Detroit Lions’ Favorite Passing Concepts In Power Situations

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This is the second installment of the PEPAT Project, a series that focuses on the Lions’ situational playcalling in power situations in 2016. A fair, democratic process was conducted through social media, and the good denizens of #OnePride twitter decided they’d first like to learn about Detroit’s favorite passing concepts in such spots.

Make sure to give a read to the introduction to the series here.

In 33 eligible plays, four kept popping up: rubs/picks, smash concepts, sprint-outs, and mesh concepts. Sometimes, these looks were even incorporated within the same play.

While I’ll eventually explore the various wrinkles of these concepts, this piece will focus on the nuts and bolts of them.

Rub/Pick Plays

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The first play we’ll look at is the rub, which was really favored down the stretch. If I had to guess, I’d imagine it was incorporated as a workaround for press coverage. The most common alignment that the Lions run it out of is twins, and they usually draw it up by pairing a snag or a short in with a quick out or flat.

The outside receiver will run the snag/in, while the slot runs the quick out/flat. They preferred to run this against man and one-high coverages (Cover 1/Cover 3) to get their playmakers the ball in the flat. Below, you can see the Lions execute this against a Cover 1 look from the Rams in which they show motor-man on a 3rd & 1.

Smash/High-Low Concepts

Next up, we’ll look at one of Detroit’s takes on the smash concept. The smash is generally thought of as a hitch-corner route pairing. However, it can refer to any variation that is designed to put the flat defender into high-low conflict. This was a look the Lions favored near the goal line. It was also their primary Cover 2 beater in power situations.

This play against Minnesota is a great example because you can see them run a china (3-man) concept on the right and a bench (2-man) concept on the left – two variations which they really liked.


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Something else the Lions liked to do was sprint Stafford out and try to get an easy completion off with either a flat or a quick out as the primary read. They would often run max protection with it, keeping both a running back and a tight end in to block. Furthermore, they really favored – wait for it – smash concepts to the side of the sprintout. This was the first play they ran in a power situation in 2016, and it appeared more than once.

Mesh Concepts

Lastly, we’ll look at the mesh concept, which was the least common of the four. The mesh concept is most prevalent in college “Air Raid” offenses, but has seen an uptick in usage in the NFL recently. The concept is fairly simple: two receivers on the opposite side of the field will run crossing routes over the middle.

Against man, the receivers will continue to streak across the field; against zone, they will sit down in front of it and present themselves to the quarterback. If it is indeed man coverage, defenders will occasionally run into one another, sort of like a pick or a rub play. Here, the Lions run this play against a Vikings defense showing heavy pressure on the edges from the slot.

In the subsequent installments of this series, we’ll really open up the playbook and take a look at the personnel, formations, and wrinkles they use for these various concepts. Be sure to follow me on twitter @btrossler and vote in the poll.

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