Lions mailbag, Part 1: Was Hockenson overvalued? Could Fleck make it in NFL?
Allen Park — Happy Thanksgiving, y'all. Welcome to this week's Detroit Lions mailbag.
► Question. Playing winning football requires the coach to manage the clock. In this week's game, as we have seen a number of times, we had the final possession before half and did not utilize our timeouts. I’m interested in what his strategy is. Why would we not use the timeouts? — @DonMcAnellyCPA
► Answer. What's important to remember from the previous week's game is the Lions didn't run out of time, they ran out of downs at the end of the first half.
The general philosophy in football is you need one second for every yard you need to drive. The Lions took possession at their own 42 with 1:05 remaining, so they had 58 yards of field to work in 65 seconds and were still on pace when they took a timeout at the Washington 31 with 36 ticks remaining. Then Jeff Driskel got sacked and the drive was shot.
Beyond scoring, which is the primary objective, Matt Patricia wants to ensure the opposition doesn't have enough time to respond. That should add a layer of understanding to why it seems like the Lions are sitting on their timeouts.
After Matt Prater's field goal at the end of the half, Washington only had 14 seconds to work with and conceded by taking a knee to end the quarter. In that regard, the strategy worked.
► Q. Is there really merit in tanking to get a top-5 pick? We had the eighth pick last year and blew it on Hock. — @old_king_priam
► A. As long as pro sports drafts exist, the tanking debate is going to rage on. But to answer the obvious, yes there's tremendous value to a top-five pick, both in regards to more high-end talent being available or as a potential trade chip.
Now, as you allude to in your commentary, outside of the rare no-brainer choices, the most important thing about drafting early is having the right talent evaluators and developers in place to maximize the selection. First-round draft choices should be foundational pieces for NFL franchises and players selected in the top-10 should truly be cornerstones of the program.
As for Hockenson, it's far too early to suggest they blew that choice. As a rookie tight end, he's having a highly predictably up-and-down season. It's a difficult position and the adjustment takes time. That's been emphasized from the start.
Looking at the 2019 draft board, I don't see another obvious option that would be having a major impact in Detroit this season. Ed Oliver has been average, Brian Burns wouldn't be seeing major playing time behind Devon Kennard, Jonah Williams and Chris Lindstrom suffered season-ending injuries early, and Devin Bush was a poor scheme fit and I can't imagine this staff benching Jarrad Davis.
► Q. The Pasqualoni hire as defensive coordinator always struck me as a "payback" friendship thing. How much difference do you think a different DC could make? How much influence has PP really had on this defense? — @Dargarov
► A. First, that's a poor characterization of the hiring. Patricia views Paul Pasqualoni more as a mentor, and has a deep respect and admiration for how the coordinator ran his program at Syracuse, which is why several members of Detroit's staff have ties to that school from Pasqualoni's time as coach.
Patricia and Pasqualoni have remained close through the years and have a major overlap in their coaching philosophies and how they see the game. From a defensive perspective, it's Patricia's defense with Pasqualoni being a trusted steward because of their shared views and principles.
Where I believe a new coordinator could have an impact is in two areas. First, there's probably an opportunity to find a younger firebrand who will better connect with the roster, in the way Patricia did with players in New England.
Secondly, it could be good to inject some fresh thinking into the mix. You can find someone who understands the foundation of the scheme, while showing a willingness to think outside the box about how to modify it to fit both your personnel and combat current trends in the NFL.
If we're going to do the obvious, and stick with Patriots connections, I'd be curious if Jerod Mayo would be an option. He's a young, and very inexperienced, given its his first year as the inside linebackers coach for the Patriots. But his years of playing middle linebacker in the scheme make him an expert. Plus, you know his energy would immediately connect with the roster.
► Q. Covering the Lions at this point in the year, how many job applications do you fill out per week to try to avoid the depression? — @justinhecht
► A. True story, I have not applied for a single job since joining The News. Although, if they want to transfer me to help out as a food critic or golf course reviewer for a year, I wouldn't put up much of a fight.
► Q. Is it that difficult to put together a good defensive backfield? They look really bad. What do make of Pete Carroll's comments about Diggs? — @shakingthetree2
► A. Yes, it's extremely difficult. In particular, good cornerbacks are difficult to find, both top-end guys like Darius Slay and solid depth. You truly can never have enough good corners.
As for Carroll's comments on Quandre Diggs, here's the gist:
"I’m really excited about him,” Carroll said. “As a good player that’s got experience and good wherewithal and all that, he helps other players. He’s doing it. The confidence that comes from knowing he knows the game and knows what’s going on."
Sounds like a coach praising a veteran player with good football IQ and a willingness to help the younger players around him. It's pretty much in line with what most people in Detroit would have said about Diggs the past few years, and why he was named the captain of the defense, even if he was the obvious selection following the departure of Glover Quin.
► Q. It’s become abundantly clear to me that this team needs to hire a head coach with a history of turning around losing programs. That said, any chance you think they go after PJ Fleck from the University of Minnesota? — @CourtSmoots
► A. Fleck is an awesome college coach, but I can't imagine his shtick plays with grown men as well as it does with college players. And I don't see anyone paying a $10 million buyout (through the 2020 season) to find out.
► Q. What round do the Lions take a QB in 2020 draft? — @PublicCityPR
► A. As I noted in a previous mailbag, I'm having a hard time believing the Lions seriously consider drafting a heir apparent to Stafford, unless his recent injuries merit serious long-term concern.
If Quinn and Patricia are back in 2020, they need to focus more on adding win-now pieces early in the draft. And if there's a new GM-coach combo, drafting a quarterback early might be viewed as too bold a move that could cause an instant fissure with the locker room.
So while the Lions might draft a contender for the backup job, I think the conversation probably starts in the fourth round.
► Q. Has MP lost the locker room? — @Betty241
► A. There's been no change on this front. Those who support Patricia, which is the overwhelming majority of the locker room, continue to be steadfast. There are a handful of others, such as Darius Slay, who play the game with the same effort and energy regardless of who is calling the shots, and there's been no signs of additional dissension from that minority.
► Q. What is your favorite side for Thanksgiving? — @jsermo
► A. Important question. I don't think anything tops well-made mashed potatoes. And we all know it's the terrible-for-you add-ins that are what take mashed potatoes to the next level. It wasn't Thanksgiving, but I definitely had some at a nice steak house once with bone marrow mixed in. Incredible.
Also, I love stuffing more than most. But if you try to sneak any fruit in there, we're going to have a problem.
► Q. Will Barry be active this week? — @justinbaumann
► A. For the coin toss. He's been named an honorary captain.
► Q. Who is the highest-ranked defensive end in the draft after Chase Young? — @Reeshy
► A. There's not a unanimous opinion, but most analysts would probably say Iowa's A.J. Epenesa. At 6-foot-6, 280 pounds, he has a different playing style and body type from Young. You're looking at a prospect that plays with exceptional power, which also makes him a better run defender. The most aggressive comparisons point toward J.J. Watt.
► Q. I appreciate your film breakdowns and getting into the weeds on coverage schemes, etc. What has been your process to study and learn about the game’s more technical aspects? I assume the difference between Cover 1 and Cover 2 isn’t something they cover in J-school. — @nuzach
► A. Learning the nuances of football is a never-ending process. When I first got started, it was about consuming as many books as I possibly could about schematics.
Other things that have helped me along the way are a solid network of former and current players and coaches, who take the time to explain concepts and answer my questions, regularly watching "NFL Matchup," reading former safety Matt Bowen's different series during his time at the National Football Post, Bleacher Report and ESPN, and consuming YouTube tutorials from former and current coaches, from the high school level on up.
Even today, I have no grand illusion about the depth of my knowledge. At best, I'm an advanced amateur. But over the years, through the different incarnations, several coaches and members of the front office have taken the time to reach out and praise the detail of my work with the film studies, which is reassuring.
► Q. Wouldn’t using Logan Thomas as a backup QB be better than bringing some has-been in off the streets? — @BobbyinBoston
► A. It sure wouldn't add anything to the payroll, but you'd want to make sure he was practicing there through the week. There are a lot of nuances that go into the position, including knowing the full play calls, as well as protections and progressions, establishing cadence with your linemen and even the basic skill of taking snaps.
It's difficult to imagine he'd have the time for that refresher course, while also practicing for his primary job as a tight end.
► Q: What kind of spread do you expect in the press box on Thursday? — @bennietheblade
► A. It's standard fare — turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and green beans. I believe there's pumpkin and pecan pies, as well. And it's actually pretty good, unlike most Ford Field press box meals, which have a high school lunch feel.
► Q. Why not sign Kaepernick? — @PBekemeyer
► A. I didn't personally watch Colin Kaepernick's workout, but I read some of the reviews. It sounds like the top-end arm strength was still there, with some not-too-unexpected downfield accuracy issues.
At this point, I'm with you, why not? The Lions have nothing to lose and we could all use the distraction from the team's recent on-field woes. If he's the same player he was when he last played the game three years ago, Kaepernick probably gives you a better chance to win, assuming he can pick up the scheme quickly.
At the very least, he's a far superior version of Jeff Driskel.
Yeah, there'd be an explosion of national media attention, but it would fade after a couple weeks. And sure, there are going to be some fans who would tune out, maybe even permanently, because they didn't like the vehicle of Kaepernick's protests, but I'm willing to bet the net gain on that front would be positive. He has a great deal of support nationally.