If there’s one word to describe the Lions new defensive scheme under Matt Patricia it’s versatile.
The Patriots have been basically running the same system for over a half decade under Patricia. And even though the Lions won’t alter much when it comes to techniques and fundamentals, they will require their players to be versatile enough to fit in multiple alignments.
And those varying alignments make it hard to initially grasp of—even for players.
“I could never really understand what [the Patriots] were doing... just who’s coming and why they’re lined up certain places, and it seems like guys were moved around all over the place when you watch old New England film,” Devon Kennard said as he talked about the complexities of the Patricia defense earlier this offseason.
The Lions aren’t just learning a new defensive system this offseason. They’ll also be doing different things week-to-week and play-to-play throughout the year.
A manufactured defense
The Lions defensive front will have a mix of 3-4, 4-3, and hybrid fronts. They’ll be moving guys around throughout the rest of preseason to see where guys fit in with live reps.
If you’re expecting the Lions to line up in the wide-9 every down and rush four guys, you’re in for a world of disappointment. That style worked when they had Ndamukong Suh and a healthy Ezekiel Ansah wrecking opposing offensive lines, but this year the Lions are taking a different approach.
They don’t have a ton of top-level talent on their defensive line, and Ansah has been anything but reliable the last few seasons. They’re now forced to scheme up ways to get pressure on the quarterback.
”There’s different types of pass rush,” Patricia said earlier this year at the NFL’s annual meeting. “There’s edge pass rush, inside pass rush. There’s schemed-up pass rush. There’s certainly, it’s more than just the defensive line.”
You can expect to see pressure coming from all over the place this season.
One way is simply to move guys around the line to find the best matchups. Based on Patricia’s comments so far, I’d expect to see Ansah go against both tackles and even pop inside in certain situations.
Matt Patricia says they're trying Ansah in different places along the line, but he isn't sure where he'll land during the regular season.— Pride of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) August 16, 2018
“He’s long, he’s a very long guy, he’s strong and he has a real good quickness about him too,” Patricia said prior to Thursday morning’s practice. “When you can match him up against different offensive lineman across the board, you can get some advantages there.”
Patricia will try to provide the Lions with a schematic advantage every single week, including some looks we’re not used to seeing in Detroit.
Expect to see the unexpected
I expect to see experimentation during the preseason and even into the regular season.
Patricia’s multiple-look defense was on display on during the first preseason game against Oakland.
Have we seen this before? This is a pass play so instead of the Center shooting off into the MLB he has free choice of who to help at the G position. Results in Cook having 4 years to throw but a holding penalty stops the Raiders. pic.twitter.com/JKngH4O5HA— SandmanLions (@Sandman7773) August 11, 2018
“Have we seen this before?”
And players are figuring out just what Patricia and his staff are implementing.
Will creativity cause confusion?
Executing an opponent-based defense every week creates an edge schematically, but it also can cause confusion when the passes start flying across the field.
Some of the Patriots biggest defensive breakdowns last season came as a result of miscommunication early in the year.
Through the first four weeks in 2017, the Patriots ranked near last in passer rating allowed, yards allowed per game, and points per game allowed.
That slow start is a very clear reason for concern entering this season. The Lions can’t afford to stumble out of the gates early, especially within a stacked division like the NFC North.
We saw a bit of confusion in coverage last week against the Raiders that lead to a big gain.
There are things to be excited about and a few to be worried about. I’m excited to see how the Detroit Lions new defensive system pans out and how fast the players can catch on.
Matt Patricia certainly has brought some new looks to Detroit, but only time will tell if they’ll work out this year and beyond.