PATRIOTS // LIONS OVERVIEW
From a DFS perspective, it’s a shame that this game is not on the main slate on FanDuel and DraftKings — though from a viewership perspective, it will be fun to see all these storylines come together, with the Patriots traveling to take on old friend Matt Patricia and integrating generational talent Josh Gordon into their passing attack. This also serves as a reminder that FantasyDraft includes the Sunday night game on their main slate and does not allow late swap. With pricing so similar between DraftKings and FantasyDraft, a lot of people simply copy over their DraftKings roster and lock it in place on FantasyDraft, which will put these people at a disadvantage with such an explosive game taking place at night. Again: we have a brief FantasyDraft breakdown for you here.
PATRIOTS PASS OFFENSE
Without Julian Edelman or a true outside threat at wide receiver, the Patriots have leaned on the run to begin the year, ranking 19th in passing play percentage — though this would appear to be a spot in which the Patriots will look to open things up a bit, against a Detroit pass defense that ranks 27th in early season DVOA and 28th in yards allowed per pass attempt. As an odd outlier stat; the Lions have not yet allowed more than 206 passing yards in a game, as Sam Darnold and Jimmy Garoppolo were able to beat this team easily with only 24 and 26 pass attempts, respectively. If Darius Slay fails to get cleared from his concussion in time to face the Patriots this week, the Lions will be starting Nevin Lawson at one starting cornerback spot and Teez Tabor at the other. Lawson has allowed 10 touchdowns in his career without ever intercepting a pass (good for a QB rating allowed in his career of 101.2), while Tabor started in place of Lawson last week, was benched partway through the game, and then had to return after Slay’s concussion.
Last week for the Patriots, Phillip Dorsett (35 pass routes), Chris Hogan (35 pass routes), and Rob Gronkowski (33 pass routes) operated as the clear leaders in this passing attack, with James White chipping in 24 pass routes of his own, and Cordarrelle Patterson the only other player on the team in double-digits.
The big question this week — and this being the Patriots, it is highly unlikely we will have an answer until the game gets underway — is how much time new acquisition Josh Gordon will see on the field. While some will point to the immediate turnaround in fortunes for Randy Moss as proof that Gordon will make a quick impact, Moss had months to learn the offense and was known for having an especially high football I.Q. It will not be surprising if Gordon has a package of plays and sees the field for 10 to 15 snaps this week. Then again…I guess it also would not be surprising if the Patriots came out firing with Gordon on the field for most passing plays. The former is the likelier, while the latter is in the realm of possibilities.
Gronk should bounce back after his four-target game in Jacksonville, vs a Lions defense that ranks 27th in DVOA against the tight end to begin the year, and that managed to allow the 12th-most receiving yards to tight ends last season in spite of allowing the fifth-fewest receptions.
Hogan has 10 targets through two games, while Dorsett has 14. Each guy is being used in a manner similar to the other, and each should still be on the field plenty. Hogan is the guy with a touchdown so far, but Dorsett and Hogan each have one target inside the 10-yard-line, while Dorsett has twice as many total red zone targets (four) as Hogan (two). As crazy as it sounds, Dorsett has operated as the Patriots’ number one wideout through the first two games of the season.
PATRIOTS RUN OFFENSE
Disconcertingly for Rex Burkhead truthers, he was only on the field for 14 snaps in Week 2, and he ran only six pass routes and saw six carries. Sony Michel played only 13 snaps and picked up 10 carries — but it’s really difficult to get a feel right now for what the Patriots will do in an entirely different type of matchup this week. If you are looking at this game in the context of the larger slates, you are dealing with some thin plays in this spot; but on the one-game Showdown slate, there is enough theoretical upside in this group to go chasing.
If chasing here, the first thing you would need to decide is if you think the Pats will go pass-heavy against a defense that ranks 27th in DVOA against the pass, or if they will instead go run-heavy against a defense that ranks 29th against the run.
If they go pass-heavy, James White is your guy.
If they go run-heavy, you will still need to guess whether Sony Michel or Rex Burkhead will receive the majority of the work.
My guess (and it’s really only that) is that the Patriots have been going so “James White heavy” more because of the absence of Edelman than because of the matchups they have faced — in which case, we could expect White to still be on the field the majority of the Patriots’ plays this week.
My other guess is that if the Patriots do go with more of a Burkhead/Michel approach, Michel will see more total touches, but Burkhead will snag one or two more passes.
It’s not pretty, but it’s some stuff to consider if you’re stuck chasing thin plays on the one-game “slate.”
LIONS PASS OFFENSE
I love this graph from airyards.com, which essentially shows the effectiveness of targets at various levels of the field against the Patriots since the start of last season. The Patriots’ line is green, and the league-average line from 2009 to 2016 is in orange.
The Patriots have essentially allowed league-average effectiveness at all levels of the field.
Taking things a layer deeper: the Patriots play man coverage at one of the highest rates in the league, and wide receivers with sticky hands — guys who can make tough, contested catches — obviously tend to fare much better in man coverage than guys who are less skilled in contested catch situations. All three of the Lions’ wideouts are standouts in this area, which could make this a tough night for the Patriots’ defenders as they aim to stop the Lions’ downfield passing attack.
Through three weeks, Kenny Golladay has run 111 pass routes, Marvin Jones has run 109, and Golden Tate has run 99. Golladay has 21.2% of the Lions’ total targets and accounts for 31.8% of the team’s air yards; Marvin Jones has 17.2% of the Lions’ total targets and accounts for 35.1% of the team’s air yards; Golden Tate has 28.3% of the Lions’ total targets and accounts for 21.2% of the team’s air yards. With such monster usage locked in for these three, there is not much room behind them for anyone else besides Theo Riddick (more on him in a moment). No team in the NFL has thrown the ball more frequently than the Lions this year, and there is no reason to expect that to change in a likely shootout against the Patriots. So far this season, all three of these receivers have produced together — and while Jones has made the smallest box score impact so far, his lead in percentage share of team air yards reminds us that he’ll have a few huge games of his own this year.
LIONS RUN OFFENSE
Last season, the Lions finished second in the NFL in pass play percentage, at 62.96%. So far this year, they are blowing that number out of the water with a 76.43% rate. Obviously, this rate is unsustainable, but in what projects to be another tough game for the Detroit defense, we should expect at least one more week of high-volume passing from Detroit.
Through two games, this has led to LeGarrette Blount seeing 12 total carries while Kerryon Johnson has 13 carries. Johnson should start seeing more work sooner rather than later, as he is running circles around Blount and has added eight catches as well. Neither back has any red zone carries, while Stafford has thrown the ball seven times inside the 20.
The man who has seen the most work out of the Lions’ backfield, of course, is Riddick, who has 17 more snaps than Johnson and 39 more snaps than Blount. The Lions may try to shorten this game early with a ground-and-pound approach, but if the Patriots are able to do on offense what the Jets and 49ers did vs the Lions the last two weeks, Riddick will step right back into his typical pass game role. Through two games, he has already seen 19 targets, basically soaking up anything left behind by Jones, Golladay, and Tate.
On the larger slates, Tom Brady is one of the safer quarterback plays, while Matthew Stafford is securely on the “upside” list. The only other place I would feel good about going on the Patriots for larger slates is Rob Gronkowski, but I wouldn’t hate the idea of taking guesses on running backs and wide receivers on the Showdown slate.
Elsewhere on the Lions, I would not mind having pieces of any of these receivers — including on the larger slates. Tate has the highest floor and carries strong upside with his YAC ability; Golladay has a slightly higher floor than Jones, as he’s getting a few more targets, and is seeing these targets a bit closer to the line of scrimmage; but Jones is being used primarily as a deep threat, and is being peppered with reliable targets, so it is only a matter of time before he hits for a monster game himself.
Theo Riddick will need a touchdown in order to really pay off, but his usage should be bankable in what should become another pass-heavy spot. I also like the idea — in really large-field stuff on the Showdown slate — of taking a chance on Kerryon, as he has looked good so far and could certainly post a strong game in this matchup if the workload takes a jump this week.