INDIANAPOLIS – Head coach Matt Patricia responded to a question about the defensive system he will install with the Detroit Lions with a pointed explanation of how it cannot be characterized by the standard designations of either a 4-3 or 3-4 base scheme.
"Multiple" seems to best fit the scheme – for now, anyway.
Three current NFL head coaches who faced Patricia's defense multiple times during his seven seasons as defensive coordinator of the Patriots offered the same conclusion at this week's Combine.
By any name, Patricia's defense has worked.
"He's always challenging to go against," said Dolphins head coach Adam Gase. "There are games where you feel like he knows what you're calling before you call your plays."
Gase and Sean McDermott (Bills) faced Patricia's defense multiple times as AFC East rivals. Doug Marrone (Jaguars) was head coach of the Bills in 2013-14. The Jaguars lost to the Patriots in the 2017 season AFC Championship.
Combined training-camp workouts between the Jaguars and Patriots in 2017 gave Marrone an insight into how Patricia operates in practice.
"First of all, I call him 'Matty P,"" Marrone said. "So that just goes to show how far back we go.
"We all go out there and say how smart he is from an (academic) background. He is the same way as a football coach. Very, very bright. Very smart. Gets a lot out of his players.
"I was on the field with Matt, and I really thought from a standpoint of orchestrating a defense and getting what he wants out of his players and really pushing them and challenging them -- I thought he did an outstanding job."
McDermott spoke highly of Patricia's football intelligence.
"I think Matt's resume really speaks for itself," McDermott said. "He's well thought of around the league in terms of his football acumen on the defensive side of the ball."
Gase and Patricia have developed a friendship through the years, even though they've never worked on the same staff.
Marrone and Patricia have a bond from the time both spent time at Syracuse – Marrone as head coach from 2009-12, and Patricia as an offensive grad assistant from 2001-03.
A strong point in Patricia's defense in New England was the ability to protect the end zone. That is supported by the 2017 defensive stats. The Patriots were 29th in yards allowed – 366.0 per game – but fifth in points allowed, with 18.5.
Regardless of scheme, the presence of all-time great quarterback Tom Brady would be a benefit to any scheme. However, the defense has held up its end – especially in pivotal moments – in the Patriots' run as one of the NFL's greatest dynasties.
The Dolphins had a 1-3 won-loss record against the Patriots the last two seasons under Gase. In two losses the offense was held to under 300 yards. In another, the offense exploded for 457 yards in a 31-24 loss.
"I've had games where we've gotten yards and no points," Gase said. "And I've had games where we haven't gotten any yards, and they've done a good job to where we haven't scored any points, either."
The Bills were 1-1 against the Patriots in 2017 in McDermott's first season as coach. They gained 378 yards in a 16-0 road win and 376 in a 41-25 loss at home. The Bills were 1-3 vs. the Pats under Marrone.
In the AFC Championship, the Patriots held the Jaguars to two field goals and one rushing first down in the second half as they rallied from a 17-10 deficit midway through the third quarter to win, 24-20, and reach Super Bowl LII.
In the Super Bowl, the Eagles scored early, late and often while rolling up 538 yards in a convincing 42-33 victory.
Patricia's move to the Lions and the NFC North does not put an immediate end to the rivalry with Gase and the Dolphins.
"We play him again this year," Gase said. "I guess it doesn't end yet."