Could a defensive coach help take Matthew Stafford’s game to the next level?
Incoming coach Matt Patricia might have a defensive pedigree, but he still thinks he can be good for Matthew Stafford.(
ORLANDO, Fla. — The last time the Detroit Lions hired a head coach, they did so to fix Matthew Stafford. And it worked.
Sure, they had to languish through the Joe Lombardi era first. But Stafford has been great under Jim Bob Cooter. His TD-to-interception ratio trails only guys named Tom Brady and Russell Wilson. Last season, he ranked in the top six of all the major passing statistics, and was second-best on deep balls. Even though he took a career-high 47 sacks and was saddled with the league’s worst running game.
These days, Matthew Stafford is pretty good.
So when the Lions were back in the market for another coach this year, they didn’t have to make the hire about Stafford. And they didn’t. GM Bob Quinn interviewed five candidates, of whom only Cooter had an offensive background. And he was never considered a serious candidate.
Everyone else brought defense to the table. And once Quinn interviewed Matt Patricia, the highly regarded defensive coordinator out of New England, he knew exactly who he was going to hire.
Indeed, Patricia’s greatest impact should come on the defensive side of the ball. That scheme change is already under way. But make no mistake about it, he’s going to have a hand in the offense too. Remember, he was an offensive lineman in college. He was an offensive assistant throughout his time in the college ranks, and got his start on that side of the ball in New England. He knows offense. And now he has six years of experience scheming up some of the best defenses to stop them. And he plans to use that information to help Stafford become a better quarterback.
"I would hope that maybe I could come in and give him a little bit different perspective," Patricia said last week. "Maybe something from my point of view from playing against him a couple times, and just certain things that I look at when we’re going against other quarterbacks that might help him out. Maybe some different ways to look at defense, from that standpoint. Try to look at some different alignments or different coverages or different fronts, and then help him from that standpoint."
Stafford has faced a Patricia defense just once, in 2014. He was rolling a bit at the time, too, and had the Lions at 7-3. But he was bottled up against New England, completing just 18 of 46 passes for 264 yards, no touchdowns and one pick.
He entered that game with a QB rating of 85.0. He was held to 49.5 against the Patriots, still one of the 10 worst-rated games of his career. Now Patricia wants to help him understand how he did it.
"We’ll sit down and kind of evaluate everything that he does all the way across the board," Patricia said. "But again, this is — he’s been in the league a long time, and I think the biggest thing for us is trying to build a team and work together to be consistent in what we do."
Patricia hasn’t had much contact with Stafford so far, other than to wish him a happy 30th birthday in February, because of the CBA. But players can begin reporting for offseason conditioning as soon as Monday, and the new coach is eager to begin strengthening that relationship.
For now, Patricia has been trying to get closer to Cooter and develop an offensive philosophy for the season.
"He’s been great," Patricia said. "He works extremely hard. Very knowledgeable about the offense. Really understands our players, understands how to tweak some things from a scheme standpoint. That’s been great — we’ve been having some of those discussions. Just a guy that grinds it out."
The Detroit Lions promised to add to the running back room this offseason after last year’s group combined for the worst yards per game and yards per carry in the NFL.
The Lions are reportedly signing Matt Cassel, right, who spent the first four seasons of his career backing up Tom Brady in New England.