Four Downs: Passion of Lions' Jarrad Davis can't compensate for his mistakes
Allen Park — Here are four observations after having a night to ponder the Detroit Lions' 31-24 loss to the Oakland Raiders.
It feels like it's time to have a conversation about Jarrad Davis. Yes, I realize many of you have been having this conversation for a while, but I have to practice the patience I preach, so I'm OK being late to this party.
Countless times, through the various outlets I have to express an opinion, I've said Davis is everything a coach could want in a player. He exudes passion and leadership, he's dedicated to his craft and he possesses a number of physical gifts. But at the end of the day, those traits are negated by an inability to consistently produce on the field.
Davis seemed like a safe pick from the start for general manager Bob Quinn, and with the improvements the linebacker appeared to be making down the stretch of his second season in 2018, there was reason to believe it might click in year three.
But that hasn't happened.
Almost weekly, he's among the lowest-graded players on Detroit's defense by Pro Football Focus. That's obviously a limited view of the situation, since the publication doesn't know any team's defensive calls, but it doesn't take a trained eye to see Davis routinely takes himself out of plays by over-running his gap, missing a tackle or failing to shed a block. And in coverage, he's regressed, conceding the progress he made in the second half a year ago.
It's reasonable to ask if his preseason ankle injury curtailed his momentum, but since he's practicing without restriction and playing almost every down each week, we can't offer up an excuse he wouldn't give himself.
Davis enters the final year of his rookie contract next season and the Lions drafted another middle linebacker in Jahlani Tavai, who has shown more promise as a run defender than Davis has his first three seasons.
As long as Quinn and coach Matt Patricia are running the show, it's difficult to imagine them pulling the plug on Davis' playing time, because he embodies the culture they're desperately trying to establish. But if it's about having the best chance to win each week, how long can this go on?
Maybe it's game-plan specific, but signs are pointing to the Lions reducing the playing time of Rashaan Melvin, in favor of playing nickel corner Justin Coleman on the outside in base packages. For the second time in three games, Melvin has spent a significant portion of the game on the sideline.
Coming off his worst performance of the year, where he was beat by rookie receiver Darius Slayton for two touchdowns in man coverage, Melvin played a season-low 59.7 percent of the defensive snaps against the Raiders. Coleman, on the other hand, played 97.2 percent.
Melvin had another rough day, giving up a pair of long receptions on third down to Raiders receiver Tyrell Williams. And let's not forget, the Lions made a run at Broncos cornerback Chris Harris at the deadline, further suggesting they're not sold on Melvin, who was signed this offseason to a one-year deal.
The backup plan on the roster is Mike Ford, who has quietly been decent in place of Darius Slay, when the Pro Bowler was injured. Still, it feels like the team is trending toward drafting another corner in the early rounds this offseason.
The Raiders have one of the NFL's best run defenses, which seemingly made for a nightmare matchup with this Lions team dealing with injury issues in the backfield, yet the tandem of J.D. McKissic and Ty Johnson showed some promise.
Johnson finished with 29 yards on 10 carries, which included another 10-yard gain. For the rookie, it's about finding consistency, and it's just not there yet. McKissic, on the other hand, continues to look good with limited opportunities.
After failing to secure the handoff on his first rushing attempt, losing the fumble to the Raiders, McKissic showed impressive agility during a third-quarter drive where he gained all 32 of his yards on three carries during a four-play stretch.
It's a small sample size, no question, but it's something to build upon, which the Lions haven't been able to say very often this season with the ground game.
Aggressive play-calling is often rewarded in the NFL and Patricia had that light shine upon him after deciding to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 2 in the first quarter when quarterback Matthew Stafford found Marvin Jones on a post pattern for a touchdown.
But in the fourth quarter, when the Lions had yet to truly stop the Raiders on a drive, Patricia opted to punt it on fourth-and-10 from Oakland's 39.
After the game Patricia said a lot went into the decision, including what had happened on the previous two drives, how much time was left in the game and the team's timeout situation.
As far as the Raiders' possession before that, they had taken the ball 80 yards in nine plays for a touchdown. The Lions, on their previous series, went 60 yards in 11 plays before stalling at Oakland's 5-yard line and settling for a short field goal.
In what had mostly been a track meet to that point, a punt was conservative, especially with how well the Lions had been performing in third-and-long situations the past two weeks.
The Lions weren't able to pin the Raiders, because Sam Martin's punt bounced into the end zone, but the defense did manage to force its first punt of the day, so the strategy wasn't a total loss.
Still, things might look different today had the Lions kept the foot on the gas, instead of momentarily letting up.