Running through any list of people responsible for New England's defensive resurgence, you're bound to hear names like Revis, Wilfork, Collins, Ninkovich, Browner, McCourty, Jones and Hightower. The one name you won't typically hear, unless from the lips of the most ardent Patriots insider, is Matt Patricia...ya know, the defensive coordinator. The guy teaching, installing and calling all the defensive plays.
Yeah. That guy.
An obsession with players, and not plays. That's today's NFL for the most part. A strategy game with a hyper-focus on who plays knight, drafting a better rook, and how much we should pay our queen, with nary a minute to really appreciate the strategy part. Doesn't make a ton of sense.
Need more pass rush! Why don't we blitz more? Why doesn't [blank] get more carries/targets? Who's covering who? Cover 2 or something. And that's about it...
In that environment, it's understandable that the people pushing the buttons would get lost in the shuffle. Especially the ones without big, public personalities like Greg Williams, Jim Schwartz, Rob Ryan, and Jack Del Rio.
Matt Patricia has every bit as much to do with the Patriots defensive success as anyone in Foxboro. What plays teams run with their players, how well they're prepared to execute those plays, and when specifically to call them...that's what it's all about. Your puppet won't work without a great puppeteer. Bad calls at the coordinator level (or call timing) can lead to a bad team just as quickly as bad players. But when you've got smart, disciplined, and creative people in those roles, it makes all the difference in the world.
Enter Matty P...
For Patriots fans, you likely know just handful of anecdotes about Matt:
1) Something about him being an astronaut or a rocket man in a previous life.
2) He's got a Peter Griffin bird beard.
3) And he calls the defensive plays...wait...or does Bill?
Boom. Matt Patricia. Well, suffice it say...there's much more there. You may not know what he does, but that doesn't mean he doesn't do it.
"I have a different constitution. I have a different brain; I have a different heart; I got tiger blood, man." I'd love to tell you that's a Matty P quote, but we all know those as the infamous words of Charlie Sheen in all his glory. But it could be Matt.
Not because he's crazy. But because he's wired differently...in a good way. He's wired perfectly for the job he does so well for the Patriots. Ya gotta have a steel alloy spine and rhino skin to lead a unit under the intense pressure, expectations and scrutiny omnipresent in the Patriots organization. Especially when you're presumed by outsiders to just be a growth on Bill Belichick, a do-boy appendage that just does his bidding.
Anyone that's played in that system and worked with Matt knows that perception is a truck load of crap, but it's understandable how it persists. The system is Coach Belichick's, and no doubt, BB is the mastermind behind it all. And yes, Matt has worked his whole professional career in the Patriots system, dutifully moving up the ladder.
But those on the inside know Matt has significant input into what goes into each week, and most importantly, the manner in which it's deployed in real-time on Sunday. His fingerprint is significantly different than Dean Pees who preceded him. Not better, not worse. Just different. The Patriots under Pees favored more Cover 4 as a fallback, and as Pees has shown in Baltimore, he has a much greater penchant to use pressure packages. Both were 'under Belichick' as it were, but both favor significantly different gameplans from week-to-week.
I first got to know Matt as offensive coaching assistant on our 2005 team. As is so often the case with New England assistant coaches, Matt spent a couple years in that role before flipping to the other side of the ball to coach defense; five years with the linebackers, a year with the safeties that also included play-calling, and then sliding into the defensive coordinator title in 2012. That varied background is a big strength of Matt's...a former O-lineman who's coached from all angles of both sides of the ball. Understanding all the forces is a big key to crafting a winning plan.
You don't get to hear a lot about the coordinators in the Patriots system, which is probably why publicly there's a serious appreciation deficit for just how good these guys are. They don't offer much in their public statements, and based on the belief system on being judicious with information, it's good that they don't.
The Patriots are a gameplan team under Coach Bill Belichick. Always have been, always will be. They do something different virtually every week. Too much detailed candor on where they see the strengths and weaknesses of an upcoming opponent and the trained ear could take previous game tape and figure out where they may shift their chess pieces for the following week, fashioning their own practice schedule and gameplan around it. The Patriots clearly don't want that.
Which is fine by Matt Patricia. He's a worker. Yes, he attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), played center for the football team, and majored in aeronautical engineering. He's a sharp guy. But he's a guy who always seemed comfortable in the grind...not just OK with the stress and pressure of this coaching gig, but energized by it.
Matt just does what he does. He works his ass off, comes up with creative weekly defensive approaches, and orchestrates Sundays with a balance of discipline and creativity. Most impressively, he hasn't been beholden to any particular approach. The public calls to just-have-Revis-do this, or MORE PASS RUSH, or whatever other distraction, Matt understands that's not the best way to get the Patriots to where they want to go. There's a lot more to it than that. The opponents are wildly different, so the defensive approach has to be as well. The team has stocked the roster with versatile people, giving the coordinator license to be multiple in his own approach. The best part? There hasn't been a specific coverage that the Patriots have to migrate to. Week-to-week the Patriots present something different--whether it be man or zone coverage variations, the in-season move from a 3-4 to mostly 4 man fronts in regular defense, or the challenges of shifting play-callers throughout the year due to injuries.
Game-planning for the Patriots defense and the myriad of approaches they've adopted while walking through most of the best offenses in the NFL over the last couple months is one of the most difficult coaching tasks in football right now. And that's largely because of how Matty P has used what's been made available to him.
It's one thing to have a bunch of stuff installed. It's another thing to apply them at the right time, mixing and blending throughout the course of 60 minutes to address what needs to be done. The Patriots defense doesn't aim to win some mythical stats or ranking championship. They aim to win. And the play-calling from Matty P exemplifies as much. The looks are varied, but the big-play aversion is evident in almost every call. You have Tom Brady on your sideline. You play the style that mitigates risk, takes away the other teams best options in an ever-changing manner, and keeps the rest of the offense on their toes with front and coverage wrinkles from series-to-series.
That's Patriots defensive football, reflected best in how Matty P calls games.
There's been no more clueless point of view in Patriots Land in the past several years than those that called for a 'real' defensive coordinator, someone who could 'challenge' Belichick...somebody who would do their own thing. The idea that somebody would be better prepared to do the task at hand for the Patriots by coaching at another place...a lesser place...than learning under coach Belichick has always struck me as one of the dumber trains of thought out there.
Matty P has proven that here was the best place to learn, and he's proven it in spades. Matt is just a dude. A very normal guy. A guy that commands the respect of a diverse group of NFL defensive stars, from Wilfork to Revis. A guy that has just called a stretch of games over the past two months in stifling fashion over some of the best offenses in football. A guy that happens to be one of the best defensive coordinators in all of the NFL.
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