Installing Matt Patricia as the new coach of the Lions was supposed to inject the defense with a dose of instant genius. Detroit’s defense hasn’t been the same since 2014 when the team ranked top three in points allowed. Over the past few years, NFL expert picks have avoided Detroit partially because of their defensive dive. In 2018, the Lions are once again considered longshots at +6600 to win the Super Bowl, according to odds sourced by CanadaSportsBetting.ca.
Coach Patricia’s short tenure has witnessed highs and lows, including impressive wins over Super Bowl favorites and horrendous blowouts against non-playoff teams. The identity of the Detroit Lions in 2018 lies somewhere in between these two extremes.
A Bizarre Debut
The debut of coach Matt Patricia turned into one of the most bizarre spectacles early in the season.
The Lions leaped to a quick lead over the Jets with a pick-six on rookie Sam Darnold’s first pass attempt, but a pair of first-half interceptions would result in a 17-17 tie a few minutes into the second half. Then the wheels fell off the wagon.
Detroit would finish the game with a total of five turnovers. New York cemented the game with a pick-six, a 78-yard punt return and a 62-yard rushing TD by Isaiah Crowell. In front of a national audience on Monday Night Football, Matt Patricia’s first game as an NFL head coach ended in a 48-17 loss in a packed house at Ford Field, one of the worst openers in recent memory.
Coach Patricia earned notoriety as the defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots dynasty, winning three rings with the organization, including two championships as the top bench boss for the defensive unit. Allowing 48 points, a 116.8 passer rating for Darnold and 169 rushing yards against a mediocre offensive team was shocking, to say the least.
A Trend Emerges In California
Traveling to the Bay Area on six days rest wasn’t an idea follow up for the Lions, especially after a wildly disappointing blowout loss at the hands of the Jets. Detroit hasn’t won in San Francisco since 1975, with the 49ers winning 14 of 16 meetings before their week two clash at Levi Stadium.
To Detroit’s credit, week two Lions fought harder than week one Lions, nearly pulling off a fourth-quarter comeback on the strength of another strong finish from QB Matt Stafford, who avoided throwing an interception. Detroit remained close for most of the game until a familiar problem repeated towards the end of the third.
On a first and ten at the San Francisco 34-yard line, Matt Breida found a seam on the right tackle and zigged-zagged his way downfield for a 66-yard TD. Instead of preventing a long gain, you’ll notice Detroit’s secondary provided additional blocking for Breida’s rumble, which put San Francisco up by two converted TDs. The 49ers backup running back would gain 138 yards on 11 carries, while the Lions allowed 190 total rushing yards.
Detroit’s defensive line sacked Garoppolo six times, allowing Stafford to outduel Jimmy with greater yardage and more TD passes. These significant air gains were completely undermined by San Francisco’s ability to get whatever they wanted on the ground. A 0-2 start occurred because of poor rushing defense and an inability to stop big plays.
Dominating The Super Bowl Favorites
Coach Patricia circled September 23rd on his calendar the moment the NFL revealed the 2018 schedule. Facing his former boss, New England coach Bill Belichick tends to be a rite of passage for numerous Belichick assistants hired away from the Patriots.
Prior to the week three clash between Detroit and New England, Bill Belichick accumulated a 12-5 against coaches who served under his reign, along with a 14-8 record against all proteges formerly linked to Belichick.
All signs pointed to a massive letdown for the Lions, who would need to find a way to stop the collective offensive genius of Belichick and Brady. Instead of Bill taking advantage of intimate knowledge of Matt Patricia’s defensive schemes, master Belichick would be schooled by his student’s knowledge of Patriots systems.
Nearly as shocking as the loss to the Jets was the Lions domination of the Patriots. Detroit entered half-time with a 13-3 lead, limiting New England to a field goal with 40 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Other than an early third quarter TD, Brady was ineffective and Patriots rushers were held to 89 yards.
Stafford outdueled Tom while Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount rumbled for a combined 149 yards of rushing, nearly doubling the time of possession for Detroit. The Lions and coach Matt Patricia would earn a rare, resounding 26-10 victory over the New England Patriots, completely reversing course after a pair of disappointing losses.
Settling Into Maddening Inconsistency
Detroit would ride into Dallas with heads held high, but the Lions would fall to the mediocre Cowboys via a 26-24 score, downed by a walk-off field goal. Some blamed a bogus roughing penalty for allowing the Cowboys to extend a failed drive into a TD late in the first half, but a quick look at the stats revealed a regression to early-season problems.
Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 152 yards on 25 attempts, including a 41-yard rumble which would set up a late, third-quarter touchdown to place the Cowboys ahead by a 20-10 score – similar to week two against RB Matt Breida and the 49ers.
The Lions rebounded against the Packers the week afterward holding off a late Aaron Rodgers charge to hand Green Bay a 31-23 loss in Michigan. Most impressively, Detroit charged out to a 24-0 lead at halftime, forcing and recovering three fumbles to win the turnover game. The Packers don’t feature an elite rush, but the Lions held Green Bay to less than a hundred on the ground, which will likely be a prerequisite for Detroit victories for the rest of the season.
Preparing The Playoff Push
An early, week five bye gives the Lions an opportunity to correct obvious issues defending the rush while strengthening the cohesion of a talented secondary. As long as Matt Stafford avoids another five interception game, the Lions offense should be good enough to compete in most matchups.
The NFC North is wide open after five weeks. The Bears lead the division with three wins, above the Packers, Vikings and Lions, who have two wins apiece. Three of four games after the bye week will be in hostile territory, including tough meetings against the Vikings, Bears and Dolphins. The last half of the schedule includes the Panthers, Rams and rematches against the Vikings and Packers – tough, but not impossible.
Defeating the Patriots and the Packers bodes well for Detroit, revealing an unexpectedly high ceiling for the Lions. If Coach Patricia whips the rush defense into shape, a surprise playoff appearance out of a tough division becomes a strong possibility.