In a scramble to keep his job with the Detroit Lions, is head coach Matt Patricia shifting the blame to his players for not understanding his complex scheme?
Execution. It’s a term you’ll hear from every NFL head coach and coordinator, especially when things aren’t going well. Player’s executing the plays is certainly one of the biggest issues impacting team success, but it can also be used as an excuse for both poor coaching and a poor scheme.
The 2019 Detroit Lions are certainly searching for excuses right now. After firing a winning head coach in Jim Caldwell two years ago, the Lions find themselves sitting in the basement of the NFC North division for the second season in a row. It’s frustrating and should be inexcusable.
Yet, fans must be prepared for the onslaught of excuses to come as the Lions’ front office and coaching staff attempt to salvage the situation and keep their jobs. And honestly, who can blame them for doing so? We all want to keep our jobs. Still, disgruntled Lions fans deserve better after what seems to be a lifetime of excuses.
With only six games left of what appears to be another lost season, the excuses are starting to come. The fact 10-year quarterback Matthew Stafford has missed his first two games since 2010 due to a back injury figures to be the biggest excuse for retaining general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia for another season. Especially if the Lions opt to shut Stafford down for the rest of the year, which seems likely at 3-6-1.
Injuries to running back Kerryon Johnson, defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand, Mike Daniels and others will also headline that excuse list. But one area where Patricia could find it difficult to offer an excuse is for the Lions defense.
As a touted defensive genius after six seasons of nothing but success with the New England Patriots, including two Super Bowl rings, Patricia was expected to at least improve this defensive unit. And after showing signs of improvement late last year, Quinn and company went about the business of adding players to the roster to improve that defense this offseason.
Players like free agent defensive end Trey Flowers and cornerback Justin Coleman plus top-flight rookies in linebacker Jahlani Tavai and safety Will Harris were supposed to make the Detroit defense even better. Yet, this unit is among the worst in the NFL, ranking 30th while giving up an average of 412.8 yards per game.
But it appears Patricia is already preparing his excuse for why the defense is playing so poorly. And he seems to be implying his players are to blame. Here’s what the second-year head coach told the Detroit Free Press recently when asked about playcalling and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni.
"“Sometimes I look at it and think I have to teach it differently, too. I always try to evaluate, ‘OK, what can I say differently here? How can I explain it different? How can I term it different that we’ll at least maybe understand it and maybe be able to play a little bit better from that aspect of it?’”"
Undoubtedly, it’s a complex defensive scheme. One that requires Patricia’s defenders to have position flex and the ability to play and understand multiple fronts and coverages at a moment’s notice. It’s one of the reasons the Lions have brought over so many ex-Patriots in order to make the transition smoother.
But again, this was a group that showed improvement last season. The Lions defense ended the 2018 season ranked 10th in net total yards allowed (5,360). With another full offseason training program under their belts and all the investments made along the roster, the defense has somehow regressed. So Patricia blaming himself for not being able to explain his scheme to his players is sounding more and more like an excuse nearing two-years into his tenure.
In Matt Patricia’s eyes, execution certainly could be the biggest issue in Motown. If only his players would execute his plays perfectly then the Detroit Lions would be Super Bowl-bound in 2019. It’s likely the same hill every NFL head coach dies on as their packing up their desk and walking out the door. But for fans of the Pride, it just sounds like a hollow excuse that ultimately ends in another disappointing season.