Four Downs: Feeling a draft? Lions season now becomes about future
Allen Park — Here are four observations after having a night to ponder the Detroit Lions' 19-16 loss to Washington.
The unfortunate thing about falling out of playoff contention before Thanksgiving is it forces us to prematurely turn our attention to the future. And nothing epitomizes a franchise's future more than the NFL Draft.
While we've been doing our best to familiarize you with many of the top prospects in the draft since the start of the college football season with our weekly prospect previews, the chances the Lions will have a top-10 selection for the second straight season is becoming more and more likely.
With the loss to Washington, the Lions are currently slated to select No. 7 in 2020, thanks to the Cardinals easily winning the strength of schedule tie-breaker.
Looking ahead, after that loss to lowly Washington, there should be no matchups viewed as likely wins on the schedule. The closest would be this week's Thanksgiving game against the Bears, but with that defense having a few weeks to game plan for quarterback Jeff Driskel, the odds don't feel that great.
If the Lions were to do the improbable and lose out, the team is looking at a top-5 pick. That's probably still a touch too low to snag Ohio State defensive end Chase Young, but potentially in position to grab the next-best non-quarterback prospect.
Once again, the draft is shaping up to be Detroit's Super Bowl.
Detroit's defense played its best game of the season on Sunday, but it's difficult to put too much stock in bottling up Washington, which has gained more than 300 yards only three times this season and hasn't scored 20 points since Week 2.
But even if the Lions defensive rebound could have been reasonably predicted, it was nice to see rookie cornerback Amani Oruwariye thrive in his first extended playing time, one week after drawing his first defensive snaps.
Playing 75 percent of the reps against Washington, Oruwariye was physical in coverage, a sure tackler in space and came up with an impressive interception, undercutting an out route and muscling the ball away from fellow rookie Kelvin Harmon.
"We had confidence in him this week and he felt good with his assignment in those situations," Lions coach Matt Patricia said.
Obviously, you must factor in the caliber of the competition, as well as the sample size, but add Oruwariye to the list of players who merits extra playing time and attention down the stretch to better determine what he can bring to the table in 2020.
Maybe the fifth-round pick will remain best-suited as the first guy off the bench, but there's a place for a physical corner with ball skills in this defensive scheme. Maybe, just maybe, Oruwariye shows enough to get strong consideration for a starting job next season.
If you watch the sideline these past few weeks, it's been apparent that Patricia has assumed most, if not total control of the defensive play-calling. But despite being asked multiple times for clarification on the change, he's declined any meaningful acknowledgement, only saying that it changes week-by-week.
"I have a lot of different roles on game day," Patricia said. "Certainly, from that standpoint, I’m very active in the communication from all phases of the game — all three phases — and so there’s going to be plays out there that I can call. There’s going to be plays (defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni)’s calling. There’s going to be plays out there that certainly are just automatic for us."
Assuming our eyes aren't deceiving us, it's understandable why Patricia wouldn't want to highlight a reduction in Pasqualoni's role. After all, the coordinator is a mentor who gave Patricia his first big break in coaching at Syracuse nearly 20 years ago.
Regardless of the percentage of the calls Patricia is currently making, it's his defense. Pasqualoni is only the steward, similar to the role Gunther Cunningham played in Detroit, running Jim Schwartz's preferred schemes from 2009-13.
Finally, while this has nothing to do with the Lions' game this weekend, we should acknowledge the monumental achievement of Buffalo Bills running back Frank Gore, who with 65 yards in a win over the Broncos, passed Barry Sanders for third all-time on the NFL's rushing list.
I don't think you'll find many who would even attempt to argue Gore was the better back than Sanders, but the former has pieced together a remarkable 15-year career that includes nine 1,000-yard seasons and five Pro Bowl appearances.
Gore's durability is to be admired. He's missed a total of two games in the past nine seasons, and at 36 years old, is continuing to play a critical role for the 8-3 Bills.