and Sebastian Telfair. This was a time when ‘I love Waltaaaah!’ was as ubiquitous as the “Waz up!” Budweiser commercials. Luckily those cultural phenomena are long behind us. Nowadays, not recognizing any of these names is not a crime as these basketball ‘stars’ were part of the leagues worst teams. The question arises: is Darius Butler, who can’t find consistent playing time on one of the leagues worst defenses, the NFL equivalent of Gerald Green? Are fans turning a blind eye to obvious fact that the Patriots defense is terrible and therefore the players on that team could also be described with the same adjective?
These questions are easily overlooked because of the fantastic wins against the Ravens, Chargers, Steelers and Colts. The 8-2 record gives the young defense much cover as it tries to quickly mature with the all-important winter months quickly closing in on them. However, how fast will reporters and fans sour on the inept defense, especially considering how vital a stout defense is to a prolonged playoff drive?
However, until that day comes, there is much to be thankful for. One of which is the fact that the Patriots are playing on Turkey day. Here are the top 5 things to watch for as you scarf down pumpkin pie with your family:
Calvin Johnson vs. Patriots Secondary
This guy is like a bigger and stronger version of Randy Moss in his prime. It’s a scary thought and a huge challenge for the Patriots Defense.
Green-Ellis vs. Lions Linebackers
With Randy Moss gone, the Patriots have switched to a much more balanced offense, whose success is predicated on a potent running attack. Look for Green-Ellis and Woodhead to manage the clock and keep the Lions linebackers honest.
Lions Defensive line vs. Patriots O-line
The Detriot defensive line has Kyle Vanden Bosch and Ndamukong Suh, who are always dangerous and need to be accounted for at all times. Vollmer and Light did an excellent job against the Colts and will surely continue their stellar performance.
Special Teams Play
The Lions have a great kick-off returner and a great punter. Seeing them often, while difficult is better then not seeing them at all (i.e. Pats never score, and Detroit never punts.)
Patriots 3rd Down Defense vs. Lions Passing Game
As discussed above, the Patriots need to show some ability to get off the field when it matters. The Lions will prove to be a good test as they are no slouches, ranking 6th in passing offense with 256 yards per game.