| Detroit Free Press
Detroit Lions vs. Arizona Cardinals: Beat writers make predictions
Dave Birkett and Bob McManaman share thoughts, predictions on Detroit Lions vs. Arizona Cardinals, coming Sept. 27, 2020, in Glendale, Ariz. Filmed Sept. 22.
Living in bubbles is part of life in a pandemic. Our homes — in theory — have become bubbles. So have some restaurants. The NBA and the NHL operate in bubbles. Everywhere you turn, there are semi-secured pockets of humans living in a bubble.
You know who else lives in a bubble?
[ For subscribers: Detroit Lions vs. Cardinals: Here’s our scouting report, prediction ]
And that bubble can sway how you think about a coach, or a strategy, or the perceived lack of one. Step outside of it, however, and you’ll either find that you’re judging too harshly or, in the case of Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia, judging just about right.
Every city has its own team, media that covers it and fans that get most of their information from those who all live in the same bubble. Which means if you are a fan of the Lions, say, you might not be familiar with what fans in Miami think of the Dolphins.
So, let me help: they share similar concerns about the coaching staff in charge of the team they love. Like Patricia, Brian Flores comes from the Bill Belichick coaching tree in New England. Like Patricia, Flores called defensive plays for the Patriots — the year after Patricia left for the Lions, in fact.
And, like Patricia, Flores learned defensive schemes in a system built on fundamentals and caution. That worked for Belichick, who moves players around from week to week like no other coach in history.
Yet that wasn’t working for Flores in Miami. Not last season. Not the first two games of this season, when the Dolphins lost to New England and Buffalo.
Nor was the bend-but-don’t-break strategy working early against Jacksonville on Thursday night. Then Flores and his defensive coordinator, Josh Boyer, asked their cornerbacks — including rookie Noah Igbinoghene — to drop back in a zone and stop pressing at the line of scrimmage.
Igbinoghene had struggled the start the season. (Sound familiar?) It didn’t help that Flores wanted his corners to play man while the defensive line failed to generate a pass rush. (Again, sound familiar?)
Along with changing the secondary attack, Flores and Boyer started calling blitzes. From everywhere. Often.
The gamble worked, and Miami flummoxed the Jaguars.
Now, it’s the Jaguars. And maybe they would twist themselves in knots anyway. Still, Flores decided he had to change his approach.
What did he have to lose?
Today, when the Lions play the Cardinals in Glendale, Arizona, Patricia will likely face similar choices. Obviously, Arizona quarterback, Kyler Murray, is harder to blitz than Jacksonville’s quarterback, Gardner Minshew.
But at what point is Patricia going to say: I can’t keep leaving my corners on an island while the quarterback has all that time to throw?
We saw it against Green Bay, when Aaron Rodgers was hardly knocked down, let alone sacked. And we saw it against Chicago, when Mitch Trubisky ran around freely in the fourth quarter and led the Bears to a comeback win.
Patricia arrived with a reputation as a coach without a hard and fast scheme. Whether that was accurate is another issue.
His defenses in New England often gave up a lot of yards and made just enough plays — at critical times — to help the Patriots win. His defenses there also had prime Tom Brady and one of the league’s best offenses most years.
So far, Patricia has brought the give-up-a-lot-of-yards portion of his defense from New England and not much else.
Last season, the Lions blitzed less than all but a few teams. And while blitzing isn’t always the answer — it’s inherently risky —keeping the same strategy when it clearly isn’t working is riskier.
When the Lions take on Arizona, they will be without cornerback Desmond Trufant which means rookie Jeff Okudah will get the start, and likely face all-everything receiver DeAndre Hopkins at least some of the time.
Okudah should be a little better than he was against the Packers if for no other reason than experience — last week was his first start. Still, if Patricia and his staff don’t get creative in how they attempt to pressure Murray and cover his receivers, it will be a long day.
This isn’t to say that a change would work. The Lions are missing slot corner Justin Coleman, too, and don’t have much individual rush talent up front — no amount of blitzing will completely cover for that.
Yet for Patricia to not at least try to do a little of what his former colleague did with Miami on Thursday seems, at the very least, stubborn. All you have to do is listen to the complaints of Dolphin fans in the South Florida bubble. Or read the coverage in the local media.
“The coaches aren’t adjusting.” “The coaches can’t communicate to the players what they want.” “The coaches aren’t lining up their secondary in spots that give them a chance.”
Flores did something to change this. Not because of fan pressure, but because of losing.
Yeah, Patricia making similar changes by taking more chances and playing more aggressively might not work.
And, yeah, Murray may light up the Lions regardless; the defense isn’t good.
But does it have to go down every week without a fight?
It does not.
We saw a blueprint Thursday night.