Matt Patricia addressed the media on Friday in Allen Park and discussed the length of Chicago Bears rush end Khalil Mack. By Matt Schoch, Special to The Detroit News
Allen Park — The first two head coaches named Matt in NFL history will meet Sunday, and that’s not the only parallels for the sideline rookies.
Chicago’s Nagy and Detroit’s Patricia were among seven head coaches hired this offseason, and Patricia will meet another first-timer for the first time as his last-place Lions meet the first-place Bears.
The two are familiar opponents, as Patricia’s defense in New England met Nagy’s Kansas City offense in Week 1 of last season, a 42-27 road win for the Chiefs.
“There’s a lot of things to cover there,” Patricia said. “They do a great job of game-planning, so it’s not the same plays every week. It’s a bunch of different looks, different formations. Some of the concepts are the same, but it’s going to look entirely different maybe than what you saw before.”
Nagy was also quarterbacks coach on Andy Reid’s staff during a 2016 playoff game, a 27-20 win for the Patriots.
For the head-coaching position, the Lions went with the underling of Bill Belichick, long regarded as the NFL’s best defensive mind. The Bears did the same with Nagy, a protege of Reid, who has led potent offenses in the league for decades.
The results have so far been contrasting, as Patricia has taken a 9-7 team backward in the standings at 3-5 heading into the second half of the season.
Nagy has turned the 5-11 Bears into a playoff contender, already matching last season’s win total at 5-3. Former Lions quarterback Frank Reich of Indianapolis — 3-5 this season after the Colts went 4-12 last year —is the only other new coach on pace for a win improvement over their fired predecessor.
Patricia joins Oakland’s Jon Gruden, Arizona’s Steve Wilks, Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel and Pat Shurmur of the New York Giants as new coaches on pace to underperform the men they were hired to replace.
Both Nagy and Patricia inherited veteran groups on the other side of the ball as their specialties, keeping coordinators Jim Bob Cooter to run the Detroit offense and Vic Fangio to remain with the Chicago defense.
Fangio’s defense, with the addition of All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack, is ranked in the top five in total yards, rushing yards, passer rating against, points allowed and turnovers.
Meanwhile, Cooter’s offense has sputtered under quarterback Matthew Stafford, ranking 21st in yards per game and 20th in points per game. The Lions are also fourth-worst in the NFL at converting touchdowns in the red zone.
Nagy’s offense has been led by second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, a throwback and improved passer, who is averaging 7.9 yards per rushing attempt.
Trubisky’s completion percentage has gone up nearly 5 percentage points from last season to 64.2 percent, and he has thrown 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions after throwing seven of each last season.
Patricia also sees growth in Trubisky’s ability to make something out of nothing under duress.
“He’s very, very calm in those moments that usually you only see from a quarterback that has a lot of experience in the NFL,” Patricia said. “His ability to handle those pressure situations is what’s allowing him to turn some of those into some huge plays.”
Trubisky’s play has fans thinking playoffs in Chicago, which could become reality by conquering its problems with Detroit, as the Lions have won nine of 10 against the Bears.
The teams play twice in 12 days with a return meeting on Thanksgiving in Detroit, two games that could give the Bears great postseason positioning.
Though you’ll never hear about “playoffs” from Nagy, who told the Chicago media that he doesn’t utter the P-word.
“Never,” Nagy said Monday. “You’ll never hear that from me. You’ll never hear the word ‘playoffs’ from me.”
If Patricia can continue the recent blitz of the Bears, maybe he’ll have the opportunity to entertain a similar quandary in the season’s second half.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.