As we get closer to the Detroit Lions’ decision for their new head coach, we thought it would be wise to get some opinions from people most familiar with some of the candidates up for the job.
Considering Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia has been the hottest name on the block, we thought we’d start there. Rich Hill from Pats Pulpit was nice enough to take some time during New England’s bye week to answer some questions about Patricia and the prospects of him as a head coach.
1. One of the biggest concerns Lions fans have about Matt Patricia is his potential immaturity (see: Goodell clown shirt). Do you see it the same way? Do you think he has the personality of a head coach?
Rich Hill: While some owners and executives take concern with that type of behavior, the players generally see him as being a players coach and one that will go to bat for them when necessary. He's definitely someone that will get the players on his side and will maximize their abilities, even if he doesn't have that "CEO look" of other coaches. The fact that he has history with Bob Quinn suggests that they know how to interact with one another and that there shouldn't be a clash of culture.
Patricia's an outstanding interview every week, so he holds court well. Oh, and he's someone that needs to keep his beard. He should not be clean-shaven for any reason.
2. The Patriots' defense finished the 2017 ranked 31st in DVOA. What do you attribute to Patricia's struggles this year? And how do the Patriots simultaneously rank fifth-best in points allowed?
Rich Hill: Well, the Patriots ranked 16th in DVOA in 2016, 12th in 2015, 12th in 2014, 20th in 2013, and 15th in 2012. The Patriots are never DVOA kings from a defensive perspective. And yet New England has allowed the second-fewest points in the NFL over the six seasons since Patricia was named defensive coordinator in 2012. So he's doing something right.
New England views the season in three stages. First is the "extended preseason" that takes place over the first four weeks of the year when the defense is still adjusting to the game plan and Patricia is making tweaks based upon what players are showing on the field. Second is the "mid-year push" over the second quarter of the season when Patricia starts having defenders play in roles designed specifically for their abilities. Third is the "final stretch" over the second-half of the year, when the unit looks like the best in the league and everyone wonders why they didn't do that in the first half of the year.
Patricia's mantra is "small improvements, every week," and that means that the defense in week 1 will look entirely different from the defense in week 8 and in week 17. But they are guaranteed to get better.
3. The Patriots seem to change their defensive scheme week to week. Is there any signature look to a Matt Patricia defense? What are his strengths/weaknesses as a DC?
Rich Hill: There is no signature, other than players will be lined up in the best possible position to succeed. Patricia has led a 3-4 unit and a 4-3 unit and a 5-2 unit and it's all about what players are available to sign, which players step up or remain healthy during the season, and what has to be accomplished in that given week. Patricia's strength is that he definitely knows how to utilize talent and few are better at integrating talent on the fly in the middle of the year.
His weaknesses don't really last that long since he does a good job of self-scouting and making adjustments. For example, the Patriots linebackers are terrible at covering running backs out of the backfield, so he asked safety Jordan Richards to come on the field on third down to cover the running backs. It was a small adjustment, but it's paid off in a major way. Some coaches might be too dedicated to "their guy" to make that move.
4. Is there anything noticeable that Matt Patricia specifically brought to the Patriots, or did he simply fall in line with the way Dean Pees had called the defenses?
Rich Hill: Patricia is calling a completely different defense from Pees. Pees was generally married to his defensive scheme and while he wasn't provided with the best talent with New England, he also didn't appear to make the necessary adjustments at times (and in his defense, the Patriots finished in the top 8 in points allowed all four years he was defensive coordinator). Patricia runs a much more flexible unit and the idea of "creating a defense that highlights the strengths of every player" shouldn't sound novel, but he never forces a square peg into a round hole. He always will make the adjustments to put a player in position to succeed.
5. Much is always made about the failures of coaches from the Belichick tree. Should the Lions be worried about this if Patricia is their guy?
Rich Hill: The big question with Patricia is how much is him and how much is Bill Belichick? That's a definite concern. There's also the concern that he hasn't run a team before, so how will he handle the offensive side (I think he'd just keep Jim Bob Cooter in place). But players on both offense and defense love him and his approach of "highlighting strengths" applies to every unit on the field. He should be a pretty good head coach for a long time in the NFL.