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NFL: Grading Matt Patricia's Detroit Lions defense

Detroit Lions v Carolina Panthers
Detroit Lions v Carolina Panthers
Mab Sidam
Modified 27 Nov 2020, 01:17 IST

When Bill Belichick took over the New England Patriots in 2000, he inherited a team who had just gone 8-8 with a borderline Hall Of Fame talent at quarterback. Belichick proceeded to go 5-11 his first season before winning a Super Bowl in his second year, kicking off the greatest dynasty in the history of the NFL.

When Matt Patricia took over the Detroit Lions in 2018, he inherited a 9-7 team with a borderline Hall Of Fame talent at QB. He proceeded to go 6-10 his first season ... and now in his 3rd season at the helm, just making the playoffs would be considered best-case scenario for Patricia and the Lions.

Where do the differences between mentor and student lie?

Matt Patricia's Detroit Lions Defense

So far it's not exactly looking promising for Patricia and the Lions. His defense regressed without the flash of greatness in between like Belichick, his best defensive outfit graded out at league average. What happened with Belichick in Year 4 (a no-doubt Super Bowl year) above was built on what was established in Year 2 (a surprise Super Bowl run).

For Patricia, that would be building the Lions back to above-average. This is actually a sad scenario for Patricia.

Belichick can get away with being a difficult and rigid person because the scheme works and he can justify his attitude with results, while Patricia is a functioning secondary away from his dream scenario.



NFL Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony
NFL Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony

In Belichick's first year, he had the 28th-ranked team in terms of interceptions. Their defense ranked 17th overall; the next year they were 6th in the league in interceptions and their defense jumped to 6th as well.

This shows a clear connection between interceptions and overall defensive performance for this system.


Matt Patricia's Lions were 5th in the league in interceptions in his debut season but 21st in points allowed, already posting a questionable return on the deployment of the scheme. That interception rank has plummeted to a bottom-5 rank over the past 2 seasons and the Lions' overall defense has followed suit.

Patricia, unlike Belichick, does not seem capable of scheming up interceptions yet, which is concerning as Belichick was his age and had a similar amount of experience as a successful defensive coordinator in this league when he was scheming league leading units.

Patricia maybe needs to return to the nest or go learn this under another coordinator. If scheme is not the issue, maybe it's identifying and getting in players who can execute the scheme or coaching them to play it to its full capabilities. If so, then the only option is to return to Belichick's wing and figure out how he keeps finding J.C Jacksons' and Jonathan Jones'.

Detroit Lions Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Bob Quinn has also not done enough to supply his coach with defensive weapons.

Whether the draft or free agency, none of the Lions' picks or moves have hit -- especially in the secondary. As this is his job, he should be better at identifying these players for the Lions than Matt Patricia. Quinn deserves as much criticism as Patricia.


Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions
Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions

Patricia saw the Lions' defense drop 18 spots in terms of sack production rank in the NFL. They went from a fringe top-10 unit at getting to the QB to a bottom-3 unit. To be fair, Belichick's units were usually average to below-average in his first 3 seasons, only coming together in his 4th.

Sadly, Patricia does not have Belichick's secondary track record to justify anymore of seeing him run this system with the Lions. Belichick matched a league leading secondary with a league leading defensive line, Patricia does not have any unit playing their best ball 3 years into his tenure with the Lions.

Tom Brady

Super Bowl LII - Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots
Super Bowl LII - Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots

Having the greatest quarterback of all time definitely helps. Tom Brady came through clutch for the Patriots so many times, it is unfair to expect anyone to be as great as Brady.

Lions QB Matthew Stafford is a very good, and has done his fair share to save Patricia, but hasn't received enough support the other way to justify him wasting anymore of what's left of Stafford's prime. Let's get him a smart offensive coach and let him loose.


Matt Patricia is performing like an off-grade Bill Belichick.

Patricia needs more time in the New England system as there are things he needs to re-learn, maybe not schematic lessons but lessons in identification of scheme guys and many more areas.

Patricia has way too much experience in handling elite defensive units for me to just write him off after a bad first job. He seems behind Belichick at this age but he's still young enough to learn all the things he needs to learn and experience success later on as a head coach.

Right now Patricia understands the scheme completely but doesn't yet know how to recruit and deploy the system to its full potential. He needs a 2nd stint in the Patriots system to fully grasp all the components of the scheme he wants to run.

Published 27 Nov 2020, 01:17 IST
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