Detroit Lions: Patricia will continue to struggle in his second year

    2018 was not the start to his head coaching career that Matt Patricia was hoping for. Despite improving the team from last year, read why Patricia will be the reason the Detroit Lions go under their 6.5 win total.

    Detroit Lions

    Win total: 6.5 (O -120/U +100)
    2018 Pythagorean Wins: 6.77 (-0.77)
    Key additions: WR Danny Amendola, CB Rashaan Melvin, CB Justin Coleman, RB C.J. Anderson, DE Trey Flowers, TE Jesse James, S Andrew Adams
    Key losses: S Glover Quin, CB Nevin Lawson
    Early Round Rookies: TE T.J. Hockenson (rookie), S Will Harris (rookie), DE Austin Bryant (rookie), LB Jahlani Tavai (rookie)
    Coaching changes: Released offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, hired offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell
    Matt Patricia head coaching record: Straight Up (6-10) Against the Spread (9-7)

    Offseason

    It was a disappointing first year for the Lions rookie head coach Matt Patricia. At 6-10, the franchise had their first losing season since 2015. What was once considered his specialty, the defense finished a middling 16th in yards per play and points per game and 31st in turnovers. More was expected from a unit that had a head coach that specialized in defense.

    Jim Bob Cooter’s short passing attack philosophy did not mesh well with Patricia’s old school “establish the run” mindset. The two parted ways, ushering in a new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Make no mistake about it; the run will be established in Detroit in 2019.

    The Lions were not quiet in free agency. They signed defensive end Trey Flowers to the tune of $56,000,000 guaranteed, cornerback Justin Coleman for $17,900,000 guaranteed and tight end Jesse James to $10,500,000 guaranteed (via spotrac). Again, that was $10.5 million guaranteed for Jesse James, an astonishing amount for a tight end. They also signed Patriots retread Danny Amendola because of Patricia’s desire to become his own version of the Patriots. How will all of their moves affect their season win total of 6.5?

    Defense

    As I mentioned above, the defense left much to be desired in Patricia’s first year.

    [table id=55 /]

    Improving the pass defense had to be a priority. To their credit, the Lions did make additions in this regard. The first was signing former Patriot Trey Flowers to bolster the defensive line. The unit was already 5th in adjusted sack rate via Pro Football Outsiders. If anything, the addition will ensure they remain an elite unit.

    This past week the Green Bay Packers let go of long-time defensive tackle Mike Daniels, only for him to be picked up by Detriot. Daniels and Flowers will join stud defensive tackle Damon Harrison (“Snacks Harrison”) and pass-rush specialist Da’Shawn Hand. Say what you want about Detroit, they built an impressive unit upfront.

    Secondary

    Darius Slay headlines the Lions secondary as one of the league’s premier, underrated shutdown corners. Slay allowed the third-lowest catch percentage in the league (via Pro Football Focus) as well as just 256 total yards receiving to opposing number one wide receivers. He will be joined by PFF’s 54th ranked CB Justin Coleman, providing a boost to their nickel package.

    Their schedule of opposing pass offenses is neither helpful nor hurtful (16th in the league). Considering they were 5th in adjusted sack rate, and added an above-average corner to man the slot, they should be able to improve their pass defense.

    Offense

    Despite being a defensive-minded coach, Patricia has made it his mission to change the offensive philosophy in Detroit. What was once a quick-hitting passing attack is now set to become a ground and pound, run-heavy scheme. To orchestrate Patricia’s masterpiece, Detroit hired offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.

    Bevell has twelve years of offensive coordinator experience between the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings. His teams have ranked inside the top ten in rushing attempts seven times, while he has enjoyed five seasons of having a scoring offense inside the top ten.

    Offensive Line

    At the very least, the Lions project to have an average to above-average offensive line. 4for4’s Justin Edwards has them as the 13th best unit headed into 2019. A big reason for that is 2nd-year player Frank Ragnow moving to back to center in 2019. Edwards writes:

     My favorite stat from draft season last year shows how great he was at limiting pressure—through his four-year career in Arkansas Ragnow played 2,603 offensive snaps and allowed zero sacks.

    I too, think the unit will be closer to the top of their range of outcomes, due in large part to offensive line coach Jeff Davidson. Davidson comes has a long list of strong offensive lines with Denver, San Diego, and Minnesota. His impact with Detroit was felt right away in 2018.

    The blocking unit returned three of five starters from 2017, where they ranked 32nd in adjusted line yards and 21st in adjusted sack rate. During Davidson’s first season at the helm, Detroit improved to 20th in adjusted line yards and 12 in adjusted sack rate. The departure of guard T.J. Lang shouldn’t be an issue. Lang played just six games last year, so I imagine the unit will continue its upward trajectory.

    Run Game

    With the recent release of Theo Riddick, Kerryon Johnson is set to become the “bell cow” for Bevell’s run-first approach. Johnson outproduced Riddick in yards per target last season (5.5-5.2) and finished 1st in Corey March’s (Sports Info Solutions) total points earned per 100 rushes metric.

    Johnson will be backed up by the Los Angeles Rams late-season hero C.J. Anderson and explosive 6th round rookie Ty Johnson. To Patricia’s credit, he has assembled the personnel to be a successful running team. However, as we have seen in recent years, most teams have been moving away from the run-heavy approach for good reason.

    Pass Game

    There have been several studies concluding that even a short pass to an inefficient wide receiver is more productive than a running play. This isn’t to say the run game is not essential. A run play can be effective when used in the appropriate situation. Take the Los Angeles Rams for example. Sean McVay runs more 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) than anybody in the league. It forces the defense to be in their nickel package, which means fewer men in the box for Todd Gurley.

    Given that fact, it is questionable that the Lions decided to trade away one of the better slot receivers in the game in Golden Tate. The Lions traded Tate to the Philadelphia Eagles mid-season last year. Without his favorite target, there is no denying the trade affected Matthew Stafford‘s play.

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    What is most telling is the number of sacks per game taken by Stafford. That number is inflated by a ten sack performance from the Minnesota Vikings in week 8. However, that was the first week the Lions did not have Golden Tate! It makes sense intuitively that you’d take more sacks with your number one option gone.

    Offensive Philosophy

    The mark of a good head coach is being able to adapt to the talent you own, not forcing your scheme when the talent isn’t there. I feel like Patricia is pushing hard to get that square peg through that round hole. They had the perfect complement of receivers to be a successful offense in today’s NFL. However, his passion for establishing the run drove him to trade away one of the league’s premier slot receivers in Tate, and draft Hockenson, a tight end, 8th overall.

    It is easy to see why Patricia would like Hockenson. He was the tight end that received the most Rob Gronkowski comparisons. That said, Gronk was a once-in-a-generation player. No one will ever be able to replicate his size, athleticism, and freakish blocking ability. In my opinion, it is difficult to justify taking a tight end in the top ten of a draft.

    Rushing into eight men boxes on first downs is just not conducive to an efficient, productive offense. Unfortunately for Lions fans, Patricia doesn’t realize that. The one bright side to his run-first approach is their schedule. Warren Sharp has them with the 11th most manageable schedule of run defenses, as opposed to the 6th hardest schedule of pass defenses.

    Expect to see lots of bunched 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE’s), with half-back dives behind the right guard for a gain of 2-3 yards on 1st and 10. The lack of success will not be because of player ability, but instead, the blame will be on poor execution.

    Strength of schedule

    The Lions have a brutal schedule. It ranks right around average via Sharp’s numbers, but I don’t see how. They start the year by traveling to Arizona to play the Cardinals. Afterward, they have a stretch where they play the Los Angeles Chargers (home), Philadelphia Eagles (away) and the Kansas City Chiefs (home) before an early bye.

    Six of the next nine weeks features contests against the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears (twice) and Minnesota Vikings (twice). There are virtually no breaks in their schedule. It will be difficult for this time to create any sort of rhythm this season.

    Suggested Bets

    With all the information I have provided, you’d think I’d be pounding the under on their win total. Initially, I was on the fence with this number. In terms of talent, they are a good team. They have:

    • An average at worst offensive line
    • Average to slightly above average QB
    • An underrated trio of skill players (Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Kerryon Johnson)
    • Ridiculous defensive line
    • Lockdown cornerback

    However, there are plenty of reasons to like the under

    • Their archaic approach to offense
    • Subpar head coach
    • A brutal division with a rough schedule overall

    The middle, bolded bullet point is the reason I’m most bullish on this. This team will be competitive and surprise people this year. However, every first down run into an eight-man box, every punt on 4th and short, every field goal from the 20-yard line is going to inch them closer and closer to hitting the under on their win total. I am confident they will make these underwhelming decisions based on the mentality Patricia has built.

    The Lions are a solid squad. With a better head coach, they would be playoff contenders. Unfortunately, the organization has put its trust in Patricia and his doomed run-first approach. We should try and exploit Patricia’s ineptitude while we can.

    Bovada, BetDSI, and Bookmaker all have (+) odds on their win total under at 6.5, with Bookmaker owning the best number at (+124). Betonline has shifted it up to 7, (-110) on both sides. Do the Lions hit the under on their win total of 6.5 games over 44.6% of the time? Absolutely. If you want to be less risk-averse and pay for the extra half win, go for it, but I don’t think you’ll need it.

    Bet: Under 6.5 (+124) Bookmaker

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