Four Downs: Lions' pressure plans, Amendola’s impact and more

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Here are four observations after having a night to ponder the Detroit Lions' 31-26 win over the New York Giants. 

First down

There was this perception, immediately after the game, that the Lions leaned more heavily on the blitz against the Giants. There was probably some recency bias driving the thought, since the defense did bring extra heat on a couple third- and fourth-down plays down the stretch, but players in the locker room, as well as coach Matt Patricia, all denied the pressure plan was much different this week compared to others this season. 

"I think some of those calls have been made previously and maybe not noticed from that aspect of it," Patricia said. "I thought we got a couple of looks that we wanted to get, and we were able to execute them."

After re-watching the game, it wasn't so much that the Lions were blitzing, but they were finding creative ways to disguise their pressure by loading up fronts or bringing linebackers on a delay as the fourth man. By attacking different ways, from different angles, it kept the Giants' offensive line and quarterback Daniel Jones on their toes. 

In total, the Lions only brought more than four rushers eight times. As noted, a couple of those came down the stretch, when the Lions batted down a third-down pass and forced a quick throw on a fourth down that was broken up by cornerback Justin Coleman. 

In other situations, they still found ways to get some of their best off-ball pass rushers involved, including bringing Jarrad Davis as part of the rush package more than a dozen times, as well as utilizing Christian Jones, Jahlani Tavai and Coleman in those roles, as well.

The sack numbers still weren't great, but the pressure rate was up a tick. According to Pro Football Focus, the Lions disrupted the pocket on 16 of Jones' 45 dropbacks. 

Trey Flowers and the Lions defense celebrate a sack of Giants quarterback Daniel Jones in the fourth quarter.

Second down

I'm not one to shy away from a mea culpa and it's time to do so with Danny Amendola. While I understood the purpose of the signing, bringing in a capable veteran to fill the roster hole created by Golden Tate's departure, I scoffed at the potential impact the 33-year-old slot receiver could have, especially coming off one of the least-productive seasons of his career. 

My bad. 

Amendola has been just what the Lions needed in the slot, a sure-handed chain mover. In six games, he's already had seven or more receptions three times, including the past two weeks, where he's hauled in 16 balls on 19 targets for 200 yards. That's incredible efficiency. 

Despite his advanced age, by NFL standards, the 12-year veteran is well on his way to his best season, both by volume and efficiency. If he can maintain his 12.4 yards per catch, he'll easily best his 2013 season with the Patriots, when he averaged 11.7 yards each reception. And if he can stay healthy, he's on pace for 857 yards, which would blow the 689 he had for St. Louis in 2010 out of the water. 

Additionally, Amendola has raised the bar in practice and in the meeting room with his intensity and work ethic. He's only signed with Detroit for one year, but at this rate, it would be strange if the franchise didn't try to keep him around beyond 2019. 

Third down

It was briefly captured on the broadcast, but the Lions were having safety Will Harris hold the ball at an angle on kickoffs to help Sam Martin get more loft on the kicks. This is all part of the team's strategy to force opponents to return the ball, and it's paying off in the field-position battle. 

The Lions kicked off six times on Sunday and the Giants started behind their 25-yard line on all but one of those drives, including three inside their own 15. 

Detroit has exceptional coverage units, led by Miles Killebrew and Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who are No. 1 and 2 in special teams tackles in the NFL. In total, the team has four players ranked among the top-15 in the stat. And the units got another significant boost with the re-addition of Steve Longa after a 14-month battle back from a torn ACL. 

Longa, who led the Lions in special teams tackles in 2017, wasted little time asserting himself against the Giants, assisting on a tackle with Killebrew on the game's opening kickoff and adding a solo stop later in the first half. 

Fourth down

Earlier in the week, when talking about the recoveries of defensive tackles Da'Shawn Hand and Mike Daniels, Patricia discussed the challenges of managing a position group when multiple in-game injuries crop up. 

So when Damon Harrison was banged up in the second quarter, and Hand, making his season debut, presumably on a pitch count, there was a moment on the sideline where guard Kenny Wiggins could be seen having conversations with Patricia and defensive line coach Bo Davis, suggesting the offensive lineman was getting briefed on serving as a potential injury replacement. 

When asked after the game, Wiggins rejected the observation, stating he was only prepping to go in as part of the field-goal block unit. Patricia, on the other hand, offered a sly smile when Wiggins as an emergency option was brought up. 

"I mean Kenny is a big guy, he can do a lot of different things – he can block kicks, he’s always ready to go," Patricia said. "Kenny thinks he can probably play quarterback. He and I just have a lot of conversations."

By the fourth quarter, Harrison had returned and Wiggins was more needed in his traditional role after Graham Glasgow exited with an undisclosed injury.