Six gun, double right, spider all cross, Z escape: Trimming wordy play calls can aid Lions

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions have scored 17 or fewer points in four straight games. They’ve been shut out in three different halves this season. And just six teams have committed more turnovers.

In order to jumpstart the offense, first-year coach Dan Campbell said the Lions might need to cut down the wordiness of their play calls.

“What I do think we need to do is really curtail the verbiage of our offense and how do we really crop it down to where these guys get a visual picture of what the play is within two or three words,” Campbell said. “We’ve got some long verbiage and between a wristband and giving it to the players and getting it repeated and they hear it and then all of a sudden you have injuries, I think we’re not helping ourselves there.”

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In the NFL, play calls typically comprise several different parts: The formation; any motions or shifts; the play itself; the blocking scheme; and the cadence.

West coast offenses like the one Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn runs are prone to having more wordy play calls, though teams use different methods to cut down on the verbiage involved.

Lynn gave an example of a dummy play call Thursday.

“You could go, ‘Six gun, double right, spider all cross, Z escape,’ just something like that,” he said. “You could just maybe call that, ‘Rally.’ And you learn it from one word. Formation, play, snap count, the whole nine. So we’re getting more into some of those.”

Lynn said he has tweaked his play-calling verbiage as players have gotten more accustomed to the offense in recent weeks, but a plethora of injuries and relatively new faces mean it still is not where he wants it to be.

Since the start of training camp, the Lions have lost receivers Tyrell Williams and Quintez Cephus to injuries, and added receivers Trinity Benson via trade and KhaDarel Hodge off waivers.

Lynn said he does want play calls to be 10 words — the dummy call he gave was nine words — and that “you shorten it by guys running concepts where you don’t have to tell everybody what to do, they know what to do by one word.”

“I grew up in the West Coast offense and it is a lot of verbiage, but I don’t lean on our verbiage,” Lynn said. “But sometimes we have a young, inexperienced group, you’re trying to tell everybody what to do and that verbiage can get a little long. So we’re able to (limit it), but I think our players understand the concepts, we can shorten things up, and hopefully create a little more tempo.”

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Lions quarterback Jared Goff, who has occasionally worn a wristband with play calls on it this season, said there is less verbiage in this offense than the one he ran with the Los Angeles Rams in recent years.

Typically, in the first year of an offense, he said coaches and players try “as much as you can to trim” the verbiage. The simpler the play call, the better, he said.

“You hear it, you visualize it once, and then you usually visualize it again once you call it,” Goff said. “And you kind of have to be able to see it while you’re calling it. Some of these plays are so hard, it’s impossible to actually rote memorization just to remember the words. You have to be able to see it when you’re saying it so that you can call it that way.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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