Lions film review: Titans' game-winning drive

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead and safety Rafael Bush were all over Titans receiver Andre Johnson on the game-winning touchdown catch.

For three quarters, the Detroit Lions kept the Tennessee Titans in check, but needing a defensive stop in the fourth quarter, the visitor marched down the field 83 yards in 13 plays for the game-winning score.

Here's a play-by-play breakdown of what happened:

First-and-10, Tennessee 17-yard line

The Titans didn't hide their intention to run the ball on the opening playing play of the series, bunching three tight ends to the right side of their formation. Running back DeMarco Murray took a pitch going that direction and picked up 10 yards behind superb blocking. The Titans didn't double-team a single Lions defender and still managed to win every individual matchup. Murray did his part, making safety Glover Quin miss four yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The tackle was ultimately made by cornerback Darius Slay and linebacker Thurston Armbrister, coming across the field.

DeMarco Murray follow his blocks through a big hole on the right side.

First-and-10, Tennessee 27-yard line

Sticking with three tight ends, this time to the left side, the Titans again looked to power through the Lions' defense. Murray attempted to run up the middle, but defensive tackles Haloti Ngata, fighting through a double-team, and Stefan Charles, clogged the lane. On the outside, defensive end Wallace Gilberry was tossed to the ground by Titans rookie offensive tackle Jack Conklin, but linebacker Brandon Copeland did a nice job sealing the edge, allowing Armbrister to make the backside stop after just a one-yard gain.

Lions linebacker Thurston Armbrister is able to stop DeMarco Murray for a short gain.

Second-and-9, Tennessee 28-yard line

Forced to abandon the run on second-and-long, the Titans switched up to a three-wide personnel grouping, lining up the trips to quarterback Marcus Mariota's left side. The Lions countered with six at the line of scrimmage, trying to confuse Mariota and his young offensive line. On the snap, the Lions dropped the two linebackers into coverage while Mariota quickly fired a swing pass out to Murray in the right flat. Copeland did a nice job tracking the back to the sideline and knocking Murray out of bounds after a four-yard pickup.

Lions linebacker Brandon Copeland tracks Titans running back DeMarco Murray into the flat.

Third-and-5, Tennessee 32-yard line

The Titans bunch three receivers to the right with another option wide to the left. There's clear confusion in the secondary as multiple defenders can be seen pointing and shouting just before the snap. The coverage is actually good, especially on the right side, but Mariota finds his lone option on the left, rookie Tajae Sharpe, with a bullet on a short hitch route just beyond the sticks to convert.

Lions defenders try to work out communication issues just before the snap.

First-and-10, Tennessee 39-yard line

The Titans came out with a run look – two tight ends, two receivers and power back Derrick Henry. Initially split, a receiver motions to put both to Mariota's right side with each running vertical routes on the snap, clearing space underneath. The Titans run play-action with Henry, drawing the attention of linebacker Tahir Whitehead as tight end Phillip Supernaw, who lined up as an h-back in the backfield, leaked into the open space to the right for an easy seven-yard gain.

The Titans free up space with play action to get tight end Phillip Supernaw open in the flat.

Second-and-3, Tennessee 46-yard line

Another power running attempt from the Titans with Henry expecting to go up the middle. The play is derailed when center Ben Jones loses his footing, allowing Whitehead to fire free up the middle and redirect the back to the outside where Armbrister makes the stop after a two-yard gain.

Titans center Ben Jones slips, forcing the run outside.

Third-and-1, Tennessee 48-yard line

Needing just one to convert, the Titans emptied the backfield, motioning Murray to the outside and giving Mariota five receiving options working out of the shotgun. The Lions played man coverage, with multiple players keeping eyes in the backfield, wary of the dual-threat quarterback trying to pick up the first down with his feet.

Again, there were communication issues before the snap as Bush animatedly clapped his hands in Whitehead's direction after Murray's motion. It appears Whitehead expected to switch assignments with cornerback Nevin Lawson taking responsibility for Murray. In the end, no defender covered the running back as he runs an uncovered out route for the easy conversion.

DeMarco Murray runs free as Lions defenders Nevin Lawson and Tahir Whitehead cover the same man.

First-and-10, Detroit 47-yard line

This was a case of the Titans exploiting Detroit's depleted depth. Lining up with split backs, Mariota ran play-action, faking the handoff to Henry while Murray ran a seam route of the backfield with Armbrister in coverage. The linebacker got turned around and Mariota found Murray in stride for a big 22-yard gain.

Lions linebacker Thurston Armbrister gets turned around in coverage, leading to a big gain for running back DeMarco Murray.

First-and-10, Detroit 25-yard line

With three wide receivers to the right, the Titans spread the coverage thin by sending inline tight end Delanie Walker and Henry left on the snap. Mariota fixed his gaze to that side, causing Whitehead to drift that direction, out of position, allowing receiver Rishard Matthews to come open across the middle for 10 yards and another first down.

Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead gets moved off his spot trying to read the quarterback's eyes.

First-and-10, Detroit 15-yard line

Another handoff and Ngata did a nice job splitting a double-team and forcing Henry to bounce his run to the outside. The Lions lost containment when Lawson tried to cheat inside and ran into defensive end Kerry Hyder, giving Henry the corner for a six-yard pickup.

Trying to cut off Titans running back Derrick Henry in the hole, Lions cornerback Nevin Lawson gives up the outside lane.

Second-and-4, Detroit 9-yard line

Mariota connected with Andre Johnson for a first down near the goal line, but the play was wiped out by an offensive pass interference call against Matthews. Johnson was able to get easy separation against Slay because of an illegal downfield pick by Matthews. Picks are legal, but only within one yard of the line of scrimmage. The guilty receiver clipped the cornerback four yards downfield.

Second-and-14, Detroit 19-yard line

This was a well-designed play to mitigate the damage from the penalty. The Titans loaded up on the right side, drawing Detroit's defensive attention that way, then ran a shovel pass to Murray coming left behind the formation. Having Mariota roll out and tight end Anthony Fasano flare out to the flat from his inline blocking alignment temporarily froze Copeland on the edge to open a lane for Murray. Safety Tavon Wilson, playing deep to that side, made the touchdown-saving tackle after seven yards.

Lions linebacker Brandon Copeland is frozen by multiple options as the Titans run a successful shovel pass to DeMarco Murray.

Third-and-7, Detroit 12-yard line

Simply put, the Lions had the correct defense called on this play. The Titans tried to work a two-man route concept to the right side with Sharpe crossing underneath Harry Douglas, running a vertical route from the slot. Bush, serving as the nickel on the play, catches the Titans off guard by switching to Sharpe as the receivers cross, making the quick tackle for a minimal, three-yard gain.

Fourth-and-4, Detroit 9-yard line

A stop here doesn't end the game, but it puts the Titans in a tough spot. They would have to force the Lions to go three-and-out and then need to drive 50-60 yards with 80-90 seconds. The easy road is the touchdown and that's what they get when Mariota finds Johnson over the middle.

The Titans get a good matchup with pre-snap motion putting Whitehead on Johnson, but the linebacker does a nice job, first making sure he has the short route covered, preventing a possible first-down conversion, then sticking with the receiver as he breaks his route upfield and into the end zone. Bush, playing safety, is providing help on the play and is also in good position.

As Mariota throws the ball, Whiteheads never gets his head around, but does get an arm in between the receiver's arms. Bush attempts to swat the pass away, but it's just out of his reach. More than focusing on Detroit's failures here, credit goes to the quarterback and receiver. The pass was perfect and Johnson made a tough catch in traffic, through contact.