New England vs. Detroit: 5 Key Points to Take Away from the Patriots' Debacle

Mike MattesContributor IIIAugust 28, 2011

New England vs. Detroit: 5 Key Points to Take Away from the Patriots' Debacle

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    Plain and simple, the Patriots looked awful at every level on Saturday night in the team's third preseason game against the Detroit Lions.

    On both sides of the ball, the team struggled to contain the surging Lions.

    This was especially true in the case of quarterback Matthew Stafford (12-of-14, 200 passing yards, 2 touchdowns, no interceptions), whose performance made him look like he was the league's reigning MVP, not Tom Brady.

    Patriots head coach Bill Belichick did not hold back in his postgame press conference, and he had no problem letting the world know just how disappointed he was in his team's performance:

    "I don’t feel very good about the job that I did, don’t feel very good about really anything we did tonight. We really weren't competitive, and we've obviously got a lot of work to do. I don't think there's any other solution to that than to go back and work harder, and to correct a lot of mistakes. We need to do everything better."

    Even though the Patriots looked phenomenal during their first two preseason games, there is no denying their performance against the Lions highlighted some issues that may need to be addressed before the season begins Sept. 12.

    Here are five key points to take away from this true clunker of a game. 

The Patriots' Pass-Rush Was Virtually Nonexistent

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    There is no denying that the pass-rushing unit was by far the weakest spot for the Patriots last season.

    Yet, the team added an impressive crop of new players this summer, and it looked as though the pass-rushing woes of 2010 would be all but forgotten this year after two impressive performances to start out the preseason.

    But on Saturday night, the defense failed to bring much pressure against a Detroit offensive line that is far from star-studded. 

    Matthew Stafford had all the time in the world to throw, and he absolutely carved up the Patriots' defense for 200 yards in the first half.

    Detroit's backup signal-callers, Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton, were also impressive against the Patriots—combining for 173 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.

    The thin depth in the defensive secondary was also exposed by the weak pass-rush, and it is painfully obvious the team will struggle without immense help from its front seven this season.

    Perhaps the weak performance was just an aberration because, as previously mentioned, the unit did give two outstanding performances in the first two preseason games.

    Also, Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis have yet to play, and the team is salivating over how frightening the pass-rushing unit could eventually become with their presence. 

    Regardless, Belichick needs to address this poor showing very quickly before the team falls back into old habits.

Devin McCourty Still Has Some Growing Up to Do

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    Devin McCourty was a Second-Team All-Pro during his rookie campaign in 2010, and he was responsible for some of the Patriots' most memorable defensive highlights all throughout last season.

    But his performance against the Lions made it clear there is still some room for improvement in his promising young career.

    McCourty was beaten pretty badly on a few deep-balls throughout the game, and there were a couple of times where he looked completely out of position.

    To be fair, he was matched up against one of the game's premiere wide receivers, Calvin Johnson, to begin the game, and the weak pass-rush did not help matters much either.

    It would also be unfair to say McCourty had a horrible overall performance. There were a few very nice plays he made, including a beautiful touchdown-saving pass-breakup in the end zone.

    But there is no denying he has a little bit of a ways to go before he can be considered one of the game's top cover men. He already has great instincts (evidenced by his team-leading seven interceptions last season), and his laudable work ethic should help him continue to grow into a great player as well.

    But against the Lions, the weak parts of McCourty's game were exposed.

    The Patriots are banking on him to improve upon his terrific rookie season at a position where the team has very little depth.

Ochocinco Looks Lost

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    New England fans everywhere were raving about the addition of wide receiver Chad Ochocinco when the team added him at the end of July.

    Since then, the hoopla has died down quite a bit due to the many struggles he has had in trying to learn the Patriots' system. Ochocinco has even openly admitted he is still having some trouble adapting to the complex scheme.

    Furthermore, his mediocre performances in the past two preseason games—as well as during training camp—demonstrate that he isn't lying.

    Against the Lions, Ochocinco was targeted only four times (despite playing 23 snaps) and was only able to haul in one catch.

    He and Tom Brady are simply not on the same page right now, and time is running out to develop a solid rapport with the start of the regular season just two weeks away.

Green-Ellis May Not Be as Featured as He Was in 2010

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    Bill Belichick has made no secret of his love and admiration for running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

    "The Law Firm" far exceeded expectations last season when he became the first Patriots running back since 2004 to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season, and his bruising playing style, coupled with his ability to hold on to the football, makes him one of the most reliable players who can be found throughout the entire roster.

    But this does not mean he possesses the most talent.

    Green-Ellis will certainly be the starter on opening day, but with the plethora of talent the Patriots have at the position, it is very unlikely he will match his totals from last season.

    This became evident Saturday night when Green-Ellis was only able to muster up 18 yards on eight carries. The reason for such a poor performance was because of the way in which he plays the game.

    His power-running style was ineffective against a Detroit defense that continued to stack the box against the Patriots after Brady was unable to get anything going through the air. And unfortunately Green-Ellis does not possess the speed or versatility to be a big-play threat out of the backfield, often hindering what the Patriots are able to do against stout run-defenses.

    Danny Woodhead is a much smaller, yet much more versatile running back who is able to help the Patriots in the passing game as well when the ground game is ineffective. Though he was able to gain 28 yards on just four carries against the Lions, it was actually his 21 yards receiving that should make Green-Ellis start to sweat a little.

    Furthermore, rookie running back Stevan Ridley (who was actually inactive Saturday night) has been one of the most impressive rookies so far in the preseason. He also possesses great versatility that could help him push Green-Ellis for some serious playing time.

    There is no doubt Green-Ellis will still be counted on quite heavily by the Patriots this season, especially in short-yardage and goal-line situations. But it would be very surprising to see him match his numbers from last season, and he could soon force Belichick to make him the third man in line at running back if he cannot demonstrate an ability to be more than just a wrecking ball.

Aaron Hernandez Continues to Shine

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    Though the Patriots looked terrible in virtually every aspect of the game against the Lions, there was one particular bright spot for the team: Aaron Hernandez.

    Hernandez became a fan favorite during his great rookie campaign in 2010, and it comes as no surprise that he has continued to look great throughout the 2011 preseason.

    Against the Lions, he led the Patriots with five catches for 46 yards. 

    These numbers are certainly not eye-popping by any means. Yet, it was the way in which he was used during the game that truly demonstrates his incredible value.

    Most of his catches came off the screen-pass after the Patriots decided to switch things up a bit against the dominating Lions pass-rush. Hernandez's great size and quickness make him a unique weapon in the short-yardage game. 

    Hernandez is also a great option to throw to downfield due to his freakish athleticism that makes him a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. His versatility is incredible, and he may be targeted a lot more than people think this upcoming season because of his ability to play in almost every package.

    After watching Saturday's game, it became quite obvious that Hernandez will be one of Brady's most trusted and dependable targets this season.