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Second glance: Lions' mental mistakes led to sacks

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Lions coach Jim Caldwell didn’t want to assign blame Monday for his team allowing seven sacks on quarterback Matthew Stafford in Sunday’s loss to the Vikings.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell didn't want to assign blame Monday for his team allowing seven sacks on quarterback Matthew Stafford in Sunday's loss to the Vikings.

"There are some responsibilities that Matthew has," he said. "There are some responsibilities that our line has, there are responsibilities that tight ends (have), there are responsibilities that we have as coaches also of making adjustments and calls accordingly."

Based on the coaches film on NFL Game Pass, it's tough to handicap who was at fault the most for the blocking issues.

The Lions firing offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and offensive line coaches Jeremiah Washburn and Terry Heffernan indicates that coaching was a key factor in the deplorable effort. And although it's hard to diagnose without knowing assignments, the players too often looked out of position, which likely falls on the coaches and Stafford's protection adjustments.

"One sack is too many, so we had far too many," Caldwell said.

The Vikings deserve plenty of credit, of course. Coach Mike Zimmer is among the best defensive coaches in the league and does a great job of disguising blitzes, and on many plays, it looked like Minnesota would send an all-out blitz.

However, even when the Vikings had seven players at the line of scrimmage, they typically sent just four or five players after the quarterback, which is why it was clear that there was plenty of confusion in the Lions' blocking assignments.

On the first sack, linebacker Chad Greenway sacked Stafford on a delayed blitz despite the Lions having Cornelius Lucas in as an extra tackle. Defensive end Brian Robison beat Lucas just enough to force Stafford to step into the unblocked Greenway.

The second sack of the second quarter was among the biggest indictments of the line coaches. Defensive end Everson Griffen came in unblocked on a play-action pass, and center Travis Swanson was supposed to pull around to his left to block the star pass rusher, though left tackle Riley Reiff could have simply stood his ground to block him.

Swanson was a full two steps late, and with just five rushers, the Vikings quickly had another sack. Had Swanson made it in time, the Lions could have had a deep play to Calvin Johnson, but there was little chance of that happening with Griffen on the edge.

By the time Travis Swanson (circled) turns around, Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen has a clear path to the quarterback.

Later in the second quarter, the Vikings lined up with seven potential blitzers. The Vikings sent five players again, and safety Harrison Smith went through untouched.

It looked like running back Theo Riddick was setting up to block linebacker Anthony Barr up the middle, but Barr dropped into coverage.

The struggles continued into the second half. In the third quarter, the Vikings sent six players on a blitz, and linebacker Eric Kendricks and Robison came through untouched. Right tackle LaAdrian Waddle and fullback Michael Burton were in position to block both of them, but appeared to be looking to fulfill other assignments as Kendricks made the sack.

Instead of blocking the two free rushers, LaAdrian Waddle and Michael Burton (both circled) look for other assignments.

Two plays later, Griffen and Barr split a sack. The Vikings started with seven players at the line, three dropped into coverage and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was the extra rusher. Griffen easily beat tight end Eric Ebron, and Riddick blocked Munnerlyn instead of Barr, though either could have made the sack with Griffen.

Meanwhile, the Lions' three interior linemen didn't really block anyone on the play.

The Vikings continued putting seven guys at the line in the fourth quarter, and Kendricks notched the easiest sack of the night on a third down. He simply blitzed through the A gap between Swanson and left guard Laken Tomlinson and was not touched.

The final sack came with seven guys on the line but just four rushers. Tomlinson and left tackle Riley Reiff didn't block anyone. Defensive tackle Tom Johnson ran around Riddick for the sack, but other players were in position to take down Stafford if Johnson didn't.

In the end, it was clear that mental and schematic mistakes led to the porous performance instead of physical mistakes, which has been the case far too often for the Lions offense this season.

"You address the problems, the issues and you make certain that it doesn't happen again," Caldwell said.