After going over the film from the Detroit Lions' 20-10 victory over the Chicago Bears, here are 10 observations.
The Lions have incorporated the pistol formation — the running back aligned directly behind the quarterback in shotgun — a decent amount this season, but I can't recall seeing them use it as much as they did against the Bears.
The pistol was Detroit's preferred formation to run the ball, with 16 of 21 carries coming from the set. When passing, the Lions lined up in the pistol seven times, running a play-action fake on six of those plays.
It remains to be seen whether this was specific to the game plan, a schematic adjustment by Jim Bob Cooter, or something tailored to the personnel, with Theo Riddick and Tion Green shouldering the load. Ameer Abdullah's lone handoff came in shotgun, but lined up beside quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Outside of some low-level predictability concerns with the formation's usage, the ground game produced against the Bears, with the backs averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Most impressively, none of the 19 attempts were stopped for no gain or a loss of yardage.
DAHL'S FIRST START
I was surprised to see Joe Dahl receive the highest grade of any Lions player from Pro Football Focus. It's impossible for me to accurately assess individual offensive linemen while watching a game live, but I jotted multiple notes where I thought Dahl surrendered pressure from the press box. The film confirmed some of what I initially observed.
Early in the game, Dahl was slow to pick up a blitzing cornerback, looping around the defensive tackle on a stunt. That forced Stafford to bail from the pocket. On the second series, Dahl allowed his assignment to spin free and help clean up a sack when Stafford tried to step up in the pocket to avoid edge pressure. And in the third quarter, Dahl's assignment moved Stafford off his spot in the red zone, causing the QB to throw off his back foot and miss Marvin Jones, who was open in the end zone.
Simply put, that's too much pressure to allow from the guard spot.
Dahl was better as a run blocker, contributing to the backs' performance. He showed the ability to win at the line of scrimmage, working in tandem with both Taylor Decker and Graham Glasgow, as well as pull and make blocks in space. He did whiff on a downfield cut block during a Riddick draw that might have netted a first down on a third-and-15, as well as a backside block on a pistol run by Green that was stopped for a 2-yard gain.
Overall, Dahl was far steadier inside than Corey Robinson was earlier this season, and once Dahl shakes off some lingering rust from his stint on injured reserve, he looks to be a capable backup.
LBS COME TO PLAY
Both Tahir Whitehead and Jarrad Davis had outstanding days against the run. Davis set the tone early, bouncing off the fullback on a I-formation carry to drop running back Jordan Howard for no gain.
Davis finished with six tackles, and even when he wasn't making the play, his gap integrity was forcing the Bears' backs to bounce outside, where they were routinely swarmed.
And while the Lions continue to pull Davis from the lineup in obvious passing situations, he's showing some improvement in coverage. He impressively tracked speedy back Tarik Cohen out of the backfield, stuck on his hip through and out route and made a tackle after a modest 3-yard gain.
Whitehead also had a strong day controlling his gaps against the run, in addition to bringing some critical pass-rush pressure on a third down that forced quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to step up in the pocket where he was dropped by safety Quandre Diggs.
It was a team effort, but Davis and Whitehead were a big part of the reason the Lions held the Bears to 43 yards rushing on 15 carries.
MAKING UP FOR A MISTAKE
Players often talk about plays they wish they could have back, and that's exactly how Stafford described overthrowing tight end Eric Ebron in the end zone.
On second-and-11 from the 14, the Lions emptied out the backfield, splitting Riddick out wide to the left. With three options to the left and two to the right, the Bears defense had to spread out to counter. That included wide spacing with their safeties in a Cover-2 shell. Ebron, running from the left slot, ran straight up the seam, bending in slightly on a skinny post. With one safety preoccupied with Kenny Golladay in the opposite slot, Ebron ran open but Stafford simply put the ball too high.
Stafford made up for the error in the third quarter, connecting with Ebron in the end zone. This time, the high throw was by design. As the tight end tried to sneak behind the Bears linebackers in a zone, Danny Trevathan read the route and backpedaled into the throwing lane. The quarterback had little room for error and put the ball just over the linebacker's hand where Ebron could make the leaping grab.
STAFFORD POCKET MOBILITY
Stafford has been banged much of the season, but he flashed some of that early-season pocket mobility to extend a pair of critical plays on separate scoring drives. When Dahl allowed early pressure, Stafford executed a spin move to shake the rusher, regained his balance and quickly found Ebron on a crossing route that gained 19 yards, converting the third down. That led to a Lions' field goal.
In the second quarter, in what was the game's most memorable play, Stafford squeezed between two Bears defenders closing in to his right, got into space and heaved a bomb to Marvin Jones for a 58-yard gain.
The third-and-18 throw was initially into double coverage, but the cornerback shadowing Jones lost his footing as Stafford released the pass. That left it as a one-on-one jump ball between the receiver and the safety. And even though Eddie Jackson was parked under the throw waiting for it to descend, Jones was able to get to the spot and snatch it away at the last second.
WHAT A RUSH
Akeem Spence isn't a name we've mentioned in this space too many times this year, but his sack in the third quarter was impressive.
Spence is a guy who has more success winning with his quickness than his power. On first-and-10 late in the third quarter, he caught offensive tackle Bradley Sowell leaning and swam past the blocker to the outside. Howard slid over to pick up Spence in the backfield, but the defensive tackle blew by the back and dropped Trubisky for a loss of eight.
AGNEW NEARLY GETS ANOTHER
How electric is Jamal Agnew? The rookie return man returned to the lineup after three weeks and nearly brought back his third touchdown of the season. With three unblocked defenders bearing down on him, Agnew raced to his left and found a lane. As he cut upfield, with plenty of green in front of him, cornerback Sherrick McManis desperately dove and managed to trip up Agnew.
Agnew averaged 11.5 yards on his four punt returns, which dropped his league-leading average to 16.0 yards per boot.
Additionally, let's talk about Agnew's first catch of the season. The play design was nice, as he motioned through the backfield on the snap, the Bears ignored him when he didn't get the handoff. Stafford then swung it out to Agnew in the flat, which had been cleared out by by Golladay and Riddick running vertical routes to that side. That left Agnew one-on-one with a defender, but the receiver lost his footing and took a hard no-contact spill after a 6-yard gain.
PICK WORKS TO PERFECTION
Following a Bears timeout, the Lions came out with a good thirrd-and-1 play call to score their first touchdown of the game.
Stafford took a shotgun snap and immediately rolled to his right, giving the quarterback plenty of room to operate. The Lions had TJ Jones lined up in the slot to that side and Ebron out wide. On the snap, Ebron cut sharply inside with Jones ran underneath the tight end. Ebron creates a screen that forces Jones defender to go over the top, creating just enough separation for Stafford to get the ball to the receiver short of the goal line and allows Jones to plunge in for the score.
The play is nearly impossible to defend without the defenders exchanging coverage assignments at the point of the pick. The Bears didn't and it got the Lions six.
ZONE-READ PUT ON ICE
Defending the zone-read has been an issue for the Lions this season, but they did an effective job shutting it down against the Bears. The play that really stood out was in the red zone, on the first play of the fourth quarter.
It was a complicated call to defend, with Cohen motioning through the backfield, moving left to right, followed by the read hand-off to Howard, also heading right. Both Ziggy Ansah and Whitehead showed excellent discipline on the outside, shuffling square to the backfield and not giving away the edge.
When Trubisky pulled the handoff back, Whitehead was in excellent position to chase the quarterback down and drop him for a 2-yard loss.
LIONS POUNCE ON ERRORS
Sometimes, you're in the right place at the right time. Such was the case with both of Darius Slay's interceptions, which were more unforced errors by the Bears. But credit Slay for making the most of his opportunities.
On the first, early in the third quarter, the Bears ran play-action, with Howard running right while Trubisky rolling left. This is a common look in their offensive scheme because of the rookie quarterback's comfort throwing on the move. The Lions' line flowed with the play-fake, but the second-level defenders did a nice job recovering and crowding the passing lanes. Slay, covering the deep third to that side, had drifted to cover a man as Trubisky looked to connect with Kendall Wright, who was open running an 18-yard out from the slot.
Slay read the throw and was in position to put a hit on Wright as the ball arrived, but Trubisky sailed the pass. Perhaps fearing the hit on a pass he thought was uncatchable, Wright short-armed an attempt on a ball he might have been able to deflect, letting it get to Slay cleanly. The cornerback made the catch and impressively got both feet in bounds.
Late in the fourth quarter, Slay finished the game with his second interception, his league-leading seventh on the year. Throwing from a clean pocket, Trubisky was looking for tight end Daniel Brown, but instead of the target breaking toward the sideline, he sat down against the zone coverage, causing the pass to sail wide. Slay, playing zone, appropriately had his eyes in the backfield and only had to make a slight adjustment to convert the easy interception.
Trubisky's third interception, snagged by Diggs in the end zone, was another example of an unforced error. It's possible the quarterback didn't see the safety sitting in the throwing lane, behind the offensive line, but the rookie threw it directly to the defender. Ugly mistake.