As a former Jet, Jonathan Vilma knows what it’s like to go up against a flawless Bill Belichick game plan. While those experiences were probably painful as a player, they helped Vilma in the booth Sunday. He perfectly explained how the Patriots drew up an excellent game plan for rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe in their shutout win over the Lions.
Vilma, who was sharp all afternoon, pointed out the Patriots reduced many of their pass plays to one read, allowing Zappe to get rid of the ball quickly. The fourth-round pick out of Western Kentucky went 17-of-21 for 188 yards with a touchdown and interception that wasn’t his fault (Nelson Agholor dropped a pass that hit him in stride, allowing safety DeShon Elliott to come down with the pick.)
[Zappe has been] serviceable,” said Vilma right after halftime. “Everything they’ve asked of him is make the right check, procedurally, don’t turn the football over, and make the conservative play. Not asked to do too much, but he doesn’t need to with the defense playing like this.”
Vilma is right: it’s certainly easier to play quarterback when your defense is dominating the opposition. The Patriots started their first drive on Detroit’s 19-yard line following a failed 4th-down attempt, and kicked a field goal six plays later. The Patriots stopped the Lions on four fourth downs, giving them great field position all day.
New England didn’t punt until early in the fourth quarter.
Before the game, Vilma said Lions coach Dan Campbell told him he expected the Patriots to run a bunch of short passes. Yet, they couldn’t stop it.
One explanation, besides horrendous play, is the fact that Detroit’s secondary was decimated. The Lions lost four defensive backs due to injury. Spotting an opening, the Patriots took some more attempts down the field in the third quarter, and it worked. They drew two pass interference penalties on Jeff Okudah.
Late in the quarter, Zappe found a wide-open Jakobi Meyers streaking down the sideline for an easy 24-yard score. Meyers finished with his third career 100-yard game.
“[Belichick is saying] ‘I’m going to attack the edges. I want to see how tough these corners are, how tough these safeties are,’” said Vilma. "I absolutely love Belichick saying ‘attack, attack those young guys.’”
The attack was too much for the Lions to handle. After Rhamondre Stevenson ran through the defense for a 26-yard run midway through the fourth, Vilma declared the Lions were waving the white flag.
A great game plan from Belichick and, yes, Matt Patricia, led them to their surrender.