The last nine minutes of regulation of the Detroit Lions season opener against the Arizona Cardinals was a disaster. After putting a stranglehold on their opposition for about 50 minutes, the team was suddenly put on the backfoot.
How does this happen? How does a team that looked like they belonged in another league than the other suddenly blow a double-digit lead in a matter of minutes?
The reason is because the Lions have the talent on their roster to take an 18-point lead over a bad, inexperienced Cardinals theme. They lost their 18-point lead because of the lack of talent they had on the sideline.
Matt Patricia is a defensive genius. He made the most of a talent-devoid defense in 2018. His defense really stepped up in the latter half of 2018, and even gave offensive savant Sean McVay a lot of trouble when their teams met late in the year. Per reports, Patricia’s game plan even inspired the game plan that held McVay to only three points in the Super Bowl.
His defensive genius was on display on Sunday, as well. Patricia managed to silence Kyler Murray—one of the most dynamic, unique players the league has ever seen—for 80 percent of the game. He managed to shut down an offense designed by up-and-coming offensive genius Kliff Kingsbury. He even managed to do it without having any NFL film on either to reference.
Patricia being a mastermind in defensive game-planning is not new, either. He played a key role in helping the New England Patriots win three Super Bowls, and was one of Bill Belichick’s right-hand men in what is the greatest dynasty in North American sports.
All of that is great—and it’s why Detroit hired him as head coach—but that makes him a great defensive coordinator. A job as a head coach requires much more, and so far Patricia has failed spectacularly with everything that is not defensive game planning.
Patricia is an awful game manager. He wants to win games with strong defense to a fault. Over the past two seasons, the team has been far too conservative, and it has cost them repeatedly. Last year, it was a problem on offense. Patricia would let Jim Bob Cooter call an extremely conservative offense that would often dig the team into a hole they could not escape. Once they were in holes in 2018, they never played with enough aggression to dig their way out.
He also was horrible with clock management at the end of the half. Patricia would often mistime and mismanage his timeouts when approaching halftime and leave points on the board. The team preferred to take a knee instead of letting their gunslinger quarterback go to work late in halves, preferring to lose points rather than actually play to win.
Sunday was the ultimate, and most damning, example of Patricia’s atrocious game management—and the huge gap between being a great defensive coordinator and being a great head coach.
With around nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Lions led 24-9 and only needed one defensive stop to close out the game. Detroit’s defense, which had smothered the Cardinals up front and whose corners were dominant in man coverage all day, backed off. They went into prevent defense and decided to trade points for time. The Lions allowed Murray to lead his offense down the field with ease to score a touchdown, allowing the Cardinals a path back in the game for no reason.
On the ensuing Lions possession, Patricia and the coaching staff, once again, lost faith in the players on the field. On a key third down they called a timeout, cutting off what would have been a first-down conversion by running back J.D. McKissic. They decided to play things safe and take the ball out of the hands of Stafford at the line of scrimmage.
When the Lions would try on third down again they would fail to convert. They punted the ball back to the Cardinals, who rolled over their prevent defense once again and tied the game at 24.
Detroit should have walked into a win on Sunday. The players deserved to win the game on Sunday. The coaching staff decided to take the game out of their hands, though, and denied the players a win they had worked so hard for.
Once again, Patricia and the coaching staff robbed his players of a victory. As great as he is at defensive game planning, he will have to be more than a defensive genius if he wants to be a successful NFL head coach.
Right now, Patricia is a defensive coordinator masquerading as a head coach. If the Lions want to compete anytime soon then they will need a real head coach leading their team.