Could the Patriots have the best defense in the NFL?

Facing a stretch of easier games heading into the bye week, the Patriots needed to set the tone with a big win on Sunday against the highest-scoring offense in the league.

Coming into this game, the Detroit Lions were on a hot streak. Regardless of their 1-3 record, the team was averaging 35 points per game along with 447 yards on average as well. In their week four matchup against the Seahawks, Jared Goff led a shoot-off with Seattle’s Geno Smith, scoring 45 points and having his best game of the season so far.

But on the other side of the football, the Lions are a mess. Defensively, they allow the most points scored at 35.3 and have one of the worst run defenses in the league, allowing an average of 165 yards on the ground. With the Patriots’ offense continuing to work through struggles overall but especially in the passing game, being given the opportunity to rely heavily on their running backs was certainly a big positive.

Although the offense looked like a much more cohesive unit, even with third-string quarterback Bailey Zappe under center, it was the defense that truly made this game unwinnable for the Lions. From sacks to fumbles, to big-time interceptions, the Patriots’ defense has been a real problem for offenses in the league this year.

With a competent performance from a rookie quarterback and complete domination from the entire defense, the Patriots were able to get their first shutout win at home since September 2016. This also made the Lions just the second team in the last 25 seasons to enter the game as the highest-scoring offense only to get shutout.

Maybe a moral victory wasn’t good enough for most last week, but the Patriots’ supremacy on Sunday should be a solid indication and assurance of what this team is capable of through the remainder of the season.

The best performers for the Patriots

Bailey Zappe

With nearly a full week of preparation of knowing he would be getting his first official start, Bailey Zappe had yet another impressive performance on Sunday.

Although he wasn’t asked to do a whole lot throughout the game, Zappe ended the day going 17/21 attempts for 188 yards and one touchdown. He was also credited with an interception, but Nelson Agholor was more responsible for that play and Zappe doesn’t deserve the credit for the mistake.

In just two games played in the NFL, Zappe has looked very reminiscent of Mac Jones during his rookie season; poised and comfortable. With the benefit of a stout offensive line performance and an (almost) mistake-free day, the quarterback has earned the trust and support of his teammates and finally got to show how beneficial he can be when needed.

Bailey Zappe led the @Patriots to a 29-0 win in his first career start.

Bill Belichick and the #Patriots are now 5-0 with QBs drafted outside the 1st round making their debut start.

The rest of the NFL is 30-80 since Belichick became the NE head coach in 2000.#ForeverNE

— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) October 9, 2022

Rhamondre Stevenson

Taking advantage of the Lions’ weak run defense, the Patriots run game became the Rhamondre Stevenson show in Foxboro.

After Damien Harris went down with a hamstring injury and didn’t return, Stevenson was the only running back left active for the game, leaving all rushing duties on his shoulders. In putting the team on his back, he ran through defenders all game long with 25 carries for 161 yards, the most by a Patriots running back since Jonas Gray in 2014. His performance set personal records for the second year back. Not only did he accomplish a career-high for rushing yards in a game, but he also had a career-long run of 49 yards in the first quarter.

In his third career 100-yard rushing game, Stevenson’s aggressiveness and elite tackle-breaking abilities were on full display, and he even got involved in the passing game once again. A real force on the ground, he took the pressure off his rookie quarterback and continued to swiftly move the ball down the field.

If Harris’ injury requires him to miss games, the team is in good hands with Stevenson in the backfield. The Patriots have found their three-down back in him and he’s proving to be a huge asset within the offense so far this season.

When speaking to the media after their win, Bill Belichick spoke about how big of an impact Stevenson makes on the team and expressed his admiration for how he plays the game.

“You have to give him a ton of credit. With Damien [Harris] out, we only carried two backs for the game, and he put it all on his shoulders. He does a great job with the ball in his hands. He is a strong runner, but he can make people miss. He is a really good football player. Really a good football player. So glad we have him. Had a couple of blitz pickup plays right up the middle where he stepped up there. He is a good all-around back. Love him. Love him.”

A career-long for @dreeday32.

Jakobi Meyers

After missing two games due to injury, Mr. Reliable Jakobi Meyers made his triumphant return impeccably, proving to be a huge asset to all Patriots quarterbacks.

In his last year of college at Western Kentucky, Bailey Zappe threw to his favorite slot receiver for 1,902 yards on 150 receptions and 17 touchdowns. As the biggest threat in the slot of the receivers, Meyers’ return came at the perfect time for the slot-receiver-loving quarterback.

In his first game at Gillette Stadium this season, Meyers had 7/8 receptions for 111 yards. As Zappe’s clear favorite target of the day, he also scored the only offensive touchdown of the day, with a 24-yard run into the end zone in the third quarter. Like Stevenson, his performance would also be the third 100-yard game of his career.

With his performance in this game, the offense was very much missing what Meyers brings to the field. The chemistry he has with all of the quarterbacks he’s played with since joining the Patriots is impressive and his production continues to solidify him as a real threat for opposing defenses to contain.

As the season progresses, hopefully Meyers can remain healthy and stay on the field. His presence could be the perfect boost that the offense needs to become more successful.

DEFENSE! DEFENSE!

Jack Jones

After the conclusion of the 2022 draft, the Patriots’ choices were under tough scrutiny, with not a lot of optimism the team snagged talented players with their selections. Since the start of the season, many of the rookies that have been given opportunities to play have completely quieted those doubters with their performances, particularly cornerback Jack Jones.

Last week’s game against the Packers was Jones’ first start with Jalen Mills out with an injury, but watching his performance made it feel like he had been coached by Belichick for many years already. Jones nabbed a fumble recovery and gave Aaron Rodgers his second pick-six at Lambeau of his 18-year career, in what would be a record-breaking showing for a rookie corner in NFL history.

To add to his already phenomenal performance so far, Jones made his second interception in back-to-back games on a pass intended for T.J. Hockenson late in the first quarter. This set the Patriots up for an 83-yard drive resulting in another field goal, extending their lead to 6-0 at the start of the second quarter.

Of all his teammates in the secondary, Jones had the best performance in coverage of them all. He ended the game only allowing one reception on five attempts for 20 yards and was credited with a pass breakup as well. If his performance so far is any indication of what’s to come, the Patriots’ secondary could become a receiver’s worst nightmare this season.

Got the feet down. Jack Jones with an interception in back-to-back weeks! @presidentjacc

📺: #DETvsNE on FOX
📱: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/MoX9PRk3fw pic.twitter.com/Q6Fzwu2qRr

Kyle Dugger

Kyle Dugger had an impressive performance yet again on Sunday in his second game back from injury. Having another day of not allowing a single reception in coverage was incredible enough, but that was put to shame with a huge play made in the second quarter.

As the Lions made the foolish decision to go for it on fourth and nine, Matthew Judon came in with a strip sack for -13 yards, allowing Dugger to scoop up the football. He then ran it back for 59 yards and the touchdown, making it the fourth-longest fumble return in team history and the first score of his young career.

Dugger’s presence on the field was sorely missed in game three and since his return has demonstrated exactly why he’s so valuable to the team.

Matthew Judon

Seeing another memorable performance from Matthew Judon leaves begs the question, how did the rest of the NFL allow Belichick to sign Judon in free agency?

In another standout game on Sunday, Judon was in full menace mode once again and made Jared Goff uncomfortable all day long. On top of totaling two QB hits and three hurries, he also had seven total pressures and a run stop. As if that wasn’t incredible enough, Judon also took Goff down for two sacks in the second quarter.

After the first takedown of Goff for -9 yards, Judon took the quarterback down again while simultaneously forcing a fumble that was recovered and run back for a touchdown by Kyle Dugger. With those two sacks, this game marked the ninth time in his career that he recorded two sacks in a single game.

Extending his sack total to six on the season pushed him passed Andre Tippett (who had the most sacks through the first four games) for the most sacks in the first five games in Patriots history. His performance so far this season is right on pace with his career-best year in 2021 with the chance to have an even better year this season.

As a leader of the defense and one of the biggest overall supporters of his teammates on both sides of the football, Judon’s production has been a catalyst for the rest of the defense to follow. As the season continues, it’s imperative he maintains this level of game-changing play and continues, helping the team win games on the defensive side.

Nick Folk

Despite the inconsistency from the special teams this season, the one stable fixture within the unit continues to be Nick Folk.

Because of the troubles of getting into the red zone by the Patriots’ offense, Folk had several opportunities to score some points on Sunday and tied his career-high with five field goals made in one game. By making those field goals, he continued his NFL record to 63 straight field goals made under 50 yards.

With all the trouble that Belichick has had in finding a reliable kicker after Stephen Gostkowski’s departure, who knew that Nick Folk would become that guy? As the Patriots’ red zone issues continue, it’s reassuring they have a kicker waiting in the wings that can get points on the board when the offense can’t.

“I can’t say enough about Nick Folk. He’s so professional, consistent and dependable”

Bill Belichick on Nick Folk’s performance today pic.twitter.com/k9kVtB2a2p

— NBC Sports Boston’s Patriots Coverage (@NBCSPatriots) October 9, 2022

Honorable mentions

Offensive line – As the most concerning grouping on the Patriots coming into the regular season, the drastic improvement the offensive line has had over the last few weeks is unbelievable. In protecting Zappe on Sunday, they had an almost perfect day, with only Isaiah Wynn being penalized for a hold and sack that wound up being negated. It was the second time this season that a sack was not allowed.

Jonathan Jones – Another great day in coverage for the leading Patriots’ cornerback. In coverage, Jones allowed one reception on two attempts for just 17 yards, accomplishing another lockdown performance this season.

Myles Bryant – Throughout his troubles so far this year, Bryant held his own with a tough matchup on Sunday. Like Jones, he too was targeted twice in coverage and only allowed one completion for five yards.

DeVante Parker – Although he didn’t record a single catch in the game, Parker was targeted two times overall, and fortunately, neither resulted in an interception. Instead, the Lions’ defender was flagged for defensive pass interference on both throws, a big upgrade from what’s taken place for the receiver early in the season.

Pass rush – In facing the number one scoring offense in this game, the defense was on a roll in making Goff’s job incredibly difficult all day long. As a unit, they were credited with double-digit hurries and six quarterback hits.

Fourth down defensive stops – The Lions decided to go all-in on Sunday and chose to go for it on all but one of their fourth downs, totaling six on the day. Because they went on to be unsuccessful on six fourth-down attempts, Detroit set an NFL record with their questionable decision-making.

I’ve now reviewed the Football Outsiders PBP data and we go back to 1981 and this had never happened going back that far. https://t.co/GAkN1So1L6

— Aaron Schatz 🏈 (@FO_ASchatz) October 9, 2022

This content was originally published here.

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