Justin Rogers and Bob Wojnowski break down another dismal effort by the Lions, a 34-22 loss to the Bears, the team's third straight defeat by double digits. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
As the calendar moved closer to another chance for the Lions to get out of their current funk, head coach Matt Patricia and his coordinators struggled Tuesday through questions about diagnosing and fixing the team’s ills.
But during a weekly conference call with reporters, Patricia, offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni were eager to praise fellow NFL brethren, this time Sunday’s opponent in Carolina (6-3).
On Panthers veteran quarterback Cam Newton, Patricia said: “One of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the NFL and someone that can really change the outcome out a game all by himself.
“A guy that is very athletic, has an extremely strong arm. I think you would seem him early in his career and would tend to rely on his athleticism and his ability to get out of the pocket. Maybe run with the ball or just kind of create and make plays. He looks much more comfortable behind the line of scrimmage now, much more comfortable in the pocket over the course of the years. Being able to read coverage, trying to get the ball to the right players. Still has obviously all the athletic ability, the arm strength, now just kind of combined with the experience and his knowledge of the game and has really just been able to take it to the next level and carry those guys around him.”
On his quarterback Matthew Stafford, the coach said: “As far as our self-evaluation and our critiques of the players, we’re always trying to do the best job we can. It’s a collective team effort. I think with that, there’s a lot of areas that we keep working on, so from that standpoint, I’m not really able to pinpoint one thing.”
Cooter also declined to evaluate Stafford’s performance publicly.
"I'm really not huge on getting into player evaluations through the media," he said. "We talk through all that stuff in-house here, that's sort of Detroit Lions' information. We're talking through everything, evaluating every snap during the game, every practice. What we're doing well, what we can do better. Same thing with, 'This play is good, that play is not that great,' during a practice week. We're discussing a lot of things. That's sort of some in-house business I'm not really looking to share with the media."
There’s not much to say for the coaches after losing three straight games by double-digit points, curbing a once-promising 3-3 season that had fans re-engaged after three wins against teams playing over .500 outside of the losses to Detroit.
Newton and the Panthers represent a kind of parallel universe for the Lions, who drafted Stafford first overall in 2009, two years before Newton went No. 1 to Carolina.
However, the 2011 NFL draft was the first under significant salary rookie structure changes that allowed Carolina to sign Newton for cheaper: A fully guaranteed $22 million over four years, compared to Stafford’s $72 million deal, with $41.7 million guaranteed, over six years.
Combined with similar large rookie contracts to wide receiver Calvin Johnson in 2007 and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in 2010, the Lions were limited in salary flexibility.
Meanwhile, Carolina built a formidable defense complementing Newton, who reached the playoffs in his third season and has the Panthers positioned for a fifth postseason in six years.
Newton is 3-4 in the playoffs with a Super Bowl 50 loss to Denver in the 2015 season.
He brings another unique challenge Sunday to Ford Field, after consecutive weeks of quarterbacks Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins and Mitchell Trubisky piling up gaudy numbers on the Lions.
“I don’t have any magic formula or magic potion on how you contain these outstanding athletes, big guys who are quick, can see, are tall, they’re very athletic, very explosive,” Pasqualoni said. “When he’s made the decision to get out of the pocket, try to stay around him, stay in front of him and not let him scramble for first downs.”
Patricia brought in one of his coaching mentors in Pasqualoni, who as head coach of Syracuse in 2001, gave Patricia a chance as an offensive graduate assistant.
There, Patricia spent three seasons before taking his first NFL gig with New England.
With the Orange, Patricia also endured his last losing season, finishing 4-8 in 2002.
Since then, Patricia was part of a 6-6 Syracuse staff in 2003 and then had 14 winning seasons under Bill Belichick with the Patriots.
Pasqualoni said his role on Patricia’s staff is ultimately the same as the other assistant coaches, despite the years of ups and downs his more than four decades provides.
“I’m like every other assistant coach here. I’m ready to do my job and trying to help the head coach as much as we all can,” Pasqualoni said. “Run the kind of program that Matt, as the head coach, wants to run. I think we’re all in this together, regardless of it's me and what my past relationship with Coach Patricia has been, what Matt has been.”
Pasqualoni did offer some praise of Syracuse’s current team, ranked No. 12 nationally by the Associated Press at 8-2 heading into a showdown with No. 3 Notre Dame on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
Syracuse, who was 107-59-1 in Pasqualoni’s 14 seasons, could post its first double-digit win total since his 2001 team, Patricia’s first on staff.
“I’m happy for them that they are having a good year,” Pasqualoni said. “Every football program in America, you need a good quarterback to win, and I think Eric Dungey gives them that.”
Defensive end Ziggy Ansah saw his snap count go up from 12 to 15 in his second game back from a shoulder injury on Sunday.
Ansah missed six games with the Week 1 injury and had his four-game sack streak snapped against Chicago.
Pasqualoni said Ansah is “headed in a good direction.”
“He’s been very explosive coming off the ball,” Pasqualoni said. “He’s starting to get back to feeling good and feeling like he wants to feel and that’s a work in progress.”
Said Patricia, on Monday: "He certainly has a role right now that he’s just trying to work through to get better and hopefully get a little bit (better) as we go through the course of the rest of the season.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.