The first time the Lions faced a rookie quarterback this season, it went poorly.
After the Week 1 debacle against Sam Darnold and the New York Jets, the Lions will get another crack at the Class of 2018 quarterback crop these next couple of weeks with road games against Arizona’s Josh Rosen and Buffalo’s Josh Allen.
Darnold was 16-for-21 passing with two touchdowns in a 48-17 Monday night thrashing at Ford Field to open a season that has gone off the rails lately with the Lions losing five of their last six games.
With two winnable games against elite ‘18 prospects that will impact the Lions’ position in the 2019 draft, defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said Tuesday he doesn’t tailor his defense against young signal callers.
“Maybe I’m different,” Pasqualoni said. “I don’t necessarily look at it as the guy is a rookie or he’s an inexperienced guy.
“We’re just going along trying to come up with the best system, the best plan we can to help our guys be in the best position they can be to win the game.”
For the 4-8 Lions, the final quarter of the season opens Sunday with Rosen, the 10th pick of the draft, and continues next week with Allen, the seventh pick in April.
The third overall pick, Darnold’s 116.8 quarterback rating in the opener is still his season high through nine starts.
The trio is at the bottom of the league’s list of qualified passers in completion percentage: Darnold is 32nd at 55.0 percent; Rosen 33rd at 54.2 percent; Allen 34th at 52.9.
As for the UCLA product Rosen, rookie head coach Steve Wilks and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich have kept the clamps on in Arizona.
In nine starts, Rosen’s reached 200 yards just three times, and his 6.1 yards per attempt are lowest in the league.
“They’ve got a lot of good players, Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson, they just give him an opportunity to get the ball to those guys in different ways, to allow him to control it,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “He’s obviously learning and going through the process right now.”
Rosen’s leaning on Fitzgerald was apparent to set up the game-winning drive on Sunday in Arizona’s 20-17 win at Green Bay, which was the final straw in coach Mike McCarthy’s Packers’ tenure.
Faced with a third-and-23 in the shadow of his own end zone, Rosen scrambled right and tossed it up for Fitzgerald, who made a diving catch for a 32-yard gain, expertly keeping his hand between the ball and the Lambeau Field turf for another highlight-reel catch to move the chains.
“Hall of Fame wide receiver,” Pasqualoni said of the 35-year-old Fitzgerald. “Great player. Great, great player.”
The win moved Arizona to 3-9, while Allen and Buffalo are 4-8 heading into Sunday’s game against the Jets and Darnold, who is on the sidelines still after recovering from a sprained foot.
Allen, the big-armed quarterback out of Wyoming, has surprised with his rushing ability, gaining 234 yards on the ground over the last two games. His 389 rushing yards trail only quarterbacks Cam Newton of Carolina and rookie Lamar Jackson of Baltimore, the 32nd pick of the draft.
The Bills are 3-4 in Allen’s starts.
As far as Lions rookies go, Patricia said there was no update on running back Kerryon Johnson’s availability after missing the last two games with a knee injury.
“He’s working really hard to try to do everything he can to get himself back out there,” Patricia said. “We’ll see how it goes through the course of the week.”
First-round pick Frank Ragnow struggled in protection Sunday against Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, one of the league’s top players. Ragnow allowed three hurries, two hits and one sack to Donald.
“You’re going to face really good players in this league,” offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “The goal is to be better the next time you face that guy, or somebody like that guy.”
This also will be Patricia’s third game against a fellow rookie coach. Patricia went 0-2 against Bears coach Matt Nagy.
Wilks, who was defensive coordinator for Carolina before going to Arizona, has the Cardinals giving up 140.9 yards per game rushing, fourth-worst in the league. The team is fourth-best in the league in passing yards allowed per game at 220.4.
“They’re extremely aggressive,” Cooter said of Wilks’ defense. “These guys are blitzing a lot, they’re pressuring the quarterback, they’re creating a lot of turnovers.
“They have active, athletic players. It’s a good defense.”
Wilks’ staff includes former Detroit Pershing and Michigan star linebacker Larry Foote, who played one season with the Lions in 2009.
Foote is in his first season as linebackers coach after three seasons coaching the inside linebackers under former head coach Bruce Arians.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.