Why firing Matt Patricia still won’t save the Lions season

This will be an uncomfortable bye week for the Detroit Lions’ head coach, but a coaching change at this point is unlikely to rescue the 2020 season.

The first domino fell in the NFL’s annual coaching carousel on Monday, with Bill O’Brien fired from the Texans after an 0-4 start. There are plenty of fans of the Jets, Falcons, and Detroit Lions wishing that their coach had been first.

That’s life in this business; five games ago (not years, games), O’Brien’s team had a 24-0 lead on the road against the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs. They were division champs and won a playoff game in this calendar year. Past results, even recent ones, apparently don’t mean much around Houston.

Matt Patricia is fortunate that they apparently don’t carry much weight in Detroit either, and so he hangs onto his job (for now) as the Lions whimper into the bye week. Having now lost 16 of their last 18 games dating back to 2019, even the most loyal defender of Patricia has to admit that this can’t continue. Come to think of it, his team also had a sizable first half lead over the Chiefs right before it all fell apart.

Patricia’s record in Detroit since taking over speaks for itself, and for many, the bye week early in the season is an opportunity for the front office to admit that this wasn’t a good fit and move on. The Lions are hardly out of contention at 1-3, after all. Here’s where it gets tricky though.

The Detroit Lions will sink or swim with Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia–by design

Before continuing, let’s make one thing perfectly clear: I do not want what I’m about to say to be mistaken for an endorsement of Matt Patricia. Nothing I’ve seen on the field, as well as what’s been documented about his leadership style,  tells me that I should have confidence in him to make the Lions successful this season, next season, or any season. More likely than not, 2020 will be the end of his first and only stint as an NFL head coach.

However, even though it’s early in the season, firing Patricia now is unlikely to help the Lions turn things around between now and the end of December. It’s deflating to say this, but my reasoning is simple: the Lions defense is custom made for Matt Patricia.

For the most part, they’re handpicked to suit both Patricia’s scheme and temperament. If the Quinn-specific draft picks and wide array of ex-Patriot castoffs (Shelton, Collins, Flowers, Coleman, Harmon) makes up one of the league’s worst in a scheme tailor made for them, what hope is there for immediate improvement in the event of a sudden change?

Starting with Jarrad Davis, through the interior defensive line, most of the linebackers, and a significant portion of the secondary, where else besides Detroit would a lot of these guys see the field? Who besides Quinn and Patricia would put the type of faith that they do into Jahlani Tavai and Will Harris? The same goes for journeymen Danny Shelton and Nick Williams.

Unfortunately, the Lions defense appears so far gone by this point that it’s going to take several years to rebuild. Start fresh with Tracy Walker, all the young guys with O last names, and I’m not sure who else (for what it’s worth, Duron Harmon has played well so far). You can say it’s a shame to do that with so much talent on offense, but let’s face it, the offense is wildly inconsistent too, and the run game is somehow still awful.

Make no mistake, the Lions appear to be on the verge of blowing the whole thing up and starting from scratch. New coaches, new GM, new quarterback (hate to say it, but it’s possible), new everything. It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen in the next two weeks though, and I actually don’t disagree.

As bad as it’s been, I don’t see much benefit in doing it now versus letting the season painfully ride out. For now, the bye week means a brief reprieve from the misery for fans, and one last chance for the rocket scientist to launch a miracle.