FOXBOROUGH — The Lions, and everyone who follows the NFL, know they have a stout run defense. They entered Sunday’s game at Gillette Stadium No. 1 in the league against the run, allowing 68.8 yards per game and 3.0 yards per carry.
The Lions knew the Patriots would try to throw the ball, but surely New England would try to establish some sort of running game, especially after rushing for 246 yards last week against the Colts.
“You run for 200 yards, you think you’d kind of stick to it,” said Lions safety James Ihedigbo, a former Patriot.
The running game was an afterthought in the Patriots’ 34-9 win. The offense spread out the Lions’ defense with four- and five-receiver sets all day, and Tom Brady came out firing, throwing a pass on 52 of his team’s first 64 offensive plays and racking up 349 yards before handing the ball over to LeGarrette Blount to run out the clock.
“Crazy,” Ihedigbo said. “We thought they would actually try to run the ball, but that’s the New England Patriots, that’s who they are. When you have a quarterback like Tom Brady, you can do whatever you want.”
The Patriots are No. 1 in the NFL in scoring, averaging 32.5 points per game. During their current seven-game win streak, they’re averaging 39.6. They’re blowing teams out, winning six of those seven games by at least 15 points.
Bill Belichick seems dull and uncooperative when he says after the game, “We just try to do what we think we need to do to win. That’s all,” but the coach is being 100 percent truthful. No team mixes up its game plan from week to week, or even quarter to quarter, better than the Patriots.
The only thing opposing defenses know is to expect the unexpected.
“It’s the Patriots. It’s normal for them,” Lions defensive tackle C.J. Mosley said. “One week you might get one thing, another week you might get the total opposite. That’s what they do well to keep teams on their heels. Hats off to them.”
There is no better example of this than the Patriots’ last two wins.
The game plan against Indianapolis was all ground-and-pound. The Patriots ran the ball 41 times (excluding kneel-downs) and threw only 30, opting for ball control to slow down the game. Jonas Gray had 37 carries, Shane Vereen played only 20 snaps, and fullback James Develin played 34.
Sunday against the Lions, the goal was clearly to avoid Ndamukong Suh and the rest of their nasty defensive line, and instead attack their questionable secondary.
Unofficially, Vereen played 59 snaps, and Develin played just nine. Gray didn’t play (for disciplinary reasons as much as anything), and eight of Blount’s 12 carries came in the closing minutes.
The result, of course, was the same as it has been the previous seven weeks — a lot of points and a Patriots’ blowout win.
“As long as we win, man, I’ll take any kind of win we can get,” Develin said. “Just seems like whatever is necessary to win the games is what our offense is going to do. It’s been fun to watch.”
The Patriots went heavy with the up-tempo, no-huddle attack to neutralize the Lions’ nine-man defensive line rotation. Brady averaged only 6.6 yards per attempt, and his longest completion was 24 yards, but he got the ball out quickly and kept the chains moving, picking up 29 first downs.
“They know our pass rush, the guys that we have, so they figured, ‘Hey, let’s try to go up-tempo so they can’t substitute,’ ” Ihedigbo said. “It wasn’t really downfield passing that they did. They just nickel and dimed us.”
The Patriots’ versatility has to be downright frightening for opposing defensive coordinators.
They have won four straight games by 21-plus points — the first time they have done so since the 2007 season — and emphasized a different element of the offense almost every week.
They picked apart the Bears and Broncos with play-action passes, smashed the Colts with the power run game, then dinked-and-dunked the Lions into oblivion.
What’s funny is after the season’s first four games, many fans and pundits questioned whether the Patriots had enough weapons around Brady.
Now, with seven straight wins in the books — six of them blowouts — the Patriots look like they have the deepest well of offensive talent in the league.
The Patriots can — and have — beat a defense in so many ways. They can go big and physical with Rob Gronkowski, Tim Wright, Brandon LaFell, Develin, Michael Hoomanawanui, and Blount/Gray.
Or they can go small and quick with Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and Vereen.
They can use Vereen in the passing game, like they did on Sunday when he caught eight passes for 48 yards. They can use Gronkowski, LaFell, and Amendola, all above-average blockers, in the run game.
The players are almost as curious to hear Josh McDaniels deliver the game plan on Wednesday mornings as opposing defenses are to figure it out.
“Josh is the best. He’s so smart, gets us all prepared,” Brady said. “Whatever it takes, we’re going to try to figure it out.”
When you play the Lions, you know you have to stop Calvin Johnson. When you play the Chiefs, you know Jamaal Charles is the X-factor. When you play the Colts, you have to take away the deep ball to T.Y. Hilton.
When you play the Patriots?
“That’s why it’s so great to be a part of this team,” Gronkowski said. “Anyone can make a play at any time, and we just want to spread the ball out, get everyone involved.”Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin