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How Matt Patricia could win Coach of the Year

Can the Lions coach turn it around, and receive an honor in the process?

NFL Combine - Day 2

Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia has had a tough time in his role thus far. Patricia has won just nine games through his first two seasons, a total that was not enough for previous coach Jim Caldwell in a single season. He had Super Bowl pedigree when he arrived in the Motor City, and it seemed like the team might be able to take the next step under his lead. Instead, they are in a position eerily similar to their lowest point in franchise history.

The pieces may finally come together for Patricia in 2020, though. There is a chance that every Week 1 defensive starter is someone that came in during his tenure. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was leading an elite passing attack before he went down mid-way through last season, as well. If both sides of the ball suddenly improve over last year, Detroit will win games. And the more they win, the more chance their head coach has to earn NFL Coach of the Year in 2020.

Winning is not all it takes to land the award, though. It is not just handed out to the coach with the best record every year, but with the coach who clearly has his fingerprints most on his teams success. So what can Patricia do to win it?


Patricia’s path to Coach of the Year

The team will need to make the playoffs for the Lions’ coach to even receive consideration for the award. Jimmy Johnson was the last coach to win the award after not making the playoffs, and that was all the way back in 1990 when there were still five teams in each division.

Detroit will also need to hit at least the 10-win mark, Johnson is one of two coaches to win the award since the NFL moved to a 16-game schedule with less than 10 wins. The other was Bruce Arians in 2014, though Arians only coached 12 games for the Indianapolis Colts that year after taking over for Chuck Pagano a month into the season. If you extrapolate his 9-3 record to 16 games, you would get a 12-4 record worthy of an elite coaching performance.

If Patricia’s Lions can, at least, hit those baselines, then narrative will play the most important role in whether or not Detroit’s coach can snag the award. All of the recent winners of the award not only won a ton of games, but also have a very clear imprint on their team’s success.

John Harbaugh (2019’s winner) is responsible for building the impossible-to-crack rushing offense centered around MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson that took the league by storm. Matt Nagy’s (2018) Chicago Bears defense took the team from worst to first with a historically great pass rush and ability to generate turnovers. Sean McVay (2017) turned the fledgling Jared Goff into a star with his unique, play-action heavy, offense, and brought the franchise out of the 7-9 doldrums and into Super Bowl contention. Jason Garrett (2016) managed to build an elite offense around a duo of rookies in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.

All of these coaches managed to turn the team into more than the sum of its parts, and they also managed to take teams that previously had struggles and turn them into juggernauts.

This happens to line up perfectly for Patricia. While we often avoid mentioning it here, the Lions do not quite have the best reputation league wide. Even during the mid-2010s when things were starting to look up for the team, the Lions were still overall seen as losing team that could not shake off the stigma of 2008. Patricia’s failures in recent years feel like a huge blow for fans and writers who cover the team week to week, but for the majority of analysts and writers around the league, it’s just the “s*** o** L****”.

If Detroit wins 10 games this year and makes the playoffs, then Patricia will at least receive attention for the award because of the turnaround job he pulled off. He can solidify his case and clinch the award on the back of his defense.

Detroit’s defense has been awful under Patricia. Their passing defense was among the worst in the league last season, and, at times, it felt that the secondary was not even on the field. The pass rush has been abysmal as well (though that may be by design). Detroit’s inability to stop the run might be the biggest disappointment, as it is clear that is a place they have invested heavily in recent years. Yet, still, players like Jarrad Davis and A’Shawn Robinson never turned into the run stuffers the team expected them to be.

2020 could be the year that turns around. The Lions brought in a trio of players from the New England Patriots’ stalwart 2019 defense in Duron Harmon, Jamie Collins Sr., and Danny Shelton. All three will likely play a huge role this year. Rookie corner Jeff Okudah is a generational cornerback prospect, and veteran Desmond Trufant was brought it to play across him—and replace the now departed Darius Slay. While the defense is not “elite” on paper, if Patricia is the defensive mastermind he was advertised to be, there is certainly enough talent there for him to make something out of.

This is where Patricia’s path to Coach of the Year lies. If the Lions win 10 games next season, win the NFC North (or, at least make the playoffs), AND do it on the back of an elite defense, Patricia will easily be a favorite for the award.

A formerly 3-12-1 team winning their first division title in 30 years, turning their bottom feeder defense into an elite unit and doing it after losing their best defensive player in Slay.

What more could the voters want?