Lions film review: Breaking down what went right for the defense at Jacksonville

Detroit News

Justin Rogers
 
| The Detroit News

The Lions kept their season alive, and turned down the heat on coach Matt Patricia’s hot seat, with a complete dismantling of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.

Sure, it was a game the Lions should have won, given the quality of the competition. But that doesn’t diminish how the team got the job done, rushing for a season-high 180 yards, scoring the most points during Patricia’s tenure and, most impressively, putting together a dominant defensive performance. 

Prior to their bye, the Lions couldn’t stop the run, couldn’t pressure the passer and were giving up more than 30 points a game. And while one game doesn’t mean things are magically on track, the unit managed to do all three effectively, limiting the Jaguars to 275 total yards and 16 points. 

So what went right and why? We couldn’t think of a better topic for this week’s film review, where we’ll go drive-by-drive to see what was clicking in the victory. 

► First possession, three plays, 4 yards

Talk about a tone-setting play to start the day. The Jaguars opened their first series with a handoff to productive rookie rusher James Robinson. 

Running out of a Power-I to the strong side, Robinson never had a chance as first-year defensive tackle John Penisini overpowered veteran center Brandon Linder, knocking him back and to the ground, to trip up Robinson for no gain. 

The Jaguars went back to Robinson on second down, but the Lions were again up to the task. Defensive end Romeo Okwara shot through the line at the snap, redirecting the back where he was cleaned up by linebacker Jamie Collins for a 1-yard loss. 

Facing third-and-long, the Lions rushed just four and dropped seven into a deep Cover-3 to keep everything in front of them. The front was still able to get pressure from rookie Julian Okwara, who came free running while looping inside on a stunt from the right edge and forced Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew to dump the ball off to running back Chris Thompson, who was stopped well short of the sticks. 

► Second possession, 11 plays, 62 yards

Continuing to use their successful personnel grouping from the opening series, the Lions went heavy up front with three defensive tackles — Penisini, Danny Shelton and Nick Williams. That group contributed to another effective first-down run stop, dropping Robinson after a 2-yard gain. 

The Jaguars finally got the chains moving on the next play by attacking Jeff Okudah. Wide receiver Keelan Cole got a step on the rookie cornerback down the right sideline, running a double move, while Minshew’s pocket held up long enough against Detroit’s four-man rush, resulting in a 35-yard gain. 

The Lions had an opportunity to quickly stop the damage, getting the Jaguars in a third-and-3 situation. On the play, Minshew threw a quick pass to versatile receiver Laviska Shenault behind the line of scrimmage, but despite having two shots to bring him down short of the sticks, both safety Tracy Walker and linebacker Jahlani Tavai whiffed. 

As the Jaguars neared the red zone, the Lions uncharacteristically dialed up the pass-rush pressure. Minshew was able to beat a seven-man rush on the next play with a anticipatory throw to Cole for 9 yards.

But after gaining another first down, a pair of Lions’ blitzes ended the threat. On second-and-7 from the 15-yard line, the Lions sent both Walker and Collins up the middle. Collins got picked up by the back, while Walker came through untouched and forced Minshew to launch an errant pass off his back foot. 

On third down, Jayron Kearse, coming on a safety blitz, forced Minshew to dance around the pocket before desperately flinging it to Thompson, who was driven out of bounds well short of the marker. 

► Third possession, one play, 0 yards

Part of Detroit’s game plan throughout the day was bringing a second-level rusher up the middle — either a linebacker or safety — while dropping one of their edge defenders into coverage. At no point was that more effective than here, when Tavai crept up to the line pre-snap, stressing the left-side A-gap between the center and guard. 

Blowing by the fullback’s attempt to pick him up, Tavai wasn’t able to get a hit on Minshew, but the linebacker prevented the quarterback from fully following through on his deep passing attempt.

The hindered motion caused the throw to come up short, where deep safety Duron Harmon was to get under it and compete the interception. 

► Fourth possession, eight plays, 40 yards

Taking over at midfield after Matt Prater missed a 57-yard field goal, the Lions gave the Jaguars 15 additional yards on the second play of the possession after Kearse was flagged for a late hit on a short pass to Shenault. 

But again, Detroit’s pass rush bailed them out. On second-and-5 in the red zone, defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand bowled over offensive lineman Ben Bartch, disrupting Minshew’s pocket on a throw into the end zone, which sailed well over the head of the intended target. 

And on third down, it was Romeo Okwara altering Minshew’s mechanics. The defensive end was able to bend around right tackle Jawaan Taylor and get a hit on the quarterback as he released a throw fading away. 

► Fifth possession, eight plays, 18 yards

Taking over with 1:53 remaining in the first half, Minshew dropped back to throw all eight snaps, while the Lions came up with several good defensive plays. On the first, Walker recorded a breakup by reading a sit-down route in zone coverage.

On second down, Romeo Okwara delivered a remarkable individual effort. Not only did he pressure Minshew by getting inside the right tackle, but he also recovered to bring down the receiver from behind after two teammates missed in the open field, limiting the gain to 3 yards. 

After extending the possession with a couple short throws, Jacksonville faced a third-and-6. The defensive play call was excellent. After repeatedly dropping an edge rusher into coverage, the Lions showed that look again with Okwara, before having him come after Minshew on a delay. 

Credit goes to the quarterback for some Matthew Stafford-esque wizardry. He pulled the ball down and stepped up in the pocket but was quickly roadblocked by Collins. Just before taking the hit, Minshew quickly flung a sidearm pass to Cole on a crossing pattern for a 16-yard gain. 

Unfortunately for Minshew, the thrill of that moment was short-lived. On the next snap, Shenault dropped an easy ball over the middle. And on second down, Trey Flowers was able to overwhelm left tackle Cam Robinson with power before dipping around the blocker and knocking ball free from Minshew, which was recovered by Romeo Okwara. 

► Sixth possession, four plays, 6 yards

Taking over deep in Lions territory after Stafford’s interception to start the third quarter, the Jaguars didn’t do anything with the opportunity. 

Much like the first half, Detroit blew up Jacksonville’s first rushing play. Walker and Flowers closed off the edge on the strong-side stretch zone effort to the right, allowing Williams to drop Robinson for a loss when he tried to cut it back inside. 

On second down, the Lions dropped both edge defenders into coverage. That badly disrupted receiver DJ Chark’s crossing pattern as he collided with Christian Jones early in the route and was blown up by Flowers after making the catch, which went for no gain. 

The Lions made sure to keep everything in front of the defense on a third-and-12 as Okudah drove Thompson out of bounds after 8 yards on a flare to the back. 

Instead of kicking the short field goal, the Jaguars opted to go for it on fourth down. The Lions played man coverage and Minshew had a clean pocket when delivering a slant to Chark.

Amani Oruwariye had tight coverage and was going to make it tough for the receiver regardless, but the throw ended up behind Chark, allowing the corner to bat it away and give the ball back to the offense. 

► Seventh possession, eight plays, 74 yards

The Lions looked set to continue their defensive momentum through the finish line after Oruwariye broke up a deep throw to Chark and linebacker Jarrad Davis came up to make a stop on a short throw to Robinson after 3 yards. But the Jaguars came up with well designed Cover-3 beater on third down for a big gain against the Lions’ preferred coverage scheme for the game. 

Putting Okudah in conflict between two receivers, the cornerback drifted to the short man to his side close to the first-down marker. It almost didn’t matter since Flowers got pressure and flushed Minshew from the pocket, but the quarterback was able to square up on his rollout and connect with Cole running a deep crossing pattern. To make matters worse, Harmon missed a tackle, leading to a 51-yard gain. 

Forcing another third down, nickelback Darryl Roberts was flagged for a defensive pass interference call, giving Jacksonville a first down at the Lions’ 13. Three plays later, Minshew pulled the ball down quickly when a lane developed. Tavai had a shot to drop the quarterback short but was badly juked as Minshew scored from 6 yards out on the scramble. 

► Eighth possession, three plays, 0 yards

Up 21 after D’Andre Swift’s second touchdown, this early fourth-quarter drive was a dagger for the Jaguars’ hopes. 

It started with an execution error, a low throw on a wide receiver screen that Shenault couldn’t handle. On second down, Jones batted Minshew’s throw back at the quarterback, which he caught before being dropped for no gain. 

Minshew nearly pulled off some more magic on third down after Davis flushed him from the pocket. But despite making an adjustment on his route, Cole couldn’t handle the deep throw down the sideline, resulting in a punt. 

► Ninth possession, nine plays, 80 yards

More than anything, this touchdown drive was the result of the Lions playing a prevent-style defense. Although some credit goes to the Jaguars for dialing up another successful counter to the Cover-3, using layers to flood the right side on a 24-yard completion to Cole. 

The touchdown came on a 14-yard completion to Robinson out of the backfield. The running back appeared to be the responsibility of Tavai, who got distracted by jamming a tight end running a crossing pattern. That left the linebacker out of position to recover on the throw into the flat as the back raced across the goal line untouched. 

► Tenth possession, seven plays, 17 yards

The Lions closed out the game with some strong coverage. Collins broke up two throws across the middle and nearly picked off one.

Additionally, Oruwariye once again showed good closing burst to get a hand on a deep ball to Chark. 

The Jaguars’ final offensive snap was a fitting end, with Davis getting pressure on a stunt, flushing Minshew from the pocket and forcing an errant throw on fourth down.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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