Behind Enemy Lines: Patriots vs Lions (Pt. 1)

We banter with's Jon Scott about Thursday's Turkey Day tilt between the 8-2 New England Patriots and 2-8 Detroit Lions.

Nate Caminata ( New England didn't make the playoffs in 2008, and dropped out in the first-round a season ago. Yet in spite of two "down" years, they remain NFL royalty. How important is a legitimate Super Bowl run in 2010 to their legacy?

Jon Scott ( For the Patriots' faithful, anything short of the playoffs is a disappointment. New England has a track record under Tom Brady and Bill Belichick of not only getting to the postseason, but going most of the way. When they do get to the big game, they usually win it. Call it being spoiled, or call it high expectations, it's the same story. Anything less just isn't Patriot-like. New England is one of the most successful franchises since Belichick joined the team (2000). Under his guidance the team is 129-43 (.750) highest among all NFL coaches. The Patriots were 126-52 (.708) for the 2000-09 decade. Indy (2000-2009) was next at 124-53 (.701) and SF 49ers (1990-99) went 122-54 (.693).

Caminata: The Patriots dropped a stunner to the AFC's "Lions" (Cleveland) three weeks ago, but then won two straight against Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. Do they overlook lesser teams, especially with a more viable opponent (N.Y. Jets) entering Foxborough in two weeks?

Scott: The loss to Cleveland was more about how the Browns attacked a Patriots' team that wasn't equipped to stop Cleveland's biggest strength. I think it was one of Mangini's best game plans since becoming a head coach. You have to credit the way the Browns play. Much like Detroit, their record doesn't reflect the level of talent those teams have. Mangini, like Josh McDaniels and other former Belichick / Parcells coaching tree disciples elsewhere (Charlie Weiss, Romeo Crennel, Todd Haley) all have better understandings of how to defeat New England than most teams, despite what their record going into the game may indicate.

It's not a matter of overlooking teams, but not executing as well as the other team.

Caminata: New England clearly belongs to the avant-garde of the league. Would you mind explaining, maybe in bulleted list (Lions' fans need simplicity at this point), the steps that helped elevate the Patriots' organization ... heavenward? Is there a feeling of guilt that accompanies Patriots' fans when they see just how dead the grass is on the other side of the fence?

Scott: The move to success is directly connected to the rise of Tom Brady. It's pretty plain and simple:

  • Build a defense that can manage to turn in a decent performance
  • Design a game plan each week for each opponent, not a generic gameplan
  • Stock the roster with guys who love football (Aka Danny Woodhead)
  • Give Tom Brady a gameplan which he can use to score just enough points to win.

Caminata: The Randy Moss thing is somewhat befuddling. On teams not touched by the hand of God, a freakishly talented receiver would seem to add a considerable amount of punch, yet the Patriots drop him and get ... better? And is the love he shared following the Vikings' loss at all reciprocated?

The Patriots have continued their winning ways after dispatching Randy Moss.
AP Photo

Scott: The move to trade Randy Moss was not a popular one here in New England. Fans were divided over how he conducted his business in public, but honestly, he really didn't have much of an option with that. The organization is not setup to allow superstars at every position to be paid like superstars. The Patriots are setup to get value from every player, except the ones they MUST-HAVE to win. Even Brady's new contract is going to be upstaged by lesser qualified players. But that's OK with these guys. They play for the love of the game and for each other. And, of course, they play here because of the wins.

Certainly, a guy like Moss, with a reputation for looking out only for himself, would test the organizational philosophy. But once these guys understand the team-first motivation which drives everyone in the building, they typically buy in. I think Randy wanted to buy in. I think he did buy in (for the most part), but I think he knows this is his last shot at getting a big contract. He wanted to get paid like the superstar despite teams finding ways to limit the damage he could do to them. The team tired of the disruption and parted ways. But I do think they miss him. I wouldn't be surprised if Moss returned. Though I think he has some bridges to mend.

Caminata: Playing into my theory that New England has a plug-in-play system, one of the team's big contributors has been a player named Danny Woodhead. Who is Danny Woodhead, and is he symbolic of just how systematic and effective Bill Belichek's system is?

Scott: Woodhead is a newer, smaller, less-experienced version of Kevin Faulk. The plug-in part with Woodhead is that you see his skillset on display on third down, just like Faulk. I'd say the Patriots have sustained a dropoff from Faulk's contributions, but they gained in other areas, namely Woodhead's ability to cutback for a huge play.

Woodhead has an uncanny sense of how to find a hole. You see him stuffed at the line of scrimmage, yet he's so low to the ground he finds a way to squirt between defenders for four or five yards. Woodhead turns no gains into four-yard carries. That's the key.

The 5-foot-9 (really 5-foot-7.5) RB is a two-time Harlon Hill trophy winner (Div 2 version of the Heisman). He spent time with the Jets, but New York couldn't figure out how to use him. I assume they were trying to fit him into the role Leon Washington held for them last year. New England found one for him after claiming the kid off the waiver wire. Not a bad deal.

Caminata: How far do you see this Patriots' team advancing in the post-season? Through 10 games, what would make for the most enticing Super Bowl match-up?

Scott: I had the Patriots pegged for 11 or possibly 12 wins this year. They're doing better (and worse) than expected. I think they had lady luck on their side for a couple of weeks and ended up losing to the Browns in a clunker. I think they still have one of those types of games in them. This is the 30th ranked defense (31st vs Pass). It is far worse than even I had predicted in my most pessimistic scenario. You can understand rookies and first-year guys missing a big play here or there, but these guys allow teams to just keep marching down the field, even bad teams. Any game they get in will have to be a shoot out because if the offense falters, the Patriots are done.

Unless they fix the secondary soon, I expect an early exit from the playoffs, though I do expect them to make it there. They may once again find lady luck, and if they do, anything is possible with Tom Brady as the quarterback.

Jon Scott's Prediction:
New England finds ways to allow teams back into the game even when there should be no possibility of that happening. I like what progress Ive seen from the Lions this season, in spite of their record. I'd be concerned that an aerial bombardment could make this a much tougher out than at first glance.
Patriots 27, Lions 24



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