Matt Patricia: Time Up In Detroit
By Tayyib Abu
Despite a fortuitous victory over Washington on Sunday, the Detroit Lions have very much flattered to deceive in the Matt Patricia era. Is it time for Sheila Ford to make a change?
Prior to this season, the mandate from ownership was to be playing ‘meaningful’ games in December. The Detroit Lions hierarchy had told Matt Patricia they wanted to see clear progress and that the team had to compete for the division title. Patricia was already on the hot seat coming into the season; A last-second win over Washington does not change that, and it should not change that. Once again, The Lions blew a lead under Patricia and then scraped a victory thanks to Chase Young’s naivety and Matt Prater’s bionic leg.
It was a hollow victory for Detroit. Washington is not a good Football team, yet the Lions managed to make them look somewhat competitive. At 4-5, the Lions season is hanging in the balance, but with a schedule that still has Tennessee, Tampa Bay, Green Bay and Minnesota left to play, the Lions will not be in the playoff mix. Detroit is in year three of the Matt Patricia experience, and nothing has improved in that time. The Lions get dominated by good teams, and they barely beat terrible teams. And there are fundamental reasons as to why this has not changed in three years; it starts with the Head Coach.
The organization brought Patricia in to be the genius defensive mind that took the Lions to a division title. Through three years, he has been anything but a genius, and The Detroit defense is still abject. In fact, last year it was the worst defense in franchise history, and this year it is hardly any better. Detroit is 29th in defensive points per game, while it is 27th in total yardage surrendered. It is still an awful unit, and it comes up back to the poor coaching.
There are personnel issues too. The Lions’ best safety after Duron Harmon is Tracy Walker. Walker’s weakness is he does not play in man coverage as well as he does in a zone. Despite this weakness, Patricia is steadfast in his refusal to change from a Cover 1 defensive scheme. And instead of tailoring a plan to the skill levels of his players, he is forcing his squad into a system he knows but does not suit them.
Three of the top five teams that play the most Cover One defense are the Patriots, Dolphins and Lions. There’s a common link in there somewhere. This stubborn nature of the coach is infuriating Lions fans. Patricia carries an air of ‘im the smartest guy in the room’, but unfortunately, the results don’t corroborate his belief.
The Fundamental Errors
Matt Patricia promised a multi-faceted defense. A defense that would confuse opponents and would win. However, the Lions line up in the same formation nearly 70% of the time. It becomes incredibly easy for offensive coordinators and veteran quarterbacks to diagnose the defense after a drive. Alex Smith threw for 390 yards on Sunday and led a comeback, partly down to the fact that the Lions were still playing a 3-4 front to combat the run. Down 21 points, no team is going to run the ball, and yet the Lions were still in the same formation as if Washington had the lead and were chewing up the clock. The Washington Football Team didn’t and weren’t, and Smith had all day to pick apart a struggling secondary.
That is situational football at its worst. Defenses have to be complimentary. Each level must play together, and the Lions defense doesn’t do this. Each unit plays as their small team, and that is not how successful defences play in the NFL. Personnel wise, it is without question now Patricia’s defense. GM Bob Quinn brought in as many ex-Patriots as possible, but those players have not been able to fix this broken unit. Against the Vikings, the Lions gave up a touchdown on a screen play as the team only had nine players on the field. These fundamental errors should not be happening and are unforgivable – and that of course, is on the Head Coach.
The Blown Leads
Detroit has had plenty of strong leads in Patricia’s time. The offense has scripted plays well, and even the scripted plays on defense have been good. However, NFL coaches are no fools, snd neither are the players. Smart coaches will be able to work out team’s tendencies and plans in an instant. The reason why Detroit blow leads are due to the fact the coaches can’t coach in-game or are unwilling to coach in-game. Against the Saints, Detroit played more zone than man, and Drew Brees dissected the defense. There were no changes at half time or during the game and the Saints duly won.
NFL teams need to have a different plan for each phase of the game. Matt Patricia doesn’t do this; his theory is to execute plan A better, rather than change it up. By the fourth quarter, any offensive coach or quarterback with some moxie will have worked the Detroit game plan out as it never changes.
One can say the same of the offense. It took until Week 10 to free D’Andre Swift. There were nine weeks of seeing whether Adrian Peterson – at 35 years old – is a power back or not. The consistent running of Peterson on 1st and 2nd down kept putting the offense in 3rd and long. Invariably, the offense would go three and out; therefore, it kept putting the struggling defense on the field. Against the Colts, the Detroit defense was on the field for 37 minutes. It eventually tired and caved in, as the Colts ran away with the game. On that day, the defense got let down by its offense. It was the antithesis of complimentary football.
Ironically, this is exactly what Patricia promised when he came in as head coach; smart, complimentary football. Yet it has not happened on the field. The unwilling nature of Patricia to adapt is comical at best, infuriating at worst. Games evolve, and opposition teams adapt, yet the Lions don’t, and that is why this team loses leads in many games.
Matt Patricia carries a high level of confidence that borders on arrogance. The man credits himself with the most extraordinary fourth-quarter coaching call in a Superbowl. He bats away criticism levelled at him when the results justify the complaints. It is the product of being in one place for 15 years and never experiencing adversity or going through difficult spells. The Patriot Way is not just the right way; it’s the only way for Patricia.
Having been part of the most successful dynasty of the last 20 years has put him at a disadvantage in Detroit. There was always going to be adversity; there was still going to be challenging moments. When those moments have happened, Patricia has bunkered down and has gotten even more stubborn. It alienated several players in 2018, and it is now impacting his coaching.
The Lions needed a generational coach, a programme builder and a coach that can corral the different characters around him. Matt Patricia isn’t that and hasn’t been that for three years. As the cold midwestern winter descends on the Motor City, Lions fans have already confronted the harsh reality of another lost season. Its time Sheila Ford made Matt Patricia aware of his own cruel reality.
Tayyib is an avid NFL fan and, as a follower of the detroit lions, is a permanent resident in the honolulu blue heartbreak hotel. writing football articles since 2019, tayyib loves everything about the sport except that wins are not a qb stat. follow him on twitter @TayyibABU1