Good thing Matt Patricia didn’t get that Cleveland Browns job.
The Patriots defensive coordinator bristled Tuesday morning on a conference call when asked whether he was disappointed in himself for not getting more out of two presumed cornerstones of the Patriots defense, Jamie Collins and Jabaal Sheard.
Collins, a Pro Bowler, was traded on Halloween after his performance dropped significantly from past seasons and his playing time followed suit. Sheard, who didn’t even travel to San Francisco on Sunday, is on the same program minus the trade since the deadline has passed.
“That’s a pretty negative question,” Patricia proclaimed. “I’m going to try to put the positive spin on that. I mean, you know that’s what coaches do. We try to look at the good side of it. We really try to coach everything that comes our way.”
Honestly, life’s not awful if you’re asked to answer one question about good players going bad on your watch. The team’s 8-2 and Patricia’s being pushed as a head coaching candidate for 2017.
If he lands a head job somewhere – and he interviewed for the 0-11 Browns this past offseason – he’ll need to buckle up for tougher stuff than that.
Patricia then began shoveling generalities, effectively burying the question under an avalanche of words.
“I would say for us, every year is different,” he said. “To go into a season with expectations for certain things and to be hardcore into those, I don’t really think that’s applicable. Each team is thought to be the best team that year and very rarely does it work out that way. We kind of deal with the season as it goes and with the guys that we have and we do the best that we can with it. Our expectations are the same every week. We’re going to go out and compete and do the best we can and try to improve week in [and] week out with whoever is out there, and that’s what we try to do.
“I think the part of the season in the NFL that is great is [that] it’s a long season,” he continued. “It’s a season that is continuously evolving. If you look at the teams through the course of the different seasons that have played that have wound up in the end where you want to be, I’m sure those teams have gone through a lot of different things throughout the season. We’re just kind of in that mix. It’s getting towards Thanksgiving. We’re going to try to play our best football here moving forward with whoever is out there and try to get better no matter what.”
That’s all well and good. Traditionally, the team figures it out and – even if it the process seems to be running later this year – people are still checking on airfare and hotel accommodations for Houston.
But this outward stance that coaches just shrug when good players perform like crap and the next guy gets elevated is disingenuous. You don’t get where the Patriots are by lacking introspection. Of course they’ve audited the reasons why players like Collins and Sheard either couldn’t or wouldn’t do what they are asked within the framework of the defense.
Two days after Collins was traded, Bill Belichick said he wasn’t going to get into the 500 things that could be discussed related to the move. Too cumbersome, he said.
Which is precisely why it’s important to ask what the hell happened with Collins then, with Sheard now, and with the defense this season as Patricia keeps pushing buttons and pulling levers. There’s a lot going on.
Asked if he understood why negative questions are asked, Patricia claimed the team is in the dark as to how the season is going to go.
“Go back to the spring when we get those questions that come up in regards to, ‘What’s the team going to be?’, ‘What’s it going to look like?’ and ‘Where do guys go?’ The answers I give you are very truthful,” he said. “No one has any idea when we come into the spring. We’re just trying to get better by the particular day. So those expectations for the team, each individual player, the coaches, whatever is put out there, are not made by us.”
Sorry, Matt, but of course they are. No one knows how it will turn out but there are most definitely expectations when a player is signed or drafted. After that, previous performance, work ethic, health, age – all of it – compels the team to have expectations.
When those aren’t met, the “why” is always going to be asked.
Eventually, Patricia did brush up against some candor.
“When you get into the season we know things change – personnel, scheme, whatever the case may be,” he acknowledged. "That’s where we go in and just try to adjust. For us, trying to keep it at that even keel mentality is what works best, honestly. You don’t get too high, you don’t get too low and you try to stay consistent. That has probably been the most productive way to handle things. I think that’s a good way to look at it.
“Certainly for me, and to answer that question, again, we’re always trying to get everybody to play their best and do their best and that’s what drives us as coaches,” he added. “No matter who the player is or what the situation is – your best player, your bottom player, guys on the practice squad – we’re always going to have higher expectations than anybody else and those are the ones we’re going to hold them to. We’re trying to make them better and certainly when it’s all said and done, those [are] expectations we’re putting on ourselves to make sure they get there and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to help them be better football players and just be better teammates in all of it.”
At this point, everybody’s pretty clear on the fact that Sheard and Collins weren’t playing well. It’s insulting for Patricia to pretend nobody expected them to. It’s eye-opening that he’d get touchy about questions as to how much of that is on him.
Patricia’s been wonderfully insulated from scrutiny and criticism during his time as the team’s defensive coordinator. Part of that’s because the defense is usually pretty good. Part of it is because Belichick is usually seen as the de facto defensive czar. Part of that is because players really like Patricia and there are no rumbles of discontent.
Maybe Patricia will light out for the territories after this season and get a coveted head coaching job. It won’t be long before he’ll realize the cozy treatment he’s gotten fielding 10 weekly minutes worth of 65 mph questions for a perennial Super Bowl contender. Of that, I’m positive.