Five things to watch as Detroit Lions host New England Patriots; also prediction

New England defense without 3 sstarters

After what can best be described as a disappointing start to the season, the Lions face their toughest opponent so far when they host the New England Patriots tonight at Ford Field.

“Did they win the Super Bowl last year?” asked Glover Quin, possibly trying to downplay the Patriots’ elite status. Well, of course they didn’t win it, but they were in it.

New England is off to a 1-1 start and the offense needs some work but they have Tom Brady (five touchdowns, 1 interception). The Patriots’ defense, which has allowed 25.5 points per game, will be missing defensive lineman Trey Flowers, along with safety Patrick Chung and cornerback Eric Rowe. All three started last week and have been ruled out for this game due to injury.

Meanwhile, Matthew Stafford is off to an inglorious start with four touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s been off on connecting with receivers on the long ball. Just not a good look so far.

Of course all eyes will be on Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia, his disciple and former defensive coordinator. They will be a part of the story on Sunday night even though they both try to dismiss the attention.

Five things to watch:

1. Stafford has to have a better game. They don’t win unless this offense gets turned around. Since he’s the quarterback he gets the blame or the credit. “I have to make sure I give those guys (Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr.) chances, No. 1, and then when they do beat those guys just make sure I put it on them,’’ Stafford said.

2. The offensive line had a better Week 2. Left tackle Taylor Decker didn’t practice on Friday but it wasn’t an injury situation and he’s expected to play tonight. The line was without right guard T.J. Lang last week, but he practiced this week and should start.

3. Detroit’s secondary against Brady will be a tough matchup. It could be worse if cornerback Darius Slay (concussion) does not play. He participated in practice on Friday for the first time all week but it’s unclear if he’ll be ready to go. Slay gives the Lions’ defense the best chance of being able to stop Brady and his gang.

4. After missing last week, defensive end Ziggy Ansah is expected to play — he’s practiced this week. Ansah and the line have to put pressure on Brady, keep him in the pocket. They sacked Jimmy Garoppolo six times, but he holds onto the ball longer so don’t give that stat too much value. Brady has been sacked four times in the first two games.

5. The Lions run game has slightly improved. They’re up to 4.3 yards per catch which is 1.1 yards better than last season. In the first two games, the Lions fell so far behind they had to resort to the pass to try to catch up. Kerryon Johnson (4.6 yards per carry) has just 13 touches in the first two weeks. If the Lions can stay in the game, he could get more of the load. LeGarrette Blount, a former Patriot, has proven he’s still got gas in the tank.

PREDICTION: Patriots 27, Lions 24.

Lions Matthew Stafford, receivers look to get back their deep ball connection

Deep ball has been big part of offense in the past

ALLEN PARK — All eyes are always on the quarterback.

With the Lions 0-2 and Matthew Stafford not looking like his usual efficient self, the quarterback and the offense don’t look close to panicked.

Stafford, who has passed for 4,000 yards in each of the last seven seasons, has decent numbers in the opening losses. But on Sunday at San Francisco he overthrew four long passes. It’s not like him to miss on all of those.

Stafford and the offense need to perform better when they face the New England Patriots on Sunday night at Ford Field.

“I think I just have to throw it to where they can catch it. It’s as simple as that, right? Just have to make sure I give them a chance,’’ Stafford said on Thursday. “There were some going back to last year where I probably didn’t throw the perfect ball but either Marv (Marvin Jones Jr.) or Kenny (Golladay) or GT (Golden Tate) or whoever it was went up and made a great play, right? And that’s part of it, too. I have to make sure I give those guys chances, No. 1, and then when they do beat those guys just make sure I put it on them.”

Wide receivers Marvin Jones Jr., and Golden Tate said they will continue to work on connecting with Stafford. Oh, and it’s not all on Stafford.

“I think we all could have done something better — better releases, better route running. I have confidence that from here on we’ll complete more of those, it’s kind of what we’ve done best over the years I think,’’ Tate said on Thursday. “It’s going up to get those 50-50 balls and executing explosives that’s one thing we take a lot of pride on it. That’s something I expect us to be better at.’’

They worked on it at practice this week just like they always do.

“Obviously, we were the best last year on that. But it’s a new year, and we have to keep working on that, and we’ll get it done,’’ Jones said this week. “We just have to continue to work on it. And the more we work on it, the better we’ll get at it.”

Stafford had zero interceptions in Week 2 after four picks in the opening game. Throwing too deep is usually safer than not throwing deep enough.

“Less bad is going to happen if you’re overshooting it, but less good as well. It’s a fine line. I’d love to just hit them all in stride, that’d be great,’’ Stafford said. “That’s what I plan on doing. But if it doesn’t happen, then our guys have to go up there and protect it if it’s short. A chance to make a play but make sure nothing bad happens. And I have to try to do my best to make sure that I’m giving them chances.”

Statistics don’t tell the whole story. After two games Stafford is ranked sixth in the NFL in passing yards with 633. Nothing wrong with that.

The Lions’ offense in two games has averaged 383 yards per game. The passing offense (314.5 yards per game) ranked sixth in the NFL while the rushing defense averaged 68.5 yards per game and is 30th in the NFL.That last statistic is a bit misleading since the Lions were so far behind in both games, they had to stick to the pass in hopes of catching up.

One noticeable improvement is the Lions are gaining an average of 4.2 yards per carry which is tied for 12th in the NFL. In 2017 that average — a key stat to explain the anemic run game — was 3.4 yards per carry, the worst in the NFL.

No one seemed too worried about this offense with the return of coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. However, in the opening two games the execution has come up short.

New England’s defense isn’t all of that, but the Patriots have this habit of figuring out a way to win.

Lions Glover Quin on facing Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and getting ‘D’ in gear

Lions looking for first win

ALLEN PARK –  When he played in Houston, safety Glover Quin faced New England’s Tom Brady often.

So when the two line up at Ford Field on Sunday night, it won’t be a first.

The Lions (0-2) are looking for their first win this season while the Patriots (1-1) are coming off a loss at the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Lions’ defense is adjusting to a new scheme under first-year coach Matt Patricia, formerly New England’s defensive coordinator. The relationship could add a little drama to the nationally televised game, although both coaches are down-playing it.

Three thoughts from Quin:

1. Quin, who is 32, said he is fine physically yet in the first two games, he looked just a bit off on his timing. He says it’s mental. The defense is learning a new scheme and has to adjust to react quickly. No time for thinking. “When they say games are won or lost by ‘this much’ it’s literally true. Having to think and then go, opposed to just going is the difference in making a pass break-up and making an interception, or making an interception and giving up a catch. Or, being one step closer and making a tackle or being one step farther and missing a tackle is literally just like that,’’ Quin said, snapping his fingers. That said, he knows the team has to get its act together quickly, it can’t be patient while getting used to new methods. “Hopefully Sunday we’re all on board ready to roll,’’ Quin said.

2. It’s not unusual for the Patriots and Tom Brady to take a few games into the season to get warmed up. “I’ve faced Tom Brady a few times. Throughout the years he’s always been a good tough competitor. It’s always fun playing against him. (He’s) very fiery,’’ Quin said. “When you’re playing him in New England it’s a lot funnier, it’s quiet so you can hear him when he’s going off on his O-linemen and his wide receivers telling them to move and stuff.

“But he’s made some amazing throws, some amazing plays and he’s a great quarterback. I got a ton of games where I played him from earlier in my career when I was in Houston in the AFC — playing him in the regular season, playing him in the playoffs. Since I’ve been here we’ve played once in the regular season and I think we played them twice in the preseason. Last year they jumped out on us like 20-something at halftime,’’ said Quin. It was the third game of the preseason (the dress rehearsal) and the Patriots, who started Brady, jumped out to a 24-0 lead and won 30-28. Quin’s only preseason interception in his 10-year career came courtesy of Brady in that game.

3. Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is third all-time in touchdown catches by a tight end (70) in the NFL, scored one touchdown in the opener and none in the loss at Jacksonville in Week 2. Gronkowski, who was limited in Thursday’s practice with an ankle injury, has nine receptions, averaging 15.3 yards per catch. He is always a handful. “We’ve got to all recognize where he’s at, we’ve got to all be tuned into what we’re doing,’’ Quin said. “He’s been with Tom (Brady) for a lot of years so they have a good rapport on the field. They play really well together. He’s big, he’s physical, he’s faster than people think — he runs kind of weird but he moves, he moves fast. He’s not real shifty, you don’t have to be when you’re that big. He has big strong hands, great hands, great body control, when you’re got a guy that big, I don’t know if you guys realize, when you go against a guy show’s 6-6, 260-however (268) big he is. Those guys are big, it’s like guarding Ziggy (Ansah). And he can catch, great ball skills. And Tom trusts him, when you trust a guy you have to go to him.’’