Allen Park -- You might have thought on the short week, I'd abandon the film review. Nah. Here are 10 observations from the Detroit Lions' win over the Chicago Bears.
HOWARD’S BIG GAIN
The Lions struggled to contain the Bears on the ground, largely due to superior execution from the Bears’ blocking. The biggest gash play came in the opening quarter, when Jordan Howard burst through the middle of his line for 50 yards.
With the Bears in 11 personnel (one tight end, one running back), the Lions countered with their nickel package. Still anticipating a run, with tight end Adam Shaheen off right tackle, the Lions dropped a seventh defender, safety Tavon Wilson, into the box.
On the snap, the Chicago absolutely mauled defensive tackles Akeem Spence and Jeremiah Ledbetter with combination blocks, allowing for smooth transitions when breaking off into the second level to put a body on linebackers Tahir Whitehead and Jarrad Davis. Shaheen did an outstanding job, not only holding up powerful defensive end Cornelius Washington, but muddying Wilson’s lane.
Howard went straight up the middle and ran through a desperation attempt by Wilson two yards beyond the line of scrimmage and seven yards after taking the handoff. Once free from Wilson’s grasp, it was open field for Howard. With safety Glover Quin aligned to the left side of the field, the back angled 45 degrees toward the right sideline and continued on that track until he was caught from behind by speedy cornerback Darius Slay.
MARVIN GOES DEEP AGAIN
The Lions continued to have success working wide receiver Marvin Jones deep down the sideline.
Creating space with a play-action fake to Theo Riddick going left, quarterback Matthew Stafford rolled to the right. The Bears showed a Cover-2 look before the snap, but only one safety dropped deep, while the other, to the right, came forward into a shallow zone and was anchored to that re-established depth by the play-action.
Jones’ ran a nice route, getting the cornerback to bite hard on a feigned comeback before stemming vertically down the sideline. As soon as he restarted his momentum back downfield, Stafford fired, dropping an in-stride pass just short of the goal line for the score.
The Lions really struggled to contain the Bears’ read-option. It was so bad, the Lions even overran a botched play where quarterback Mitchell Trubisky held out the ball, faking it to no one.
The biggest issue was Detroit’s over-commitment to the running back on the read plays, without support from a second defender to stay with Trubisky on keepers. Anthony Zettel pinched down hard twice and looked silly both times, although neither play went for a big gain, thanks in part to Trubisky slipping to the ground on one in the fourth quarter.
Hilariously, there was some confusion on one play where Trubisky stuck the ball out to hand it to a back who wasn’t there. After some hesitation, the rookie tucked it in and ran around the left edge, which defensive end Jeremiah Valoaga somehow failed to set.
WASHINGTON’S BIG SAVE
The Bears offense was cooking in the first half, and outside of a botched snap the Lions turned into a touchdown, the defense didn’t have much of an answer for the home team’s versatile attack.
The Lions didn’t force a punt until there was 3:45 remaining in the half, but that was only because Cornelius Washington saved the day, hitting Trubisky’s arm as he attempted a pass on 3rd-and-3.
What the broadcast failed to show is what would have happened had the throw not been defended at the line. It was one of several snaps where the Lions disguised their pass rush by having defensive linemen drop into coverage, hoping to confuse the young quarterback.
On the snap, speedy running back Tarik Cohen, operating out the right slot, ran a crossing route into a zone manned by defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson. Understandably, Cohen had no issues getting open, but had the ball made it to the target, there was 20 yards of open field and just two defenders between the back and the end zone.
Given Cohen’s speed and open-field elusiveness, which the Bears utilize by putting him on punt return, it’s conceivable he scores on the play. If nothing else, he’s likely going to set the Bears up in Lions’ territory, with a chance to expand on the three-point advantage they had at the time.
Instead, the Bears punt and the Lions’ score a touchdown on the ensuing drive, snatching momentum before heading to the locker room.
UGLY CUT BLOCKING
I honestly don’t know if it’s a problem around the league, but the Lions’ consistently struggle with cut blocks. Center Travis Swanson was particularly brutal against the Bears, and those blown blocks add up to plenty of yards left on the field.
Swanson whiffed four times on cuts, in a game that was an all-around disappointment for the veteran lineman.
On the snap directly before Jones’ touchdown grab, the Lions ran with Riddick up the middle and Swanson was supposed to chop down Bears linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski in the second level. Instead, the center whiffed and the linebacker made the tackle after Riddick gained just two yards.
Swanson missed low again as the lead blocker on a third-quarter screen pass to Abdullah, limiting a potential big gain to 11 yards.
And it wasn’t just Swanson. Tight end Michael Roberts missed on one that let Riddick be tracked down from the backside on an otherwise nice 8-yard gain, and Taylor Decker and Swanson both missed their cuts on the pitch play to Jamal Agnew.
A BLAST FROM THE PAST
Speaking of Agnew, the Lions dusted off a play from Scott Linehan’s playbook, a double play-action designed to create a big play in the passing game.
With tight end Darren Fells off right tackle, and Kenny Golladay and Agnew bunched in the slot to that side, the Lions first faked a handoff to Riddick going up the gut from the under-center snap. Agnew motioned through the backfield and Stafford faked a second handoff on the jet sweep.
Not many Bears players bought either fake, but one did, linebacker Sam Acho, who initially lined up on the line, but dropped into a zone in the left flat. He shuffled his feet and hung close to the line as Agnew came around, creating extra spacing in the second level behind him along the sideline.
The left side was further cleared out by Marvin Jones, the lone receiver to that side, running a go route and commanding the attention of both cornerback Kyle Fuller and the deep safety. That allowed Golladay to leak across the field on a deep crossing route into the open space near the left sideline, where Stafford found him for a 40-yard catch and run.
DAVIS STILL STRUGGLING
Rookie linebacker Jarrad Davis continues to be a weak link in Detroit’s back-end coverage, while also missing too many tackles coming forward.
The Bears targeted Davis seven times, mostly in zone coverage, and he allowed six receptions. Talking to Davis in the locker room on Tuesday, he acknowledged it’s an area he’s been focusing on and learning with each mistake.
As for the missed tackles, twice Davis made outstanding reads on passes to Cohen and should have had the back wrapped up in the backfield or at the line on both, but failed to make either stop. Davis also got drawn way out of his gap following a play-action jet sweep to Cohen and wasn’t in position to make a play on a screen the opposite way that went for 18 yards.
The rookie is certainly going through a bit of a rough patch, but these aren’t uncommon struggles for a first-year player. Be patient.
TO COOTER’S CREDIT
Lions players were eager to give coordinator Jim Bob Cooter credit for Abdullah’s touchdown catch in the second quarter and I can understand why. I love the play call.
On 2nd-and-goal from the 2, Detroit came out with three receivers, Stafford in the shotgun and Abdullah split to his right.
On the snap, all three receivers sliced inside, while Abdullah angled through the middle of the line going right. No one on the Bears picked him up, but even if they had, there were enough natural screens created by receivers going the opposite direction, there’s little chance anyone could have picked Abdullah up without a pre-planned switch.
TABOR THE BLITZER
For the second time in three games, second-round pick Teez Tabor got a nice chunk of playing time. The Lions actually leaned on the rookie corner down the stretch, once again playing him at dime linebacker.
What really stood out, surprisingly, was his effectiveness as a pass rusher. The Lions brought him on two blitzes on the Bears’ final drive and Tabor got pressure on both.
He caught the Bears by surprise on the first one, racing past center Cody Whitehair and delivering a hit to Trubisky on a pass nearly intercepted by Darius Slay.
Running back Benny Cunningham picked up Tabor on the second blitz, but the young corner stayed active and shed his blocker, getting after Trubisky as rolled from the pocket. That pressure led to a throwaway.
LIONS GET SCRAMBLED
Trubisky kept the Bears alive with a 19-yard scramble to convert a 4th-and-10 in the closing seconds.
There were multiple breakdowns on the play, but Whitehead’s positioning ended up creating most of the problems. He originally complemented Detroit’s three-man rush when it looked as if Cunningham was staying back as a blocker. But as Trubisky danced in the backfield, away from pressure, Cunningham leaked out to the right flat.
With Whitehead not realizing his assignment had come open on the far sideline, safety Miles Killebrew drifted that direction. And when Whitehead finally discovered he was out of position, he abandoned pursuit of Trubisky, who was still behind the line of scrimmage. That created the initial lane for the scramble.
Washington had a shot to bring the QB down when he first crossed the line. After falling early in the play, the defensive end got up and gave backside pursuit. He ended up diving for Trubisky, but the quarterback ran through the tackle. In the locker room after the game, Washington admitted he should have kept his feet in pursuit.
With Whitehead recovered in coverage, Killebrew came back to help corral Trubisky, but the angle was off and he over-pursued, also whiffing as Trubisky cut inside. Killebrew had been the last line of defense before the first down marker.