Lions film review: Five observations vs. Jets

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford looks to pass the ball in the fourth quarter.

Allen Park — Well, that wasn’t fun. The Detroit Lions’ 48-17 loss to the New York Jets was an ugly game to watch live, but for you, loyal reader, I powered through the broadcast replay and the coaches' film to provide you with that extra, detailed breakdown you didn’t know you needed.

Here are five observations from the film:

About the interceptions

No one will try to convince you the Lions were playing well, at any point on Monday, at least beyond the first play of the game, but a victory was still well within reach early in the third quarter. But hopes were dashed quickly, thanks to an uncharacteristic turnover binge courtesy of quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Stafford actually threw two interceptions in the first half, and we’ll come back to those in a minute, but let’s first talk about the deflating pick-six in the third quarter, where the Jets claimed to know the play call that was coming.

Honestly, we shouldn’t be surprised. For the past three years, Theo Riddick running on angle route has been one of the most successful, drive-extending plays on the call sheet. In this case, the Jets guessed right, based on film study, and reaped the rewards.

A lot of credit goes to linebacker Darron Lee, who not only made the play on the ball, but disguised his coverage assignment well enough to bait Stafford on the rushed throw. Lee fought through the pick set by Golden Tate running a crossing route to undercut Riddick coming out of the backfield.

During a radio interview, Stafford said he should have thrown the ball away. Defensive lineman Henry Anderson had been charging hard into the backfield. That didn’t help, forcing a quick decision, but Lee was so slick, Stafford might have thrown it anyway.

Quickly, let’s look at the other three interceptions.

■ On the first, Stafford attempted what Jon Gruden infamously called a “turkey hole” throw, a tight-window between the cornerback and safety in Cover-2. It’s a throw many quarterback can’t make, but Stafford routinely attempts with above-average success.

In this instance, Stafford had a slight mechanical breakdown, leaving too much weight on his back foot as he released. That caused the pass to come up short of Marvin Jones, the intended target, and allowed the underneath man, cornerback Morris Claiborne, to go up and make a full-extension play on the ball.

■ In the second quarter, Stafford was the victim of some bad luck. TJ Jones was running a route combination with Kenny Golladay on the outside. Golladay, in the slot, was running a short out route, while Jones was crossing several yards behind him on a dig.

The heavy traffic at the intersection often creates natural separation, but in this case, Jones collided with Golladay’s man, knocking Jones off his route just as Stafford was releasing the ball, which ended up directly in the chest of a defender.

Fortunately for Stafford and the Lions, Golladay was able to punch the ball free on the return and recover the forced fumble. On Wednesday, Stafford quipped he should have just thrown the ball to Golladay in the first place. 

■ Stafford was picked one last time, in the third quarter, by Lee. This one is a classic example of a quarterback trying to do too much. Down 38-17, Stafford was looking to push the issue on a comeback and forced a pass into a non-existent window to tight end Luke Willson, running down the left seam. There were three defenders in position to make a play on the ball or Willson. Lee, the short man in the triangle made the leaping pick, not too dissimilar from Claiborne’s earlier in the contest.

Three positives

You’ll often hear coaches and players tell you that the film is never as bad or good as you think. Well, this was pretty bad. That said, there were still some positives to pull from this game. I’ll give you three.

■ First, let’s talk about Golladay. It wasn’t a flawless performance, but his seven catches for 114 yards topped anything he did last season. He had a lot of success working the middle of the field, taking advantage of the inside leverage Jets cornerbacks were giving him and maintaining the initial separation he was afforded with rounded routes, which allowed the big-bodied receiver to better maintain his momentum. 

He also flashed some elusiveness, twice making a tackler miss for some valuable yardage after the catch. And, as we noted it earlier, the forced fumble punch was picturesque, reminiscent of former Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman.

The downside to Golladay’s performance was allowing a well-placed back-shoulder pass from Stafford slip through his hands. Yes, the young receiver had to go up to get it, but it’s a ball he should have come down with along the sideline.

■ Second positive was the play of Devon Kennard. I know I have previously expressed concern about his ability to set an edge, given his 260-pound frame, but he consistently did a good job identifying runs to his side of the field, getting in position and shedding his blocker to make the tackle. He similarly identified a screen pass, avoiding a cut block and clogging the passing lane, forcing a throwaway.

As a pass rusher, he was quiet, but he did have a cleanup sack when appeared to be a spy. On the snap, he dropped into a short zone, and when Sam Darnold was flushed from the pocket by Ziggy Ansah, Kennard showed good awareness to come forward and make the stop in the backfield.  

■ Finally, rookie running back Kerryon Johnson showed enough in a small sample size that left you wanting more. From his first snap, when he squeezed through a paper-thin lane for five yards, to a third-down run around the right edge for eight, he showed better vision, balance and decisiveness than Detroit’s other backs in the opener.

Additionally, he also popped in the passing game, netting a nice gain on a screen and stabbing a throw behind his head out of the air with one hand.

Run defense not working

With a lot of the attention of Detroit’s ground game, which wasn’t good, the bigger problem might be the run defense. Among the more significant changes this offseason is the gap assignments and techniques being taught by Patricia and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni. After one week, it’s clear things aren’t clicking.

The Jets, like many teams around the league, run a lot of stretch zone, behind pulling guards and tight ends. To be a successful run defense, you have to be able to stop it consistently. The Lions didn’t.

The Jets backs, Bilal Powell and Isaiah Crowell, both had success getting to the edge of the defense and turning upfield. And it wasn’t against one defender. Kerry Hyder, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Jarrad Davis all gave up contain for decent gains to the outside.

Speaking of Davis, he and Glover Quin were both examples of the struggles Detroit’s second-level defenders are experiencing with their gap assignments.

And the stretch-zone problems are exacerbated by inside zone issues, as well. Crowell burst through the line essentially untouched on a 62-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and Powell gained 14 on the team’s first carry of the night.

Mixed bag for Ragnow

While Johnson stirred excitement with his performance, rookie guard Frank Ragnow’s debut was more of a mixed bag. The negative play that stands out was the pick-six, where Ragnow was badly beat off the ball, rushing Stafford's decision.

Ragnow also struggled with picking up stunts, something we saw throughout training camp and the preseason. NFL defenders are quicker than what he saw in the SEC, and he has to do a better job with his timing, knowing the right moment to break off his double-team and slide to the defender attempt to loop inside.

He struggled on a pair of stunts in three plays in the red zone, helping stall out a drive in the first half.

Punt coverage poor

Last season, punter Sam Martin struggled, never returning to form after an offseason foot injury. His leg strength appeared much better in the season opener. His coverage units, not so much.

The gunners were awful. You could make an argument Charles Washington got held and blocked in the back on the two long returns, but you could also probably find several borderline no-calls on most long returns.

The other gunner, Bradley Marquez, has already been cut by the team. He got drove back into his own teammate, clearing the lane for Andre Roberts’ 43-yard return in the first quarter. And on Roberts’ 78-yard touchdown, Marquez couldn’t beat a single man on the outside, starting the domino effect that opened the scoring lane.