Matt Patricia’s return to New England was a rather big story in what has been a relatively quiet offseason for the Patriots so far. But while the long-time defensive coordinator reuniting with head coach Bill Belichick stole the headlines last week, what was lost amidst the report and all the follow-up analysis was who Patricia brought along with him from the Detroit Lions: Evan Rothstein.
Granted, Rothstein is not a household name after working primarily behind the scenes in Detroit. However, he certainly appears to be an intriguing addition to the Patriots’ staff regardless of what his eventually role will entail and what his title will look like.
Just listen to what Lions team captain and former Patriots defensive back Duron Harmon had to say about Rothstein last year.
“Very, very smart guy — very smart,” said Harmon. “Handles a lot of the situational stuff we do as a team, smart, understands the game. He has a good handle on it, and I put my trust in him to do what he has to do to put us in the right defense and make the right calls so that we can go out there and play fast. ...
“He has his meetings each week where he talks about tendencies, signals, cadences, you know, just all the little nuances of the game that a lot of people might overlook. He’s that guy who is pointing it out for us so that we can have a good tip or a good tendency that we can hold our hat on.”
Based on Harmon’s description of Rothstein’s responsibilities, one familiar name comes to mind: Ernie Adams.
Adams, of course, has served as the Patriots’ research director ever since arriving in New England alongside Bill Belichick in 2000. Oftentimes portrayed as a man of mystery, he is in Belichick’s ear on game day and also responsible for charting plays the opponent might run during practice. Adams, who already worked with Belichick in New York and Cleveland, has played an instrumental role in bringing six Super Bowls to the organization.
Rothstein’s role with the Lions sounds a lot like Adams’ in New England. The titles he held during his time in Detroit reflect this as well.
After starting his career with the Lions as Quality Control/Special Teams coach from 2012 to 2013, he was moved to Special Projects in 2014. From 2015 to 2017, Rothstein worked on the offensive side of the ball as Offensive Assistant/Research & Analysis. When Matt Patricia was hired as Detroit’s new head coach during the 2018 offseason, he moved to Head Coach Assistant/Research & Analysis — a role he held until leaving the Lions.
Rothstein primarily worked in the background during his 12 years with the team, but he suddenly found himself in the spotlight last season. When interim head coach Darrell Bevell, defensive coordinator Cory Undlin and three other assistants were quarantined due to the NFL’s Covid-19 protocols, Rothstein was called upon to serve as the Lions’ defensive play caller for their Week 16 game against none other than Tom Brady.
Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers destroyed the 5-9 Lions, winning 47-7 in a game that saw the future Hall of Famer post a perfect passer rating. But while the result certainly was a negative one for Detroit and Rothstein, the simple fact that he was called upon to step in speaks for itself.
After all, he had never worked as a coordinator or even position coach in his career. While he did work briefly with the offensive line at SUNY Cortland in the spring of 2010, he never was given a full-time position in a similar capacity.
And yet, Bevell and the Lions saw him as the best choice to call the defense against the greatest quarterback of all time and his arsenal of weapons.
“He’s probably our most knowledgeable... Not probably, is our most knowledgeable in terms of our defense, what we’re doing really all the way across the board,” Bevell said about Rothstein ahead of that game. “He is very involved in game day already, so he’s been in tough situations on game day, helping with information and communication, so we felt like he has the most experience and will be able to get that done at a high level for us.”
Defensive lineman Romeo Okwara echoed those sentiments.
“He works his ass off at his job, and he’s really, really good at his job,” said Okwara. “He’s a really, really smart, smart coach and a coach with a lot of detail. ... One of those guys that kind of crunches all the numbers for us and gives us all those little tidbits that we need for the game.”
Public statements like these tend to paint a rosy picture, but the matter of fact is that Bill Belichick thinks highly of Matt Patricia who in turn thought highly enough of Rothstein to bring him along to New England as well. Even if he may not end up becoming the next Ernie Adams, he likely will still have some impact on the rebuilding squad in 2021.