I knew something was off about Patriots Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia when I first saw him in the Super Bowl against the Eagles. Despite having a laminated play sheet, he had a pencil tucked behind his left ear. The pencil served no usage as there wasn’t anything around Patricia that he could use the pencil for. The pencil stayed in the same spot the whole night as he watched his defense give up 41 points to backup quarterback Nick Foles:
Using Football Outsiders DVOA statistic, which measures how good a defense is at stopping explosive plays and making offenses inefficient adjusted for the quality of the offense faced, we can see how defenses led by Patricia have stacked up compared to the rest of the league:
Patricia has never fielded a top-10 defense. Part of this is because New England can afford to take risks early in the year and see if they work or not just because they know they can still win the majority of those games. Bellichick has been so good on both sides of the ball that he can ramp things up by the end of the season and playoffs to make sure his team is clicking on all cylinders when it matters the most. In Detroit, Patricia doesn’t have that opportunity. That is why he and General Manager Bob Quinn have tried to make their team resemble the Patriots by signing as many “Ex-Pats” as possible. There are as many former Patriots on the roster (5) as there are players that are still here from the pre-Quinn era (also 5). Despite trying to create “New England of the North”, it hasn’t worked…
The problems in Detroit start and end with Head Coach Matt Patricia. Since becoming a head coach in 2018, there is not one team in the NFL that has performed worse in the 4th quarter than his teams have:
When it comes to win probability lost in the 4th quarter of games, only the New York Giants are in the same stratosphere as Matt Patricia’s Lions. The Lions have lost a total of 6% in win probability since 2018 (displayed on the x-axis). Only the Giants, Bengals and Cardinals have lost as many games as the Lions in that timeframe (displayed on the y-axis). In fact, Patricia has more blown leads in the 4th quarter (11) than he does as wins as a head coach (9).
The only thing Patricia has been good at is having his team ready to play in the first quarter:
In this graph, I split up offensive and defensive win probability added into 4 quarters. The Lions have been elite in the first quarter as both their offense (x-axis) and defense (y-axis) has been above average and in the same category as perennial winners like the Patriots and Ravens. But once Patricia gets a lead, the wheels start to fall off. In the second quarter, the offense becomes conservative and the defense lacks adjustments. In the 3rd quarter, the offense becomes aggressive again but the defense stays bad and we all know what happens when we get to the fourth quarter. There is not a single coach in the NFL that is as bad with the lead as Matt Patricia is. For example, let’s look at some of his games:
2019 – Week 1, Lions @ Cardinals
The Lions were up 24-6 with 12 minutes to go in the 4th quarter. It looked like they were playing sound football and going to win this football game. But then the conservative play calling and lack of adjustments got in the way. The Cardinals scored a field goal, the Lions punted, the Cardinals scored a touchdown, the Lions punted again and then the Cardinals scored a touchdown and two-point conversion to send the game into overtime where the result was a tie. On top of that, Patricia was on crutches so it wasn’t clear who was calling the timeouts for the Lions and they accidentally used one when the clock was stopped. A 96.7% chance to win with 4 minutes to go in the game turned into a tie…
2019 – Week 4, Chiefs @ Lions
Stafford out-dueled Mahomes by having an EPA/pass of 0.42 compared to Mahomes’ 0.27 (EPA is how many points a player adds to his team’s chances of scoring). However, conservative play calling with far too many runs and a turnover by Kerryon Johnson at the Chiefs one yard line that got returned 99 yards for a touchdown was the difference in this game.
2019 – Week 6, Lions @ Packers
This game on Monday Night Football will be remembered for the phantom hands-to-the-face penalties called on Trey Flowers. Flowers had never been called for even one of those in his career but in his 5th game in a Lions uniform he got called for two. However Flowers wasn’t the only problem as the Lions also weren’t aggressive enough and kicked 5 field goals letting Green Bay stay in the game. Adding in another defensive meltdown created a recipe for how the Packers were able to come back from a 9 point deficit with 10 minutes to go.
2020 – Week 1, Bears @ Lions
And now, we get to the most recent game and the one that should probably cost Matt Patricia his job. The Lions were up 23-6 entering the 4th quarter and still found a way to lose. Their best linebacker in Jamie Collins got ejected for headbutting a ref. Their top corners in Justin Coleman, Desmond Trufant and Jeff Okudah were all not on the field because of injuries. But I’ve always heard that Matt Patricia was a defensive guru so I was sure he would figure it out. A missed field goal gave Trubisky the ball down 10 with 4 minutes to go and he turned into the second-coming of Dan Marino. He led two touchdown drives including a 27-yard dime to Anthony Miller for the go-ahead touchdown. Stafford threw an unlucky interception in the 4th quarter and had what would have been the game-winning touchdown catch dropped by rookie D’Andre Swift. It was a game that summed up the Patricia era in every way possible.
Now no article about Patricia would be complete without talking about Jim Caldwell. But before I get into that, I just want to state both things can be true:
- Caldwell had the Lions stuck in mediocrity and they needed a new coach to take them to the next level.
- Patricia was not the right coach to take them to the next level.
However, as much as I was okay with Caldwell being canned, looking at this really makes me miss what the Lions had going for them under Caldwell:
Patricia would have to go 27-4 over the 2020 and 2021 NFL seasons just to reach Caldwell’s record. Caldwell showed streaks of stringing together 4 or 5 wins in a row while Patricia has never won more than 2 games in a row…
When Patricia came to Detroit I was excited as a fan to see how someone who was a former rocket scientist would do with analytics-related situations. He was labeled as a “Defensive Genius” but instead of elevating the defense to the moon, he has taken the rocket ship apart, tried to replace it with parts from his former workplace and watched live as the rocket ship has exploded into a million pieces setting up Detroit for a long rebuild. Patricia is currently in his third year of wasting Stafford’s prime and should not be allowed to coach the Detroit Lions any longer.
(“The Assassination of Matthew Stafford’s Prime” by u/ItLiesInTheProles on r/detroitlions)