Inside the Mind of Matt Patricia: Analyzing the Lion’s Defensive Play Calling Against the Jets

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A look at Coach Patricia’s Defensive Play Calling

It’s been a pretty disappointing week for Lions fans everywhere. The week 1 loss to a rookie QB during a primetime game doesn’t inspire much hope for a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game in 26 seasons. But who is to blame for the horrendous showing from the team? Is it the players, and does the team simply lack talent? Did the Lions simply not execute plays? Or is it the new system under Matt Patricia?

In reality, it’s probably a little of everything as all aspects of the game were poor in the loss. Intrigued, I decided to dive down into the game tape and analyze the new system under Matt Patricia, more specifically the defensive side of the football since Coach Patricia was the Patriots Defensive Coordinator and also since the Lions have a new DC in Paul Pasqualoni.

Let’s look at the Jet’s first redzone drive which happened with 5:07 left in the first quarter. The Lions defense has held the Jets to a 3rd and 7 and need a stop here to force a field goal. The Jets show empty backfield with 5 receiving options for Darnold lined up on the line of scrimmage. With no motion along the line to signal a reverse, the Jets have shown that they will be passing the ball, and the Lions called a defensive formation to counter a pass, a Cover 2 Man Defense (Figure 1.1).

At the moment of the snap, the Lions defensive backs have solid coverage on all of Darnold’s options (Figure 1.2), forcing the rookie QB to go through his route tree. With solid coverage, all the defensive line needs to do is contain the QB and get to him before any receivers can get open, which will be difficult to do as all receivers have a defender on their backs.


At this point of the play, it looks like the Lions defense will be the victor of this specific play, but then that’s where it all went wrong. Jarrad Davis found the penetration within the OL and started to rush the QB, but whiffed the tackle that could have led to a sack (Figure 1.3.)

This caused Darnold to find some room in the pocket and flush out to the right side of the field, buying the Jet’s receivers some time to get open (Figure 1.4).

As Darnold moved to the right side of the field, CB Nevin Lawson took his eyes off the receiver and focused on Darnold to anticipate the throw. However, Lawson turned his head too early to look at the QB and Quincy Enunwa took advantage of the CB’s focus and scrambled to get open (Figure 1.5). Darnold sees Enunwa gain a step on Lawson and completes the pass for a first down (Figure 1.6).

There were a few things wrong with this play: The DL wasn’t able to contain Darnold, LBs couldn’t tackle their assignment, and the CB wasn’t able to stick with his receiver until the play was completed. From a coaching perspective, I have no problem with the defensive play call of a Cover 2 Man Defense. The play would have resulted in a stop in the red zone if the players had executed properly. Unfortunately they didn’t which led to a first down and later led to a touchdown.

Now let’s jump to the second quarter with 8:37 left on the clock. The Jets are on their own 49 yard line are facing a 3rd and 6. The Jets choose to run a split back formation while the Lions call a zone cover defense (Figure 2.1). This zone defense seems to be a conservative play call from the beginning, acting as a bend don’t break defense. Unfortunately for Lions fans everywhere, the defense broke instead of bending.

As a zone cover defense, the Lions left the middle of the field open for a quick slant to gain a few yards. However, the strategy behind the play would be to allow the offense to gain a few yards up the middle of the field and stop the ball carrier before they can reach the line of scrimmage.

The Jets saw what the Lions were trying to do and called a good offensive play that pulled the safety’s off the line of scrimmage to allow another first down. The Jet’s sent WR Terrelle Pryor down the right side of the field to act as a vertical threat, which pulled both Darius Slay and Glover Quin off the first down marker. With Pryor demanding a double team, LB Jarrad Davis has been left alone with Quincy Enunwa in the middle of the field (Figure 2.2).

Enunwa put a move on Davis and was wide open for the first down catch to extend the drive. Davis’ coverage skills are mediocre at best and the Jet’s exposed that weakness to beat the Lions (Figure 2.3).

Once again, this defensive play call isn’t the worst call to make, but it is a pretty standard and simple defensive play call to make which allowed the Jets to take advantage and pick up the easy first down.

From the game tape, it shows that the Lions players simply didn’t execute on the defensive side of the football. However, the simple defensive play calling did the Lions no favors. If the Lions want to stay competitive this season, there needs to be an all around effort from both players and coaches to win. Hopefully both coaches and players can figure it out before the next game at San Francisco on a short week if there is to be any type of optimism in the city of Detroit.

Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to follow Saurav Kolli on Twitter @SauravKolli, and leave me your thoughts on the Detroit Lions subreddit.

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