This morning the sports world was alerted that Matt Patricia, the 43-year-old Defensive Coordinator for the Patriots, is likely going to be the next Head Coach of the Detroit Lions. This move comes after the Lions finished the 2017 season with a 9-7 record, and failed to make the playoffs. It was Jim Caldwell’s 4th season at the helm of the Lions, and the second time he failed to lead them to the playoffs. Patricia will be the Lions’ 4th different head coach in the last 10 years, as the franchise continues to search for its first playoff win since 1991 when Wayne Fontes was the Head Coach. The lack of playoff success for the Lions will all be forgotten if Matt Patricia can find a way to lead them to the Promised Land. Begging the question: is Matt Patricia the right hire for the Detroit Lions?
Evaluating how effective a coach has been, or how effective a coach will be, is difficult. It’s difficult to separate the impact of a coach from the impact of player improvement and player turnover. In 2009, the Lions received a significant influx of player talent when they drafted Matt Stafford out of the University of Georgia. Since then, they have made a clear effort to build their team around Stafford, culminating in the record 5-year $135 million deal that he received prior to the 2017 season. Detroit has made it clear: Matt Stafford is their guy. While Matt Stafford has been able to bring life to the Detroit offense, he can’t play on both sides of the ball, and the defense has continued to struggle. Is Matt Patricia the guy who can finally bring it all together?
The previous three stops on the Lions’ coaching road trip included: Rod Marinelli (2006-08), Jim Schwartz (2009-13), and Jim Caldwell (2014-17). Under these three coaches the Lions won 21%, 36%, and 56% of their games, respectively. Although each of these coaches brought a different skillset to the table, they were unable to buck the trend of a perennially poor Detroit defense.
Since 2006, when Rod Marinelli became the Head Coach of the Lions, the franchise has failed to have a defense that consistently ranked in the top half of the NFL. In fact, under Marinelli the Lions had three straight seasons where they were last in the NFL in total defense. The above graphic becomes a little more interesting when you consider the backgrounds of the three head coaches. Prior to arriving in Detroit, Marinelli had been the Assistant Head Coach and Defensive Line Coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Schwartz had been the Defensive Coordinator for the Tennessee Titans. Caldwell has a slightly different background from the other two, coming over from the Ravens as the QB Coach and as the Head Coach of the Colts before that. Although Caldwell brings a more offensive mindset to the table than both Marinelli and Schwartz, his defenses in Detroit outperformed the previous two Lions coaches.
So, to bring in Matt Patricia, a defensive minded coach, to fix the Lions’ defensive woes may be slightly foolish. Patricia has been fortunate enough to be the Defensive Coordinator for the New England Patriots since 2012, and a member of the coaching staff since 2004. Perhaps in that amount of time some of the Belichick genius will have rubbed off on him, and he will be able to bring something unique to the table. However, the hope that he will turnaround the Detroit defense based on his defensive scheme alone is farfetched. In his time in New England, the Patriots have not been known for their suffocating defense, but rather for the guy on the other side of the ball with the last name Brady. In his six seasons with the Patriots, Patricia’s defense only ranked inside the top 9 once, and ranked 25th or worse three times. It should also be noted that the Patriots are coming off their worst defensive performance in the last six seasons, ranking 29th in total defense.
As troubling as the Detroit defense has been, it isn’t the only hole they need to plug. With the addition of Matt Stafford in 2009, the Lions have made a concerted effort to use him in their offense. Even with his level of talent, he needs time to operate and create. In other words: it’s difficult to throw the ball lying on your back. Since 2009, Stafford has played 7 full seasons (2011-17). In those seven seasons he has ranked inside the top 6 in passing 4 times, and ranked inside the top 6 in sacks taken 5 times, culminating in a 2017 season in which he took 47 sacks (second most in NFL). The solution to this problem: a better offensive line that can provide him longer and more effective protection. It’s possible Matt Patricia is the solution Stafford has been looking for.
From 2001 to 2003, Patricia was an offensive graduate assistant at Syracuse, before taking a job as an offensive assistant with the Patriots in 2004. In 2005, he became the assistant offensive line coach for the Patriots. In the 2005 season, Tom Brady was sacked 26 times, the 13th lowest sack count in the league and 21 times fewer than Stafford was sacked this season. While it would seem that the Detroit front office was looking to Patricia for a fresh defensive mind, they may also be getting an offensive bonus that will keep Stafford on his feet a little more.
The struggles of the Detroit Lions over the past few decades have been historic. Matt Stafford has made a difference on the offensive side of the ball, but the defense has continued to struggle. Matt Patricia is poised to take over the reins, but only time will tell if he is the right man for the job.
I wish you the best Detroit, but I’m not convinced Matt Patricia is your guy. He will bring some experience to the offensive line and uniqueness from his time under Bill Belichick, but I don’t believe his defensive schemes are good enough to take the Lions where they want to go. Keep the bus running Detroit; your road trip might not be over.