Matt Patricia’s reign with the Detroit Lions is heading down a crucial path in the 2020 season. The NFC North outfit have taken significant steps back since Patricia replaced Jim Caldwell after the 2017 campaign.
A 3-12-1 term in 2019 put the pressure well and truly on the former Patriots defensive coordinator and general manager Bob Quinn. However, Martha Ford opted to retain the services of both men, although a condition of a return to the post-season was placed by the owner.
Turning the Lions’ fortunes around will be no easy feat for Patricia. The 45-year-old has not been a popular figure amongst his players during his two-year tenure. It has followed a familiar path to former Patriots assistants that have tried to emulate Bill Belichick.
Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, and Romeo Crennel have tried and failed to replicate the success seen in New England elsewhere, while Bill O’Brien is going down a similar road with the Houston Texans. O’Brien has displayed the same characteristics as Patricia with members of his roster, going as far as trading All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins during the off-season.
It was an eerily similar situation at Ford Field when Patricia traded Darius Slay to the Philadelphia Eagles. Slay quarreled with the head coach on a regular basis and has slated his approach in interviews since leaving the franchise. Quandre Diggs among others has also criticized Patricia’s style of coaching, particularly on how he addresses the team.
The reset button has been hit somewhat as the Lions drafted Jeff Okudah third overall in the 2020 Draft to replace Slay, while Duron Harmon will provide veteran leadership in the secondary after being acquired from New England. Both players will have to hit the ground running in Detroit’s bid to return to the post-season. Their hopes may rest on a challenge in the NFC North where they are backed in the NFL betting odds as of 11th May at +650 to win the division, although the additional wildcard spot may benefit Patricia’s men this term.
Can the Lions’ defense turn the corner?
Patricia was hired due to his exploits with the Patriots as their defensive coordinator in two Super Bowl victories. However, since his arrival, the Lions have finished 23rd and 31st in total defense – not a complete surprise since his units with the Patriots was notable for giving up yards. Those teams were fairly stringent in keeping points off the board, but this has not translated to Detroit – even struggling against the limited Chicago Bears offense and Mitchell Trubisky.
There can be no excuse in 2020 considering the investments that the team has made on the defensive side of the ball. As reported by the Boston Globe, Jamie Collins joined Harmon in moving from New England, while Danny Shelton has also done the same. At cornerback, Desmond Trufant will line up on the opposite flank to Okudah after signing in free agency from the Atlanta Falcons.
Add that to Trey Flowers and Justin Coleman from the previous campaign and high-end draft picks Jarrad Davis and Jahlani Tavai – there should be no issue with talent. The offenses in the NFC North are not the most prolific in the NFL, even the Green Bay Packers with Aaron Rodgers have not been firing on all cylinders over the last few years. Therefore Patricia will not have many excuses left if the Lions are not in the top half of the league in terms of scoring and yards allowed next term.
Health is the key for the offense
The Lions were robbed of Matt Stafford for the second half of the 2019 campaign due to injury. He was on course for his best statistical season, throwing 19 touchdowns and only five interceptions in his eight games with a total of 2,499 yards. Should Stafford return at that level then Detroit could be in business. There’s ample talent to work with, beginning with outstanding wideout Kenny Golladay. T.J Hockenson displayed great potential in his rookie season before it was prematurely ended by an ankle injury, although he also endured a concussion against the Kansas City Chiefs. Those injuries will be key to watch moving forward as the tight end will no doubt take his fair share of hits in 2020.
Kerryon Johnson was also troubled by injury, undergoing surgery on his knee before returning later in the campaign. Second-round pick D’Andre Swift should ease the burden on Johnson and Stafford out of the backfield. Even the offensive line has been retooled with the additions of Jonah Jackson and Halapoulivaati Vaitai, protecting Stafford in the pocket. Talent should not be the issue here. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell was given an almightily bad hand last term after Stafford’s injury. Now he has the chance for redemption with a unit that could surprise the NFL.
All eyes on Patricia
The 2020 season will tell Martha Ford all she needs to know about the future of the Lions under Patricia.
The franchise has been patient with the 45-year-old, but if he cannot deliver in 2020 and the locker room remains fractured even with several of his former Patriots among the roster, then it will be time to end his reign in the Motor City.