Lions film review: Breaking down the key play on all eight scoring drives

Detroit News

Allen Park — In this space, we’ve spent much of the season dissecting the Detroit Lions’ defensive performances, both good and bad. But it felt fitting to finally turn our attention to the offense following the unit’s 40-point output in Sunday’s blowout of the Jaguars.

Yet, as we worked our way through the film, what stood out was how little stood out. The Lions remarkably scored on all eight of their possessions, but largely earned points the hard way. Sure, they were gifted a short field by the defense on the opening possession, but the team averaged 9.5 plays per drive and only had three explosive plays in the victory.

If anything, the performance was a methodical dissection of a defense, with consistent execution in critical situations (8-of-12 on third downs) and at least a modicum of good fortune. With all that in mind, we’re going to focus on what we view as the most important play in each drive.

▶ We’re able to address the element of luck on the opening series, following the fumble recovery. After taking over at the Jaguars’ 38-yard line, the Lions netted a couple of quick first downs, including a well-executed screen to tight end Brock Wright, who did a nice job selling his block before drifting open underneath. But the drive was on the cusp of stalling out with the offense facing a third-and-7 at the 13.

There appeared to be a concerted effort by the Lions to get Amon-Ra St. Brown involved from the jump. He was the first read on the team’s first passing play, but as St. Brown was well-covered, quarterback Jared Goff progressed through his options and completed a pass to Kalif Raymond. Three plays later, Goff tried to force a quick slant to St. Brown out of play-action, but the coverage was tight and the pass wound up incomplete.

On the third-and-7 snap, Goff wanted St. Brown again. Working out of the left slot, the receiver started his route with an outside release before slicing inside on a slant. Nickel cornerback Darious Williams wasn’t biting, and on the route break, cut underneath St. Brown.

That should have deterred a throw; still, Goff tried to force it. Williams was in position to intercept the pass, and got both hands on the ball, but instead of making the grab, it slipped through his grasp. Showing impressive concentration, St. Brown tipped the deflected pass to himself and secured the ball just as safety Andrew Wingard arrived to make a hit.

The completion gave the Lions first-and-goal the 1-yard line and Jamaal Williams crossed the goal line on the next snap.

▶ After a shaky first series, Goff settled into a groove on Detroit’s second possession, making a trio of underneath throws to keep the chains moving early in the drive. With a fresh set of downs at midfield, the quarterback uncorked a well-placed deep ball to DJ Chark for a 41-yard gain.

The Jaguars were in Cover-1 on the snap and cornerback Tevaughn Campbell gave the speedy receiver some respect with a 7-yard cushion ahead of the snap. Lined up just outside the numbers, Chark does well to create some additional space to operate by initially angling his go route inside before working back toward the sideline.

An underrated component of the play’s success is Goff using his eyes to keep the deep safety, Wingard, tied to the middle of the field. That keeps him out of position to provide over-the-top support when the QB finally turns and fires.

Campbell, beaten early in the route, actually does a nice job recovering and playing through Chark’s arms as the receiver turns to locate the ball, but Chark showed excellent strength and outstanding concentration, holding on to the ball.

▶ The Lions looked poised to go 3-for-3 with touchdown drives, but stalled out on their third possession due to some self-inflicted wounds in Jaguars territory, including Goff putting a ball behind wide-open running back Justin Jackson and a failed blitz pickup resulting in the QB being sacked on third down.

Still, the Lions netted a field goal out of the drive, thanks to an explosive gain by D’Andre Swift, coming out of the backfield.

Set up by a pair of Williams runs netting 18 yards to open the drive, the Lions ran a convincing play-action to Swift, causing the Jaguars’ linebackers to scramble to their zone drops after recognizing Goff still had the ball and was looking downfield. That allowed Swift to leak into the right flat uncovered.

The 24-yard gain is a great example of design marrying with execution, as Goff’s work with his eyes created additional space for Swift to operate after the catch.

▶ Goff opened up the fourth drive with a notable adjustment. Recognizing the Jaguars were drifting toward his underneath options when playing zone, the quarterback hit Chark for a 19-yard gain near the sideline between the layers of the defense.

But the key play of the possession was a well-designed call on third-and-1 that put the team into field-goal range. Acknowledging the difficulty of converting short-yardage runs against a stout Jacksonville interior, Detroit opted for a play-action pass. But it’s the nuance of the design that merits attention.

Wright, St. Brown and Josh Reynolds all line up on the right side, tight to the formation, selling the idea of a run. On the snap, Wright and Reynolds block, while St. Brown immediately releases on a shallow crossing pattern, angling upfield, drawing the attention of two defenders. That creates space for Reynolds, who comes off his block and runs a drag route into the vacated space underneath for an easy conversion.

▶ Probably the Lions’ worst possession of the day, marred by a miscommunication between Goff and Reynolds, a drop by Jackson in the flat and another shaky blitz pickup resulting in a sack.

Despite all that, the Lions managed to drive 47 yards on 11 plays to earn another field goal. St. Brown provided 19 of those yards on back-to-back quick outs, picking up quality blocks from Reynolds on both. Those snaps moved the Lions from their own 47 to Jacksonville’s 32.

▶ After three straight series ending in field goals, the Lions got back into the end zone to start the third quarter.

St. Brown was the key player on the series, drawing an early pass interference and making an improbable catch across the middle on a tight-window throw, while absorbing a huge hit from the deep safety.

But it was his 12-yard grab into the red zone, converting third-and-9, that was the drive’s most-important play.

The Lions lined Goff up in shotgun with Swift offset to the quarterback’s right and three receivers left. Raymond and Chark ran deeper patterns, pulling the shallow layer of the Jaguars’ zone with them, while St. Brown ran an angled slant from the slot into space, taking the ball just short of the sticks and plowing ahead for a few more yards and the conversion.

▶ Keeping their foot on the gas following Jacksonville’s first touchdown, Detroit efficiently moved across midfield with a trio of first downs, including a nice rub-route conversion for Swift on third-and-2, after St. Brown picked defensive end Josh Allen.

But the Lions were in jeopardy of seeing their perfect streak of scoring stopped when the Jaguars dropped Raymond for a 6-yard loss on an attempted end-around. Facing second-and-16, Goff stepped up with a big-time throw. With Swift drawing the attention of the shallow-zone defender in the right flat, it created a window for the quarterback to hit Chark, running a parallel deep out to that same side.

▶ The Lions capped their scoring outburst with a 12-play, 68-yard touchdown drive.

After starting the series with two short runs, the Lions faced a third-and-7 in their own territory, along with the prospect of punting for the first time all afternoon.

Instead, St. Brown utilized some route-running mastery to extend the drive. Remember the angled slant to convert a third down we highlighted earlier? Well, he sold that same route with a false step inside, and when the corner bit, the second-year receiver broke hard toward the sideline, gaining significant separation for the easy catch and another conversion.

St. Brown added another third-down conversion during the series and was rewarded with drive-capping touchdown, his second of the game, after he came wide open when the Jaguars bit on play-action.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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