Minneapolis – In a week, the Detroit Lions will finally be free to hire New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia as the franchise’s next head coach. While we’ve been patiently waiting for the hiring to become a reality, here are five questions we are eager to hear Patricia answer.
Will you call the defensive plays?
In the past week, only one name has been floated as a potential defensive coordinator, former NFL coach and current Boston College assistant Paul Pasqualoni. Whether he ends up being the choice or not, it will be interesting to see whether Patricia will retain play-calling duties.
A head coach calling plays is more common on the offensive side of the ball, but it certainly not unheard of on defense. Patricia has been calling the Patriots’ defense for eight years, longer than he’s been the team’s coordinator and he might feel most comfortable calling the shots.
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Will you keep Jim Bob Cooter on staff and why?
All signs point to Cooter being retained as offensive coordinator, but it would be good to hear Patricia’s reasoning behind the decision. Quarterback Matthew Stafford voiced his preference, but ultimately, that shouldn’t matter.
What’s clear is Cooter has made Stafford a better, more efficient quarterback. That includes the long-awaited re-emergence of the downfield passing game in 2017. The team also finished top 10 in scoring last season, for the first time since 2011.
But what about the run game? After spending an offseason focusing on the team’s shortcomings, Cooter declared the ground game would be improved. Instead the team finished last in the NFL.
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Will a run game coordinator be considered?
When the Lions fired Jim Caldwell at the end of the season, they also gave the boot to Ron Prince, the team’s offensive line coach. Not only did the Lions finish last in rushing, but Stafford was also sacked 47 times, a career-high. Patricia’s offensive line coach hire will be one of his most interesting.
And while working out the kinks with the blocking fundamentals should go a long way, the Lions could also consider adding staff member to directly assist Cooter with fixing the run. The position is increasingly popular around the NFL, but not something used by the Patriots.
What kind of defensive scheme do you prefer?
The Lions have been a 4-3 defense for years, but Patricia has experience working in both 3-4 and 4-3 systems. Given the increasing value of schematic flexibility, I’d be surprised to hear he wants to commit to one style over another. But it’s still worth asking the question.
If the Lions are going to commit to converting, they have some pieces in place. A’Shawn Robinson, Cornelius Washington and Kerry Hyder each have experience in two-gap systems, while Jeremiah Ledbetter has the frame to operate as a 3-4 end.
At linebacker, Jarrad Davis is scheme flexible, but the Lions would clearly need to stockpile depth at the position in free agency and the draft. They would also need to find a traditional nose tackle. Robinson isn’t big enough to handle that role.
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Why do you believe you will succeed where others have failed?
It’s unfair, but Patricia will initially be viewed through the skeptical scope of those who have come before him and failed, both in Detroit and among former Patriots assistant coaches.
Patricia will be the 17th Lions coach of the Super Bowl era, a dreadful run that has netted just 12 playoff appearances and one playoff win. The franchise has gotten its act together in recent years, but remains on the wrong side of the hump, having not won a postseason game since 1991 or a division title since 1993. What makes Patricia confident he’s the guy that can elevate the organization to the next level?
Sure, he knows quite a bit about winning, having spent most of his career being groomed under the umbrella of the Patriots dynasty, but so have several others who have struggled to achieve a fraction of that success on their own. Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Charlie Weis and Josh McDaniels all struggled outside of Foxboro. Bill O’Brien, a Patriots assistant for five years, has had modest success, at best, at Penn State and with the Houston Texans.
What can be learned from those collective shortcomings so history doesn’t repeat itself in Detroit?