ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Even when Lions head coach Matt Patricia isn't preparing for the Broncos, Courtland Sutton catches his eye.
"[W]hen you're watching other defenses, you can't help but notice how he shows up in a detrimental way against them," Patricia said in a conference call with Denver media on Wednesday. "Great player."
And that's just the start of it. As a defensive-minded head coach, Patricia is well aware of the Broncos' top playmakers, and perhaps no one on the team has impressed him like Sutton.
"This guy is so impressive to me," Patricia said. "He's big, he's strong. He does a great job at the line of scrimmage. If you try to press him, he's going to power through that. His releases really are outstanding. He does an excellent job at the top of the route. I think his ability to get in and out of breaks to create that separation, to be able to burst, that transition, it's really phenomenal. He's got great hands and, certainly, the run after the catch is outstanding. He makes guys miss, he runs through tackles. I really don't think people realize how big he is when he's coming at them."
As for the rookie quarterback who's connected with Sutton for 187 yards and two touchdowns in three games, Patricia has also admired the performance of Drew Lock.
"I think he's stepped right in," Patricia said. "He's a very competitive guy. We spent some time with him coming out of the draft. I know he's ... a guy who does a great job of just coming out every single day ready to go. He's got a strong arm, he's athletic. I think he's getting the ball out quick. I think they're doing a great job of putting him in situations where he can make plays. Certainly, he's doing a great job of getting the ball to his two go-to guys. Courtland Sutton is phenomenal [and] Noah Fant — he'll put the ball up [and] let them go get it, and they're making big plays. i think think the thing about Drew that's so impressive is his athleticism and his speed. I think a lot of guys, you see it on tape, you underestimate how fast he is, how mobile he is as a quarterback, and athletic. You see him just run away from linebackers and safeties. He makes a lot of guys miss when he gets into the open space. I think that's the element that he just adds and becomes even more difficult to defend against."
Patricia also spent time during the draft process evaluating another Broncos rookie in Fant, though the Lions ended up drafting Fant's college teammate, fellow tight end T.J. Hockenson.
"Another guy we spent a lot of time looking at coming out of the draft, and obviously looking at T.J. and Noah together as teammates," Patricia said. "He's a big guy, he's got a huge catch radius. I think he's got great hands. His vertical speed through the defense is very impressive. He does a great job of pushing vertical. He'll run the over routes, he gets open, he can make the difficult catch and then, I think, one of the things that's been most impressive is his ability to run with the ball after he catches it. He's a big guy, he's hard to tackle — a lot of guys bounce off him and he just keeps pushing forward and you really see that speed that he has come on. As a big, physical player, to have that combination of speed is very difficult [to defend]."
PATRICIA AN ADMIRER OF FANGIO'S COACHING
Though Patricia has not worked with or for Fangio during his 16-year NFL coaching career, he called himself "a big admirer of his" for the way Fangio coaches his teams and his defenses.
"Coach Fangio, I've coached against him for a while, and I think one of the things I just completely respect is how hard his guys play," Patricia said. "I think they're tough guys, I think they compete every single snap. I think that's certainly something you see on tape now in Denver. His mindset, I think that transfers over. He's a defensive guy, so I always appreciate that; I just think his teams, his defenses, the way that they've competed, the way that they've played, they've always been some of the top defenses in the league. ... His go-to guys, his guys that make big plays, I think he puts them in outstanding position to do that week in, week out. He'll scheme it up and keep it moving from that aspect, but I think overall as a team, you can see the Broncos [have] just his mentality. That toughness comes through."
Patricia said that he also often watches film on Fangio's defenses to see if there's anything he can apply, as they share similar ideas in coaching defense.
"Playing against each other, I'm a big admirer of his," Patricia said. "We have very similar backgrounds as far as defensive philosophy. I'm always trying to watch his tape and see what he's doing, see if there's anything that I think is appropriate for our defense. And certainly from that standpoint, a lot of the principles and fundamentals that he's teaching are the same things that I believe in. [I have] a lot of respect and admiration for him.