Allen Park — Lions coach Jim Caldwell likes to say it’s never as bad as you think when you lose or as good as you think when you win. The Lions came away with an incredibly satisfying win over the Green Bay Packers Monday night, but there is no such thing as a perfect game in football. We watched the film and here’s
10 observations — good and bad — from the victory.
Trust in Marvin
Quarterback Matthew Stafford doesn’t trust any of his weapons as much as he does Marvin Jones, and for good reason — there isn’t anyone on the roster as good in close quarters as the 6-foot-2 wideout. When Stafford sees he has one-on-one coverage, he’s never afraid to toss it up to Jones and let the chips fall as they may.
That strategy worked to well against the Packers, but the best example was Jones’ second touchdown of the game. On 2nd-and-9 from the Packers 11, snapping off the left hash, the Lions lined up three receivers bunched to the right side with Jones in the middle. Golden Tate, furthest to the outside, set up for a quick out and Stafford sold that option, drawing one defender up. That left Jones to run and out and up into the end zone. Cornerback Damarious Randall was in press coverage and had his hands all over Jones early, but as soon as he got outside and stemmed his route vertically at the 8-yard line, Stafford was already lofting it into the end zone.
Jones’ first touchdown, in the opening quarter, also came against tight man coverage. The Packers showed Cover-2, but one safety drove down at the snap to cover the tight end and the other dropped to the middle as the Cover-1 deep man. Jones, lined up alone to the left, shook cornerback Davon House with an outside release, and even though they were even 10 yards into the route, Stafford lobbed it into the end zone and counted on Jones to get late separation, which he did by boxing House out with his off arm.
Stafford also connected with Jones downfield in the third quarter. Working on the left side this snap, Jones again got an outside release out of tight man coverage and put up a back-shoulder fade despite no separation. The receiver adjusted downfield and made an easy grab, even with cornerback Kevin King getting flagged for hands to the face.
The Stafford-Jones connection is clicking right now. Stafford has the utmost trust in his receiver and is putting the ball in good spots for Jones to complete the plays.
Still nursing a sore shoulder, Tate worked just 35 offensive snaps against the Packers, the fewest he’s played in his four seasons with the Lions. You wouldn’t know it looking at the box score. He was highly productive in the victory, catching seven balls for a team-high 113 yards on nine targets.
What’s been impressive about Tate this season, and really shined in this game, was the variety of the routes he ran. The Lions love to use him on quick outs, bubble screens and shallow crosses for obvious reasons — he’s excellent making tacklers miss in the open field -- but against the Packers, he ran a go, which nearly resulted in a 40-plus-yard gain if he could have kept his feet in, an out-and-up, a slant and a deep hitch.
The nicest design might have been the jet route, where he motioned into the backfield, similar to an h-back alignment, and once the ball was snapped, he crossed the formation behind the offensive line, popping open on the other side as the Lions ran play-action to distract the defense with misdirection. It gained nine yards.
With 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line, the Lions couldn’t get it in with three chances.
On first down, Ameer Abdullah runs to the left on a counter. While it’s impossible to say who is to blame, something went wrong. The defensive end to that side is left unblocked. Left tackle Brian Mihalik fires into the second level at the snap to body a linebacker. And pulling tight end Eric Ebron delivers a big blow to linebacker Jake Ryan, also crashing down from that side. Abdullah is gobbled up by the unblocked end and, worse yet, has the ball swatted free as he tries to extend for the goal line. The Lions would recover the fumble.
Second down sees Theo Riddick also attempt to power in, also to the left side. He picks the correct lane and should be one on one with King. Riddick lowers his shoulder, but tight end Darren Fells loses his seal block, allowing linebacker Vince Beigel to assist King making the stop. Riddick isn’t powerful enough to plow through two defenders.
That leaves Stafford to try to sneak it in on third down. It’s a reasonable idea, given the spacing the Packers present pre-snap, but guard T.J. Lang’s cut block whiffs, leaving linebacker Blake Martinez and defensive tackle Mike Daniels to converge and form an impenetrable wall.
Later in the game, the Lions had another shot to run it in from the 2-yard line, but a pitch play to Dwayne Washington was derailed when wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and right tackle Rick Wagner collided. That left three Packer defenders to track down Washington in the backfield for a six-yard loss.
Darius Slay once again drew a shadow assignment, following Jordy Nelson around the field much of the night. And once again, Slay excelled with the challenge. The Packers threw Nelson’s way three times and he caught one, a short dig route for eight yards.
On the other two, Slay blanketed him. Packers fans booed heartily on a deep pass that fell incomplete, and there was certainly plenty of contact on the route. But the more you watch it, the more you see that Slay’s hand-checking did little to impede the receiver, which is what is required to draw a flag.
Nelson might have had a better argument on the next one as Slay stayed stride for stride with the receiver on a stutter-step go route, but on the under-thrown jump ball, Slay put his hands on Nelson’s shoulders before jumping, possibly hindering his ability to get off the ground.
It was a play that Glover Quin described post-game, but his fourth-down stop was impressive to see on film.
The Packers were in a pistol formation with two receivers to the left and one to the right, along with tight end Lance Kendricks in the slot to that side.
The Lions crowded the line on the 4th-and-2 play, with safety Miles Killebrew and cornerbacks Darius Slay and Quandre Diggs in tight coverage pre-snap. Quin was the deep man, about 10 yards off the ball.
When Randall Cobb motioned right to left, Diggs tried to trail him, but got caught in traffic. The Packers snapped it and flipped it to Cobb as he came across, looking to get the speedy receiver to the edge to convert. But Quin was alert to the motion and had already taken four steps by the time the receiver got the ball in his hands.
Stretched wide because of how well Ziggy Ansah set the edge, when Cobb looked to turn his shoulders up field, Quin was already shooting the lane, quickly wrapping the ball carrier up in the backfield for a 3-yard loss and forcing the turnover.
Big play breakdown
The Lions defense did an excellent job most of the night, but gave up a 46-yard pass to Cobb in the fourth quarter. He ran a slant against zone coverage. Diggs trailed him through his area and slowed up, essentially handing responsibility to rookie linebacker Jarrad Davis, who was out of position and didn’t do enough to track the receiver through the next segment of the zone. Quarterback Brett Hundley made the read and delivered the ball to his receiver in stride as he sliced through open space.
With plenty of green in the next level, Cobb racked up a huge gain before being pushed out by Quin.
The Packers would score their first touchdown of the game four plays later.
Riddick screen and why it works
The Lions quickly got the score back thanks to a big play of their own, a 63-yard screen pass to Theo Riddick.
The play call proved to be right for the situation as Stafford connected with the tailback while backpedaling away from the pressure of a seven-man pass rush. But the real key was a block by T.J. Lang, who initially sold his pass protection, that swatted defensive tackle Mike Daniels past, knocking the talented interior rusher off balance in the process.
Daniels' stumble gave Stafford the necessary passing lane opening to deliver the ball to Riddick, who was off to the races.
The Lions got cute with the creativity, trying to run one of the most well-known trick plays, the flea flicker. The blocking held up well enough and the Packers initially bit, but the delayed reaction of the outside corner to the handoff allowed him to quickly recover and be in position to take away the best read on the play, TJ Jones.
The outside corner, sitting in a shallow zone, charged in two steps once the ball was handed off to Abdullah, but quickly retreated on the flip back to Stafford, getting into Jones' lane on the deep crossing route, moving right to left, which could have netted the Lions at least 20 yards. Instead, Stafford pulled the ball down and ate a sack, losing eight.
The Lions ran a healthy number of blitzes against the Packers to keep Hundley off balance, but two stood out. On the first series of the game, with the Packers moving, linebacker Tahir Whitehead came as an extra rusher. His evasive jump cut around the running back's attempt to pick him up forced Hundley to pull it down and scramble, but Whitehead still caught the quarterback two yards behind the line.
More importantly, Whitehead's actions saved a potential touchdown. Diggs had slipped on the play and Nelson was running open down the left seam. With an extra half-second to make the read, Hundley likely identifies it and makes the easy throw.
In the fourth quarter, the Lions ran a beautifully designed blitz. The Lions brought Davis up to the line directly over the center, with safety Tavon Wilson a few steps back to the right. At the snap Davis dropped to his left. Wilson feigned dropping before coming hard on the delay. That misdirection step caused the running back to scan elsewhere for blitzers, and with the Lions also sending Diggs off the edge, the back committed to picking that up. That left Wilson to shoot clean up the middle and drop Hundley for a loss of nine.
Abdullah's other fumble
The broadcast missed Abdullah's first fumble, and there isn't a great look on the coach's film, either. From the best I can tell, Abdullah was stood up near the line and while pushing forward for an extra yard, fell on top of some downed players and had the ball pulled out from there. It would have been difficult to overturn based on the heavy traffic.