Lions film review: 10 observations vs. Giants
Allen Park — I guess I boxed myself into a corner, promising you 10 film observations after every game one week ago. Unfortunately, a Monday Night Football game makes for lack of sleep, a crunched schedule and delayed film release, but I wouldn't want to go back on my promise so soon.
After a day full slate of interviews and stories from the Lions' practice facility, I hit the film from the team's 24-10 win over the New York Giants. Here are 10 observations from the game.
1. Heavy packages
In the offseason, we hinted at the likelihood of more two-tight end sets, but that didn't really play out in the season opener. Against the Giants, it was another story. Not only did the Lions roll with two tight ends on a significant percentage of snaps, they also worked in quite a few looks with three. The Lions wanted to run the ball down the Giants' throat, which they did with varying degrees of success, and they used extra beef up front to do it.
And here's the thing. We know Darren Fells is going to get the job done more often than not, but both Eric Ebron and rookie Michael Roberts made a fair share of quality blocks in the run game. Ebron's blocking is never going to be his calling card, but this performance was evidence of significant strides. He pulled on one play and managed to seal former Pro Bowler Jason Pierre-Paul, and later, Ebron effectively sealed an edge one-on-one against 275-pound defensive end Romeo Okwara, clearing the way for an 11-yard gain by Theo Riddick.
And there were multiple blocks that sprung Ameer Abdullah's 34-yard gain at the end of the game, but you have to love the work Roberts did on the play, first working in tandem with Ebron to stymie All-Pro safety Landon Collins, before breaking off and putting a body on linebacker Jonathan Casillas to clear a path for the big gain.
2. Glasgow shines
The Lions have invested a ton of resources into the offensive line, and I've said it before, Graham Glasgow is the weak link. It's not that I don't believe he can do the job effectively, it has more to do with his relative inexperience and the natural growing pains a young player goes through.
There were no growing pains in this game, only growth. Glasgow was a beast, firing off his blocks in the ground game, regularly marking his man in the second level. He also delivered strong sets in pass protection. This was, without question, the best performance I've seen from him since he joined the team.
3. Robinson does not
On Glasgow's left shoulder, Greg Robinson had a rough day against Giants' big-money defensive end Olivier Vernon. Robinson got overpowered multiple times, even on three-man rushes, forcing quarterback Matthew Stafford to bail prematurely from his pocket.
The big left tackle was a little bit better in the ground game, but still inconsistent. Vernon blew him up early, forcing Abdullah to change directions on an outside run. Robinson got hit with two holds as well, including a particularly brutal one on an outside run, when Vernon tried to go inside. He wouldn't have been a factor on the play had Robinson adjusted and just sealed him off.
4. Misdirection an issue
The Lions are an aggressive defense, and that's really paid off well early in the season, with a boatload of sacks, tackles for loss and turnovers. But it's also left them susceptible to misdirection, which the Giants utilized effectively early in the game. Defensive tackle Cornelius Washington and linebacker Paul Worrilow got busted overpursuing a play-action fake, allowing the Giants to gain 12 yards on an end-around the opposite direction, taking advantage of the unsealed edge. Worrilow got beat again on a similar overpursuit, when the Eli Manning rolled out of play-action and found fullback Rhett Ellison leaking the other way out of the backfield for another 12 yards.
And while it doesn't fall under the category of misdirection, the Lions were all sorts of out of position on the Giants' lone touchdown after Tavon Wilson and Tahir Whitehead bit hard on play-action, freeing tight end Evan Engram to release free up the seam for an easy 18-yard touchdown. There should have been more awareness here from the defense on the play. Engram isn't much of a blocker, so to not have him marked, even lined up as a fullback, is a breakdown.
5. One rookie up, one rookie down
Before he suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter, Jarrad Davis looked much better than he did in Week 1. The most noticeable improvement was his positioning in coverage. He had better location in his zone drops, taking away some of Manning's early reads, and when the linebacker chased a running back into the flat for a quick stop, you really saw the sideline-to-sideline speed.
Additionally, Davis brings something as a blitzer the Lions have lacked from their linebackers since injuries sapped DeAndre Levy's effectiveness. On his sack, Davis showed impressive lateral quickness on a jump cut, before slicing into the backfield to drop Manning.
While Davis was up, Kenny Golladay's hype train got stuck in the station this week. The rookie caught just one pass for eight yards. He was targeted a couple times deep, but it didn't amount to anything. On one, Stafford just missed him. The other, the rookie played with terrible technique, focusing too much on his defender, putting his hands into the corner's chest way downfield, derailing his own momentum. When Golladay came off the field after that play, his position coach, Robert Prince, gave him an earful. It's nothing more than a learning moment for the talented receiver.
Beyond the pass catching, the Lions are leaning fairly hard on Golladay as a blocker. He's still a work in progress, especially when he's split wide, but he did have a few nice moments against the Giants. The one that really impressed me was how well he handled a one-on-one with Vernon, which is a tall task for a tackle, let alone a 220-pound receiver.
6. Pass of the day
I like the idea of making Stafford's best throw one of my observations every week.
There weren't many options this game, given the plan's focus on running the ball. And while both touchdown tosses were nice, I found a third-and-2 throw to Ebron to be underrated. On the play, right tackle Rick Wagner was driven back by Pierre-Paul and Stafford perfectly utilized a sidearm toss to get around the traffic, hit his target and convert the first down.
We all remember the sidearm throws being written about several years ago. I never had a problem with them. Stafford had issues with his footwork under former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, notably throwing off his back foot and sailing passes when he felt phantom pressure. Slinging it from different arm slots has always been a real weapon, as he showed on this play.
7. Ansah's domination
Poor Ereck Flowers. The beleaguered offensive tackle was no match for the Ghanaian wrecking machine. Ziggy Ansah won with power, he won with quickness, and on his final sack, he won with a violent chop across Flowers' arm.
Ansah is back. All the way back. You know when it showed the most? Not on the sacks, which were each a great sign in themselves, but when he tracked down a screen pass for a short gain coming from the opposite side of the field. That's the Ansah we got used to watching in 2015.
8. Respecting Stafford's feet
It was weird to see, but the Giants had a spy on Stafford throughout the first half. When his pocket collapsed and he looked to run, they were ready, although the quarterback still managed to scramble for a first down on a third-and-long with a nifty cut, using another block to seal off the pursuit.
On the Lions' second touchdown, a pass to Ebron running a crossing route, Stafford had to step up and to his right to buy time. When he did, two Giants linebackers stepped toward him to protect the goal line, which freed up extra space for Ebron to operate in the end zone and make the catch.
9. Austin gets crafty on fourth down
On the first of two fourth-down stops in the fourth quarter, the Lions tricked the Giants by presenting a man-coverage look. But at the snap, the Lions shifted to a zone, and when Manning dumped the ball off to his running back coming out of the backfield, cornerback Quandre Diggs was in perfect position to make the stop.
Credit goes to both the call and execution for the stop.
10. Big play Slay
The Giants picked on Darius Slay a little bit throughout the game, attacking him with comeback routes for gains of 10, 12 and 16 yards. He also got beat on a third-down slant when the Giants quick-snapped and took advantage of some communication issues in the Lions secondary. That's not a big deal, as long as you tackle well and limit the damage, which Slay did.
Slay got his revenge on Manning in the fourth quarter when he broke up two passes to preserve the Lions' 14-point lead. The first came when the Giants looked for Brandon Marshall in the end zone from the 29-yard line, but Slay used his speed to stay in the receiver's back pocket on the vertical route, easily knocking the throw away. On the second, safety Miles Killebrew lost Engram in coverage, but Slay caught the play developing, bailed on his man and delivered a thunderous hit that dislodged the ball from the tight end's grasp.
Slay actually stumbled on his way to Engram. I asked him about it after the game and he was convinced he had an interception before he tripped. Looking at the film, it would have been a tough play, but he had a shot.