The draft is done, most of the free agency signings have been made and teams are embarking on OTAs and minicamps to begin the installation of the playbooks they need to digest before the new season kicks off in September. As a fan I find this time of the year far to quiet, all the action seems far to far ahead, there is nothing but talk and every journalist is padding to fill space and airtime. If that’s the best that reputable sources have to offer then why shouldn’t we at BillBelichicksworld do likewise? I’ve a head full of questions and queries that I hope the coming year will answer, I shall be throwing a few of them out for you to digest and consider, alongside my take on each situation. Feel free to comment or suggest things you’d like to know about, If I can I will do the hard work for you in an attempt to build the season up months ahead of time.
Question 1: What can we expect from the Lions under Matt Patricia?
Under 4-term coach Jim Caldwell the lions had gone a combined 36-28 with 2 wild-card round losses, finishing 2nd in the NFC North on 3 out of 4 occasions. For many teams this might well be considered a fairly good run, especially in the light of going winless just 10 seasons ago, but for the restless fanbase in Detroit, and more importantly for GM Bob Quinn, it has been deemed not good enough. A change of direction was called for (most noticeably after a 26-17 defeat to the 5-9 Bengals in week 16 which eliminated the Lions from Playoff contention) and sure enough Quinn and co. set out to snag the best coach they could find. Remember that between 2000 and 2015 Bob Quinn held a number of prominent positions in New England, working his way through the teams scouting ranks ultimately to become the departmental director with the responsibility for guiding Belichicks thinking when considering players to draft and sign. Also remember that Matt Patricia had joined the Patriots as an offensive assistant in 2004, he too worked his way up through the team’s structures, coaching linebackers, then safties before being appointed the Defensive Coordinator in 2012. His defences contributed hugely to the Super Bowl wins in both 2014 and 2016. So it makes sense that after Quinn left the Pats for the Lions in 2016 there was talk of Patricia being interviewed for the Head Coaching role and although nothing materialised back then, it was apparent that Quinn would love to be reunited with his former colleague for an all-out assault on the Super Bowl. No one was surprised when the relationship was rekindled following the end of the 2017 season.
Under Jim Cauldwell there had always been the concern that Detroit had to put up a lot of points to win games, often coming from behind to snatch victories. In terms of points conceded per game under the old regime the Lions finished 3rd , 26th , 16th and 20th overall from 2014-2017, in the same time period and category New England reeled off placings of 8th , 7th,1st and 5th. Clearly there is a significant improvement to be gained if Patricia can get the lions defence to consistently finish in the top 10 here. Equally in the sack-race New England under Patricia from 2014-2017 finished 8th, 2nd, 16th, and 7th with the Lions coming in 3rd, 7th, 30th and 20th during Cauldwells reign. These 2 categories demonstrate how the lions defence struggled in key areas meaning more pressure was put on Matt Stafford and the Offense to wrack up high scores to keep opponents at bay. If Patricia can bring a balance to the Defence, get them contributing as much as the offense already does, then the Lions will have a much better footing on which to build a campaign.
Take the above add in the fact that Patricia will be determined not to replicate Eric Mangini, Romeo Crennell or Josh McDaniels who have all flown the nest from New England only to fail fairly quickly with their new teams. Only Bill O’Brien has moved on from the Pats and managed to win a playoff game (Beating Oakland on Jan 7th 2017) so the motivation is certainly there to show that he is ready to assume control and be as successful as his former boss.
Expectations should be tempered when considering that the NFC North division is a tough one with 2 games each against playoff contenders Green Bay and Minnesota as well as a rebuilding Bears franchise with their own new head coach out to make a name for himself in Matt Nagy. Overall the Lions have the 2nd toughest strength-of-schedule for the coming season, the opponents combined record is 137-119 (Only Green Bay have it harder with 138-118) with 6 games against last years playoff teams and 2 against teams who went 9-7 or 8-8 but missed the post season. (Dallas and Arizona).
Overall the Lions and their fans should be delighted with their appointment, Patricia has shown himself to be a defensive master, especially when under pressure, and he should be able to install a great degree of discipline on the defensive side of the ball which can only be a good thing for the team. The lions scored 20+ points in 5 of 7 defeats last year, I am sure that under the new regime you will see the Lions hold a lot of teams to 20 points or less. Doubtless Patricia will impress, the strength-of schedule may be the determining factor in whether or not the team can be playing deep into January. Don’t be to quick to Judge him, if he’s give 3 seasons or more then this could be the coach that finally brings a Championship ring to Detroit…