Jared Goff's Detroit Lions are soaring -- well, at least statistically speaking.
The league's No. 1 offense heads to Massachusetts this weekend for a date with a foe that is particularly familiar to one key player. Bill Belichick, mastermind of a defense that once held a Goff-led Rams offense to just three points in Super Bowl LIII, remains atop the Patriots organization. He's bringing with him a defense that isn't achieving at a standard expected of the Patriots after one month of football.
Goff isn't taking New England lightly, however. He knows better.
"He's by all accounts the best if not one of the best," Goff said Wednesday, via MLive.com. "And I've had my experiences against him, and it's always been a tough game and he'll always have something for us. So, we'll see what it is, but we'll be ready."
Goff's experiences with Belichick include two losses and just one win in three meetings. The Super Bowl loss was likely both the most painful and frustrating, with Goff and the high-powered Rams stumbling their way through an underwhelming, low-scoring affair in Atlanta for which coach Sean McVay later admitted he'd likely spent too much time preparing.
McVay eventually sent Goff packing for Detroit, but only after first earning some revenge over New England via a 24-3 win over the Patriots in their first season played without Tom Brady since 2000. It was one of the last happy moments enjoyed by Goff before McVay traded him to the Lions, who struggled through the 2021 season, but appear to have turned toward a brighter future offensively. Detroit is averaging a league-best 35 points per game through four weeks, demonstrating an explosiveness that might remind Goff of the 2018 season he spent in Los Angeles.
This type of offense should have the Lions near the top of the NFC standings. Instead, they're 1-3, primarily because their defense hasn't held up its end of the bargain.
The same can be said about Belichick's unit, which enters Week 5 ranked 19th in total yards allowed per game, 22nd in scoring and 26th in rushing. The Patriots are just as uncertain offensively, especially considering their current situation at quarterback, which could see Bailey Zappe make his first career start. Detroit should see an opportunity to capitalize in this game, provided its defense can finally find a way to stop a nosebleed.
Detroit has been quite successful when it comes to protecting the ball, tying for fifth in the NFL in giveaways. If the Lions learned anything from watching New England's most recent game, it's that they'll need to continue to avoid game-changing mistakes against a defense that forced two turnovers -- both by rookie defensive back Jack Jones -- in a narrow loss to Green Bay.
"Well, his teams are always going to, they're never going to let the best player beat you on either side of the ball," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said of Belichick, via MLive.com. "That's what -- that is 100 percent -- whatever you do well is what they're going to try to take away first. First and foremost, and if you can find a way to win it without that, then OK, he's playing the odds. So, he's always been that way. I know his defenses are always, man, they're opportunistic, man.
"So, they're grabbing balls. They're punching them out, shoot they had a pick and a punch-out, pull-out, really by the same player. But they do it. It's all over the tape. They've always been that way. Find a way to get the turnovers. And it's really -- they're going to make you beat yourself. They'll play the long game here and make you make a mistake and then capitalize on it."
Detroit has proven capable of capitalizing on opposing mistakes, but after falling to Seattle in a wild shootout last week, the Lions know they need to figure out how to turn their high-scoring games into victories. Even if the stats indicate otherwise, Goff has enough experience against Belichick's Patriots to know the going won't be easy.
"I think you prepare to face the team, and I know he'll have a plan and he's a great coach, but he won't be on the field," Goff said. "So, he'll be calling it from the sideline or having his influence in some way or another, and he'll have a good plan for us, and we'll have one for him.
"I don't know if I've watched every one of Bill Belichick's career games, but I'm sure there's been games where he has done the same thing, and there's been somewhere he hasn't, so we will see. He's a great coach, and there's a reason for it. Whatever they want to throw at us, we'll be ready or adjust accordingly."