How the Detroit Lions were able to upset the New England Patriots

When the schedule first came out, it seemed logical to have a prime time game with New England taking on Detroit. However after the first two weeks the Lions were looking like a mess, and when you need a bounce back game, the Patriots aren’t usually the team you’d want to go against. However one of the bigger surprises happened, and Detroit was able to pull off an upset, let’s get into how exactly they were able to do it.


Detroit came out of the gate with the appearance that they were going to try and throw the ball on New England. 14 of their first 21 were out of a standard personnel set (a set with 3 receivers, a tight end and a halfback). In fact, their last 8 plays on their second drive were out of a standard set. This is a set that you can run out of, but typically a team would throw out of it around two thirds of the time. Detroit also ran 3 plays from a 4 wide set, which is obviously a set where you’d throw the ball on almost every play. However despite that, they ran the ball 9 of the 20 plays on their first two drives. It’s certainly nothing crazy, but it really helped them establish the run game, and open things up for Matt Stafford, who threw an 18, 15 and 12 yard pass on their first two drives, which resulted in them scoring 10 points. As a whole Detroit did a pretty good job from standard sets, they averaged 7.44 yards per passing play, and just as importantly they gained 5.41 yards per rushing play from those sets. A standard set is by far the most used personnel grouping in the NFL, and Detroit used it 36 times on Sunday, which was 49.3 percent of their plays. So the fact that they were able to be successful out of that set regardless of which play they ran really allowed Detroit to open up their playbook and use whichever kind of play they wanted.


While things started off well for Detroit’s offense, New England’s offense couldn’t get anything going, as they began the game with three straight three and outs. New England loves to use sets with a fullback and sets with multiple tight ends. So in this game things started off no differently, 6 of their first 9 plays were out of sets that had either multiple tight ends or a fullback (on a bit of a side note, the other 3 plays were either out of a 4 wide or 5 wide set. I’m not really sure what that says, but I thought it was interesting that they didn’t use a standard set until their 4th drive). Using fullbacks and multiple tight ends really didn’t work out too well for New England, when they used a fullback they gained just 2.57 yards per play, and with multiple tight ends they gained just 3.45 yards per play. In fairness, those are sets usually reserved for short yardage situations, however the Patriots used those sets for 33.3% of their plays, so it’s not like they were only used to pick up a few yards. Although it’s not like other sets were too much better, as New England only gained 4.64 yards per play all game.

Eli Harold, Tom Brady

The Patriots were finally able to get something going in late in the second quarter. They had a 9 yard gain and a 15 yard gain, both of which were passing plays out of a standard set. They followed that up with a 19 yard pass out of a 4 wide set. Those plays let to a field goal that made the score 13-3. On their next drive, they switched things up. They ran the ball out of a 4 wide set, which went for 12 yards. Then later in they drive they passed the ball out of a two tight end set, which went for 19 yards. New England had Detroit guessing, and with Detroit having to respect both the ground game and the passing game, they weren’t able to sell out to stop the pass in the red zone, and New England was able to throw a 10 yard touchdown out of a 4 wide set. While the 4 wide set worked pretty well on this drive, as a whole it was rather pedestrian, as New England gained just 4.91 yards per play from 4 wide sets. It’s also worth mentioning that using a standard set wasn’t too much better, as New England gained exactly 5 yards per play from those sets, however they gained 6.83 yards per passing play from those sets. Considering the fact that Tom Brady only averaged 5.1 yards per attempt all game (and that’s not factoring in sacks) it’s fair to say throwing the ball out of a standard set was probably the best formation for the Patriots on Sunday night. But despite that, New England only threw the ball from a standard set 12 times. Granted the Patriots only ran 48 total plays, so 12 passes from a standard set is still an even 25% of the time, however that’s still a bit on the low end. 2 weeks ago Pittsburgh passed the ball out of a standard set for an even 50% of their plays. I’m not saying the Patriots should’ve done it that much, but considering the fact that is was their best play, they probably should’ve used it more. The Patriots did make in adjustment to use more standard sets in their final two drives, however at that point it was essentially too late.

NFL: New England Patriots at Detroit Lions

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, New England only ran 48 total plays all game. Meanwhile Detroit ran 73 total plays, a full 25 more plays than the Patriots, which was the second biggest disparity in any game so far this season. Detroit was able to control most of the game, largely through being successful at both running and passing the ball. The Lions were decent with multiple tight ends in the game, 13 of the 16 plays they ran from those sets were rushes, and they gained 3.94 yards per play from those sets. Detroit also managed to lose 4 yards on the 4 plays when they had a fullback in, however 3 of those were their last 3 offensive plays of the game, so I wouldn’t read too much into that stat. Matt Stafford had a solid stat line, but not necessarily an amazing one, as he passed for 262 yards averaging 7.3 yards per attempt, and he threw 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. However I though he played better than his stats would indicate. Detroit used a 4 wide set 17 times, and 14 were passes. Out of a 4 wide set the quarterback really has to make the play, pressure is going to come quickly, and the quarterback has to make a quick decision and get the ball out in a hurry. Stafford did a great job of that (also a great performance from Detroit’s offensive line helped). They averaged 6.53 yards per play from that set, which was the highest average from any set either team ran all game. At the end of the day, Detroit needed a win, and they got one. As for New England, they’re not looking great, and people are speculating that they could be in trouble, so they’re probably going to win the super bowl this year.

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