Head coach Matt Patricia speaks on the 2018 season as Detroit Lions players clean out their lockers at the end of a 6-10 campaign. The Detroit News
Allen Park -- Matt Patricia's beard said it all. He's hitting the reset button.
The Detroit Lions coach took the podium for his season-ending press conference on Monday with freshly-trimmed facial hair reminiscent of the day he took the job last February and delivered a five-and-a-half minute opening statement.
His comments Monday focused on the disappointment of the 6-10 campaign, mixed with the optimism of the foundation laid during his first year as head coach.
"There are no excuses," Patricia said. "We’ve all got to do better. It starts with me. But there are some good things we did this year that we can build upon. And we all understand that we’ve got a lot of work to do. The standards are high. That’s not going to change. We’re trying to build a championship-level team."
During his 15 years in the NFL, this is the first time Patricia has experienced a losing season. He noted winning is established through consistent preparation and performance, while losing teams beat themselves with penalties, turnovers and poor fundamentals.
He believes the Lions oscillated between a good and bad team in 2018. As he's done all year, he praised his roster's toughness and work ethic and took pride in the ability to win in tough conditions, from the sweltering heat in Miami to the sub-freezing temperatures in Green Bay on Sunday.
Patricia also highlighted the improvements and successes from the season that he believes can be his program's foundation.
"I think we made some great strides this year," Patricia said. "We did improve and lay down a great foundation of things to build on here as we push forward. I think we found out we can run the ball consistently through the course of the season. That was a question last spring. I would say we showed we can improve our run defense. We were able to stop the run as the season went on.
"I think we also showed that we understand the marriage of rush and coverage in how we affect the passing game. We were able to get after the quarterback and get some production in the pass rush. I think we definitely understood there was a learning and improvement with our special teams and how we can win field position and what it means to pin a team inside the 10-yard line and force an offense to play on a long field."
The Lions averaged 4.2 yards per carry this season, the team's best since 2011, and a significant improvement from the 3.4 they averaged a year ago. As for stopping the run, following the acquisition of nose tackle Damon Harrison via trade, opponents averaged 3.8 yards per carry. That ranked fifth in the league.
In looking at ways the Lions can get better, Patricia said he will spend the next couple months combing over every detail, focusing first on himself, to determine the most-pressing areas of improvement.
But he doesn't need weeks in the film room or hours pouring over data reports to understand some of the obvious shortcomings in 2018.
"The first one is obviously turnover ratio," Patricia said. "We can’t turn the ball over and we’ve got to force some more turnovers and takeaways on defense. We need to eliminate the penalties. We all know there are plays out there we wish we could have back, penalties to have some big plays and points taken away that could have helped us win some ball games."
The Lions tied for 23rd in the NFL this season in turnover differential at minus-5.
"I think the details are important," Patricia continued. "We’re learning that and trying to understand how that affects the game. I think we have to keep finding ways to win tight ball games. We lost three games by a total of six points. Three wins would be real critical for us right now. We have to learn to finish strong, fight through adversity and that’s what we’re trying to build, as far as this program is concerned."
Once Patricia opened up for questions, he was asked about impending staff decisions, with a particular focus on offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. Patricia said he wants to allow the emotion from the season to simmer before he begins to analyze his staff. He declined to put a timeline on that process.
"For the minute, I’m just gonna take the rest of today, maybe enjoy the New Year, see my kids and my wife, and we’ll address that and we’ll go from there," Patricia said. "I think that’s probably the best idea."
The Lions finished the season 24th in total offense and 25th in scoring. Prior to beating the Packers 31-0 in the season finale, the team hadn't scored more than 20 points in six straight games.
The Lions particularly struggled to pass the ball in 2018, and Patricia was asked if the offense is in need of a facelift given the high-octane aerial attacks that dominated the league during the regular season.
As it stands, he's not buying into the trend.
"You know what’s interesting? Watching the playoffs, most of the teams that win in the playoffs are teams that run the ball, and win the big games in the end," he said. "I’ve been on good side and bad sides of that. And teams that can run the ball, stop the run, control the game toward the end of the season is really I think the teams that I think will have the most chance to win."
So now we wait for the evaluation process to begin and the changes that will ultimately follow.
"I’ll always make decisions I think are best for this football team and organization that give us the best chance to win," Patricia said. "I’ll never accept losing. There’s always way to win and we’ll always find a way to win."