Rogers: Matt Patricia has no good answers for Lions' consistent inconsistency
What's Matt Patricia supposed to say at this point? If the Lions coach had the answers to what's ailing his team after dropping 11 consecutive games and squandering four straight double-digit leads, he'd incorporate them into his game plans, not share them via the media.
For the better part of three years, Patricia has preached the importance of consistency. But the only consistency around these parts has been disappointment. Naturally, you'd expect that would lead to some soul-searching, some deep reflection on the process of weekly preparation.
And while both Patricia and first-year defensive coordinator Cory Undlin both praised a question regarding the thing that needed to change in their preparation coming off the across-the-board dismantling at the hands of the Green Bay Packers last Sunday, their answers didn't provide any hopeful insight.
"I definitely always look at myself and what I have to prepare better and things that I can do," Patricia said. "There’s certainly things in there that I like to change up when we have weeks like this — whether it’s in the team meetings, maybe it’s individually in the positions rooms or in either of the three phases, from a meeting room standpoint. I might have a little different point of emphasis, might have a little bit more pressure in the meeting rooms to understand the information ahead of time, and then obviously, when we get out on the practice field, making sure that the level of urgency and execution at the practice field is at the highest level. We got to go out. We got to work today. We got to get some things fixed. So that’s what we’re going to do."
But the urgency has always been high for Patricia, and anyone who has seen the team practice under his stewardship knows they go hard. That's part of his core philosophical belief after all — that if practice is the most difficult thing you do all week, the game will be easy.
Of course, games have been anything but easy. Despite looking so good for stretches, like the defense for the first three quarters of the season opener or the offense during the first quarter in Green Bay, the Lions have rarely found that four-quarter consistency Patricia desires. And it's been more elusive week to week.
Patricia's message this week has been centered around not riding the emotional waves of a game. It's not a new message for professional athletes, just another way of emphasizing the importance of remaining even-keeled, not getting too high or too low. He wants his team staying in the moment, as opposed to looking ahead or lingering on a previous play, good or bad.
There's nothing wrong with the message, but it's troubling that these Lions are having issues with it.
“I don’t think I’m surprised because I think that we’ve played two games together," Patricia said. "We tried to do the best we could with the virtual world. But then into a condensed training camp, it’s going to be this way in September. I think we’ve talked about that before.
"We need time as a group to work together. Certainly from a team standpoint, whereas much as we try to teach all of the phases, when you get into the actual game and now all three phases are actually working together on the field for the first time, or for this week would be only the third time, we do understand there’s going to be some things that are going to be corrected. For us, we just have to keep making the points of emphasis to improve it and to get it better and try not to make the same mistakes."
To most that's going to sound like excuses, something Patricia rarely makes. And they're not even reasonable since every NFL team is in the same boat when it comes to the COVID-shortened offseason. The Packers had the same offseason and they look just fine. So does this week's opponent, the Arizona Cardinals.
In fact, both those teams have second-year head coaches and should have less of a foundation in place than Patricia in his third season with the Lions. Yet both the Packers and Cardinals are undefeated through two weeks and the Lions are looking for their first victory since Oct. 27, 2019.
And here's the thing about remaining even-keeled. It was probably the defining trait for the Lions under former coach Jim Caldwell, the man Patricia replaced. Despite whatever shortcomings those teams may have had, they were poised, particularly in the fourth quarter where they executed more comebacks than just about anyone during those years.
Patricia's Lions are the opposite. They fold under pressure. And given he's always quick to point a finger at himself after each loss, we should feel equally comfortable saying the team's inability to finish is a reflection of its coach.
After all, this is a roster he and general manager Bob Quinn have largely turned over since Patricia took the job in 2018. Half the starting defense, which is floundering to start the year, share his New England ties. Remember when that was expected to flatten the acclimation period this season?
Currently, Patricia is banking on the fact the Lions have 14 games remaining. Historically speaking, plenty of teams have turned things around from that starting point, and with an extra playoff spot starting this year, the odds are even better.
And Patricia remains confident they will, even if there's little supporting evidence to back that belief.
“I think you have to," Patricia said after a reflective pause. "I mean for us — you know me — we’ve got to always try to get better, we’ve got to try to improve. If you’re a person that walks around without seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, then man, that’s probably not a good day."