Making adjustments on the fly during the heat of a game is difficult for any team. But on Sunday, the Lions had to do it essentially blindfolded.
For reasons that were never revealed, the Lions were unable to take overhead still pictures — a key tool in seeing how opposing defenses and offenses are aligning. It was especially troubling to the Lions’ offense since the Redskins came out with a completely different defensive alignment.
“On film, they were running all traps and zone blitzes and today they ran all man(-to-man) blitzes,” said quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was blitzed and sacked on the team’s first play from scrimmage. “It was totally different. They were playing five face-down linemen the whole game (Redskins normally play a 3-4).
“It was a big mix-up and we didn’t have pictures to look at in the first half. I don’t know what happened, maybe somebody shut them off. We were trying to piece it all together out there and it was difficult without seeing it on film.”
The Lions media relations staff and president Tom Lewand tried to get the officials to prevent the Redskins from using pictures until the issue was resolved. That didn’t happen in the first half.
“It was down before the game so the entire first half we were flying blind,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “Our coaches were doing a good job making adjustments without being able to see pictures.”
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen did make the correction at halftime. They let the Lions use their overhead pictures.
“They shared their pictures in the second half because they knew we were at a disadvantage,” Schwartz said. “They didn’t have to do that, but I thought it was a very sportsmanlike move and shows the class that they have and this organization has.”
The Lions got a gift from Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III early in the fourth quarter and didn’t take full advantage of it.
With the score tied at 17, Griffin had his team on the march. He scrambled for 21 yards and was inside the Lions’ 30 when, instead of sliding, he dove head first and fumbled the ball when he hit the ground.
“I was declaring myself down to avoid the big hit coming from the safety (Glover Quin),” Griffin said, although the rule book says he has to slide feet first in that situation. “Knee down, elbow down, but that’s the rule. It could be a sucky rule but it’s still one of the NFL rules. They said it’s a fumble. It’s unfortunate. I just have to make sure if I dive forward, hold onto the ball.”
Griffin said he was confused by the rule.
“A couple of years ago, (Giants quarterback) Eli Manning did the same thing,” he said. “He slid face first, fumbled the ball and they called it a fumble. They changed the rule. I think they changed it back this year.”
Quin recovered the fumble and the Lions moved it to the Redskins’ 10. But Stafford misfired on three straight shots into the end zone — to tight end Joseph Fauria on first down, Durham on second down and Fauria again on third down.
They had to settle for David Akers’ 28-yarder.
Schwartz was asked if he spent any time debating his decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Redskins 12. The Lions were up 20-17 with just under five minutes left in the game.
“Who would I be debating with?” he said. “I don’t argue with myself very well. I lose most of them.”
There was no debate. The Lions offense never moved to come off the field. The only decision was what play to call.
“We needed to be able to pick that up because a 10-point lead is much, much different than three points or six points,” he said. “Ten versus six is a huge difference. Six versus three is not that much. A field goal still ties you, it doesn’t beat you.”
Two inside power runs by Joique Bell were stuffed for no gain on second and third down. The Lions correctly assumed the Redskins would remain in the same defense.
“I just asked (center Dominic) Raiola what side he wanted to go to,” Stafford said. “He had a feel for that; those guys had been battling all game so they have a feel for which side is stronger and weaker. He told me to go left. We shifted to a more balanced formation. I put my head down and I told Joique to push me.”
Two yards and two plays later, Stafford hit Calvin Johnson with the touchdown that secured the victory.
It was a sight you rarely see. Calvin Johnson and Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall were face to face, ready to go at it with each other. Left tackle Riley Reiff calmly stepped in and got Johnson out of harm’s way.
“Yeah, we got a little heated in there a couple of times,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t any talking, just a shoving match. That always happens when we play.”
Hall threw the first punch, figuratively. On the Lions’ first pass of the day, he knocked Johnson off his route and picked off Stafford’s pass. He ran it 17 yards for a touchdown.
“Oh yeah, he got me up here (front shoulder) and he pulled me down,” Johnson said. “The ref saw it but he got away with that one.”
Johnson won the war, though. He had seven catches for 115 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s good to play somebody with passion like that,” Johnson said of Hall. “It’s good to compete against guys like that.”