Detroit — It’s hard to imagine a spookier sight on Halloween eve than the one the Detroit Lions’ secondary saw on Sunday.
Miami Dolphins receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle rolled into town looking like the set of twins from “The Shining” — and they ran forever, and ever, and ever and ever; 294 yards between them, to be exact, to go with 20 combined catches, as Miami had more tricks than treats for the Lions and escaped with a 31-27 victory at Ford Field.
Hill caught 12 passes for 188 yards and Waddle eight passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa completed 29 of 36 passes and threw for 382 yards and three touchdowns while setting a new career-high passer rating (138.7), which topped his previous best (124.1) by a considerable margin.
While Lions head coach Dan Campbell has been the type of skipper who will stand in front of the firing squad and accept blame for the loss, that wasn’t the case following the loss to Miami. He said they had a plan to stop Hill and Waddle — they just didn’t execute.
“We didn’t hit them. We didn’t hit them at the line. That was part of the game plan. We didn’t disrupt. We did not disrupt, and when you let them do that and get into your defense, we didn’t want to turn it into a track meet. And it was a track meet,” Lions head coach Dan Campbell said.
“Shoot, man, (they) were, what? 300 yards of offense? I don’t know, somewhere in there, a little over 300. It’s tough.”
Lions cornerbacks Jeff Okudah and Will Harris said they played a lot more zone coverage than is typical this Sunday, which doesn’t really work when you’re unable to meet the physical demands of that style of play. And the Lions couldn’t. Hill and Waddle found every soft spot and either sat down, took a throw in stride, or just kept running right by the secondary until they were all alone.
“(We were in) a few different variations of nickel,” Harris said. “Pretty much just trying to be as physical as possible in the box, outside the box in coverage…and really just trying to stick to the game plan, man. Just try to be as physical as possible, make as many plays as possible for this team.”
They weren’t the first elite skill players to go into Detroit completely unchecked this season. Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf caught seven passes for 149 yards in early October. A.J. Brown caught 10 passes for 155 yards in the season opener.
To be fair, most of the league’s defenses have had a tough time slowing down the receivers who’ve given the Lions fits this year. Sunday marked Hill’s fourth game this season with more than 150 yards and over 10 catches.
The difference for the Lions is that they rarely come away with the takeaways or momentum-changing plays that often help teams come up for these miscues. The Lions were especially bad on third down — Miami converted 8 of 11 chances — including a wobbly, underthrown ball to Hill in the first quarter that could have been defended by Lions corner A.J. Parker, had he seen the ball coming, but was instead caught for a 36-yard gain that kept the Dolphins’ first touchdown drive alive.
The turnover problem has started to turn a bit with the emergence of apparent takeaway artist Kerby Joseph, who had a second forced fumble in as many weeks on Sunday. The fact remains that not only were the Dolphins successful in everything they did against Detroit, but they did almost all of it without the fear of consequence, or really, much thought at all.
Tagovailoa said figuring out the Lions’ defense was actually quite simple: See the coverage, make a decision as to where the ball would go, run the play. Hardly ever did he misunderstand the look that Detroit’s defense was giving him or have to adjust after the snap. When Tagovailoa did throw it 10 air yards or less, he was 8-for-9, with his only incompletion a ball that landed before the line of scrimmage.
“Like I said, we continue to play within the boundaries of what that play entails. So with whatever coverage we’re getting, this is the side I am working,” Tagovailoa said. “If they play this certain coverage, I’m going opposite. Things like that, and if they take it away, then hey, you have to check it down, live to play another down and hopefully flip field position, get some yards back.”