The dead zone. That’s what I refer to when I think about those little spots in between free agency and the draft. There’s nothing in the world going on, and you find yourself writing articles about where players are on vacation right now. Believe me, I’ve done it.
To counter this, I decided to try something new this week. I wanted to write what the Pride Of Detroit readers wanted me to write. So I put the challenge out there. After several great results, I chose one that has always stuck a thorn in my side.
Ah, “The Patriot Way.” If you haven’t heard of this saying, then I urge you to get out from under the rock you’ve been living under. It’s impossible to listen to the radio, read an article or watch anything Lions-centric on TV without hearing the words “Patriot Way” when talking about general manager Bob Quinn. But what is “The Patriot Way?” Let’s investigate.
My two cents
Let me start by saying that I hate this. To me, “The Patriot Way” is nothing more than an ill-fated way to describe anything that Bob Quinn does. You’re essentially saying that Bob brought a “Building Dynasties for Dummies” book with him to Detroit. Every move he makes, or does not make, has to have something to do with what the man in the hoodie would do.
This is a bad way to look at things. This is how you set a man up for failure. If you’re assuming that he’s build a team that will win five Super Bowls in 17 years, You’re going to be really upset when it doesn’t happen, and that’s your fault for feeling that way.
But I get it. “The Patriot Way” is why guys like Quinn or Scott Pioli got hired. The hope that they can bring some shred of the Patriots’ winning ways with them is very enticing for owners. It’s just too bad that nobody can perfectly copy an entire team’s staff and strategy.
How bout deez apples?
I think it’s time we go to an expert. So I bugged Reisman for some petty cash and hopped on a flight out to Foxboro. After heading to Southie for some pizza at McGoo’s, I headed back to Gillette Stadium. It was there that I met up with Rich Hill of Pats Pulpit. He’s a wicked smaaht guy.
After I agreed to stop with the Boston accent and all of my questions relating to Boston, Rich agreed to give me his thoughts on “The Patriot Way.” Here’s what I learned.
POD: Let's start it off with one simple question. What is The Patriot Way?
RH: “This is the million dollar question, the secret sauce, the Coca Cola blueprint, the Krabby Patty formula. The "Patriot Way" is a little bit of a letdown because it's pretty simple and it's a widely known soundbite: Do Your Job.
That's it. The Patriot Way is all about every single player, coach and scout doing their job at the expense of individual glory.
It starts at the top with the team owner Robert Kraft, who knows his role: write the checks. He hired someone to make all the football decisions: Bill Belichick. The two have an agreement not to step on each others toes, but simply to keep each other informed. Belichick has the free reign to make decisions as he sees fit for the team.
Belichick has his director of player personnel Nick Caserio who leads the scouting and team-building. He has offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia entering their sixth seasons at the role. The Patriots could probably function without a problem if Belichick decided to spend the entire season in Aruba because he trusts each person in leadership to do their job.
On the field, Tom Brady knows his role is to avoid turnovers and to move the ball down the field. LeGarrette Blount's role was to carry the ball on first down, by the goal line, and to kill the clock in the fourth quarter. Dont'a Hightower's job was to coach up the new linebackers on the roster and to provide pressure on the quarterback that the defensive line couldn't generate. Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones couldn't fulfill their roles consistently and were traded. Talent doesn't mean anything unless the player buys into the system.
And that's where players, coaches and franchises can get into trouble when trying to copy the Patriot Way- not everyone is willing to buy in.”
POD: Do you believe guys like Quinn, Jason Licht and Scott Pioli have tried to bring such a method with them?
RH: “I think Quinn has tried to copy the model more than Licht or Pioli. Pioli kind of did in Kansas City, but he's since joined Thomas Dimitroff (another former Patriots exec) in Atlanta and Dimitroff has intentionally done things differently than Belichick. Last offseason it seemed like Quinn was going after every single player that the Patriots wanted, and it made some sense- he had worked for the Patriots all season, so the scouting work was already done.
A component of finding players that will put the team first is finding "the right 53" and not "the best 53." You'll notice that Quinn invested heavily in building up the depth of the Lions roster and depth is one of the more important aspects of the Patriot Way. The Patriots and Lions both have top tier players, but maybe not as many as some other teams. But the 30th guy on the roster is better than the 30th guy on the division rival, which is important as the season wears on. Having players capable of stepping up in case of injury is crucial for the Patriot Way because Do Your Job is meaningless if depth players can't complete a basic task.
Another aspect of the strong depth is an increase in competition. No player is given a role under the Patriot Way; every player has to earn a job and having more players capable of competing further defines the jobs given to each player.”
POD: Can the Patriot Way even succeed without guys like Belichick and Kraft?
RH: “Yes, but it requires buy-in from everyone. Every scout, every coach, and every player needs to participate. Kraft staying away from making football decisions is the first domino and that grants Belichick freedom. There's a reason why Belichick rarely hires external coaches in favor of grooming assistants into larger roles, too, because Belichick has a system that works and he'd rather keep that system in place instead of adjusting to new ideologies. He indoctrinates coaching assistants in his school of thought until they're ready to become positional coaches or coordinators.
And you also need players like Brady and Hightower and Devin McCourty that are willing to do whatever they can to help the team succeed. If that means Brady handing the ball off to a running back on the one-yard line 19 times and throwing it just once, forgoing some pretty easy touchdown stats, so be it. If it means that Hightower needs to play inside linebacker, outside linebacker, and defensive end all on the same drive, so be it. And if it means that All Pro cornerback McCourty needs to move to the less lucrative free safety position, then McCourty will move to free safety and become an All Pro there, too.
The Patriot Way is about constructing a roster, coaching staff, and front office of people capable of doing a job defined by Belichick at a high level at the possible expense of individual glory. That's it.”
I’ll admit it, Rich showed me a side of this story that I haven’t really looked at. If we want to say that Quinn is playing “The Patriot Way” game, he’s certainly following the rules on things like depth.
But I think the most important part of Rich’s statements was the portion about “everyone buying in.” I read this in my own way, I won’t lie, but think about it this way.
Perhaps this is the reason Bob Quinn kept Jim Caldwell on when so many fans had hoped he’d be gone. What’s the one constant thing you hear about Caldwell from the players? It’s always about the trust and respect they have and receive from him. It would be so easy to install such a mantra.
I’ve been fighting “The Patriot Way” for a while. I still believe it can be reckless from the standpoint of the fan’s perception that it’s a plug and win several championships system. But I feel that the Lions are trending in the right direction to have a system that is similar in the sense of “do your job.” If that’s the case, keep following “The Patriot Way,” Bob.