ALLEN PARK, Mich. — New Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia hasn’t met Matthew Stafford personally, but he has done his scouting. As the New England Patriots‘ defensive coordinator, Patricia faced him during the 2017 preseason and once, in 2014, during the regular season.
What stood out the most about the quarterback he’s now going to coach — the quarterback who will be one of the keys to Patricia’s success or failure in Detroit — was the problems Stafford caused during Patricia’s preparations.
He won’t publicly criticize his quarterback less than a week after he was hired, but the quarterback Patricia faced in 2014, when Stafford completed 18 of 46 passes for 264 yards and one interception, is different than the one he is inheriting.
Stafford is going to be critical to Patricia’s success or failure with the Lions. General manager Bob Quinn also has a lot riding on Stafford after signing him to an extension through the 2022 season that made the quarterback the highest-paid player in the NFL until last week, when Jimmy Garoppolo surpassed him.
All three are tied together now. Based off Stafford’s contract and Adam Schefter’s report that Quinn and Patricia’s contracts also go through 2022, how the three of them perform could lead the Lions to the success they are seeking — or to Detroit having the option for a complete overhaul of the coaching staff, front office and quarterback at the same time.
Stafford has improved as a quarterback over the past four seasons. Since Patricia last faced him in the regular season, Stafford has increased his consistency, upping his completion percentage and touchdowns while seeing his interceptions drop. He also has much more command of the offense under coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, whom Patricia retained, than he did under former coordinator Joe Lombardi.
The 30-year-old quarterback completed 65.7 percent of his passes last year for 4,446 yards, 29 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Patricia said he didn’t see much of Stafford in the second half of this past season because there were few crossover games between the Lions — who faced the AFC North this season — and the Patriots.
“From game-planning against him in the past, as you go through and you look at quarterbacks and say, ‘OK, hey, this is a really smart quarterback or this is a guy that’s a very mobile quarterback or a really strong arm or very accurate or has complete control of the offense,'” Patricia told ESPN last week. “Or maybe it’s a system-driven offense or it’s a coordinator-driven offense, whatever the case may be.
“You start going through Stafford and you’re like, ‘Yup. Yup. Yup. Yup. S—. Oh boy.’ You’re just checking off the boxes going, ‘This is going to be a problem.’ Which I’m glad to have that on the other side of it, so that’s good.”
Patricia is going to have a lot of things he’s going to need to take care of early in his tenure — finding better protection for Stafford should be a priority — but Stafford isn’t one of them.
Patricia was formally introduced as Lions coach on Wednesday, the same day Stafford turned 30 years old. That led to an easy opening conversation between coach and quarterback — calling to wish Stafford a happy birthday.
“We had a great conversation [Tuesday] night,” Patricia said during his opening news conference a week ago. “Very much so how’s everything going and I’m excited and just get him a chance to know who I am and speak to me on the phone.
“I look forward to meeting all of our players, you know.”
That’ll come over the next couple of months, but the sooner he and Stafford feel comfortable with each other, the easier it could be for Patricia when it comes to everyone else.