Crazy, but true: Detroit Lions would be better off with Matt Patricia’s bad defense

Detroit Free Press

Tell me if any of this sounds familiar.

The Detroit Lions were 1-3.

They couldn’t stop the run, couldn’t get to the quarterback, couldn’t force interceptions. They had a historically awful defense; didn’t have enough playmakers and weren’t getting much out of their draft picks. They ranked near the bottom in most defensive NFL categories, and everybody had the same question: “Why does this defense stink so bad?”

Sounds so familiar. But do you know when that was?

It was October 2020 — 36 games into the disaster known as the Matt Patricia/Bob Quinn tenure.

Quick pause: Let’s take a second here for anyone still experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder because that regime.

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But now, the unthinkable has happened. The Lions’ current defense is actually worse than Patricia’s dumpster fire.

“It’s on all of us,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said Monday. “I mean, we can’t — it’s hard to say you’re just going to point fingers at this or this. I mean, we’re all encompassing because my fingerprints are on this, and so are the players’. So, it’s all of us.”

We have seen plenty of bad defenses in Detroit. We have become something of experts at spotting them.

But this current defense is remarkable in its complete “suckiness” (yes, it’s so bad it needs its own term).

The current Lions defense is on pace to give up the most points in NFL history. So in that respect, this defense isn’t “Same Old Lions.” It’s way worse than that.

This is next-level bad.

Now, here comes the irony: The Lions are going on the road this weekend to face the New England Patriots, a team that could be starting a third-string quarterback; a team coached by Patricia, now an offensive coordinator (not that he will be trying to run up the score against the Lions or anything).

“They’re not going to hold the ball long,” Campbell said Tuesday during the “Stoney and Jansen Show” radio show on 97.1 The Ticket. “They’re going to establish the run, run quick screens, and they’re going to play the long game with you. They’re going to try to ground it out. …

“I think Coach Patricia has done a pretty good job there. You can see him getting better every week and adapting, and if he’s watching our tape from last week, there’s a number of things he’s going to try to attack, or I would, and so those are things we got to be ready for.”

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Yes, we have seen this before

What has gone wrong?

In many ways, history is repeating itself. The Lions are getting nothing out of their draft picks, lack playmakers and the scheme doesn’t seem to match the personnel.

Just like under Patricia.

Then again, maybe, we should have seen this coming because of what general manager Brad Holmes did during the offseason. Or more precisely, what he didn’t do.

He basically brought back the same defense as a year ago.

And he drafted with the long term in mind, instead of turning to short-term fixes.

He took Aidan Hutchinson with the second overall pick, which was understandable after how he played at Michigan. Hutchinson has shown flashes of brilliance (OK, one game) but has mostly been a nonfactor.

Holmes moved up in the draft to take injured wide receiver Jameson Williams, a move I fully support. But it’s costing them right now. Can you imagine how much better this defense would be if he had moved up to take a defensive player?

And in the second round, Holmes drafted Kentucky edge rusher Josh Paschal, even though he battled an injury in college. Paschal has been out, although he is expected to start practicing Wednesday.

So all of those decisions have impacted this team’s defense, and Holmes deserves a share of the blame.

But there is an interesting difference between 2020 and this year. Even though salary caps change every year, and you can manipulate the cap by deferring money, it’s interesting to look at the percentage a team devotes to defense.

That 2020 defense had more than $87 million in salaries tied to the defense (39.9% of cap space), according to Spotrac.

This Campbell defense has spent $70.7 million on defense (32.5%).

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So Holmes has saved money by not spending as much on defense while that unit has worsened.

Hmm. I supposed there should be no big surprise then, right?

So what can the Lions do?

“I think we’ve got to calm some things down,” Campbell said on 97.1, repeating what he had said at a news conference on Monday. “You know, I think we got to go back to the basics. I think we’ve got to simplify and then I think we got to shake our roster up a little bit.”

That makes sense. I mean, it can’t hurt, right?

Normally, simplifying a suspect defense sounds like a smart decision, especially at a time like this. Good players can look bad when they are thinking too much or lack confidence.

But the Lions just don’t have that much talent on defense.

So making it simple is just making it simple.

I can’t imagine it’s going to unlock much greatness.

[ Here’s what Dan Campbell should do about bad defense  ]

As far as personnel changes, Campbell revealed on the radio Tuesday that they will activate defensive tackle Demetrius Taylor: “We’ll see if he can kinda help us out there a little bit.”

That’s bound to help. Anything might.

But just playing assignment football, doing their jobs, filling the right gap, covering guys and not blowing coverages would be a massive improvement.

An ironic twist

There is one sliver of hope: The Lions’ offense.

“If the Lions had a bad defense, they’d be 3-1,” Dan Orlovsky, the former Lions quarterback and ESPN broadcaster, tweeted.

I totally agree.

The offense has been fantastic, the defense horrendous. Under Patricia, the 2020 Lions gave up an average of 32.4 points per game, setting franchise records. But this current team is giving up 35.3 per game. That’s nearly a field goal per game difference, which is significant considering they have lost two games by three points.

The irony? The painful truth?

If the Lions’ defense would just go back to Patricia bad, this team might start winning some games.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel

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