Detroit Lions’ Mesh Concepts In Power Situations In 2016

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Last week, I briefly reviewed some of the Lions’ favorite passing concepts in power situations. I outlined rubs/picks, sprintouts, smash/high-low concepts, and mesh concepts, the latter of which we’ll be focusing on today.

As stated in the series primer, the Lions attempted a pass 33 times in power situations in 2016. Of those 33 attempts, three (9.1%) of them were mesh plays. The mesh concept is very simple. Two receivers will meet at a mesh point in the middle of the field, and it often involves running interference – sometimes literally – against defenders trailing in man coverage. However, since crossing routes are largely ineffective against zone, receivers will instead sit down in a soft spot if they read zone coverage.

Detroit favored this concept against one-high looks, and all three plays we’ll be examining will occur against defenses showing a single high safety.

Mesh Concept with 22 Personnel and Play Action vs. Rams 46 Bear

The first play we’ll look at is a fourth quarter play against the Rams. The Lions come out with 22 personnel (two RBs, two TEs), a grouping they used 23.6% of the time in power situations. Of the thirteen plays in which they used 22 personnel, five of them featured a sixth offensive lineman instead of a wide receiver. They also had an overwhelming tendency to run the ball in such groupings, registering ten rushing attempts – a 76.9% ratio. Their success rate on runs was essentially a coin flip; they converted half of the time, with four plays going for TDs, one for a first down, and five for zero or negative yardage.

This is important context because, on this play, the Lions are going to execute the mesh concept in tandem with play action. They open with a 2×1 alignment against a 46 Bear front before motioning Khari Lee from an inline position on the left side to a slot position on the right. There’s a safety in the middle of the field and Rams safety TJ McDonald travels across the field with Lee – a good indicator of Cover 1.

At the snap, Matthew Stafford turns right and fakes a handoff to Zach Zenner. The protection is slid to the left, meaning that Zenner is responsible for picking up the right defensive end. Stafford likely chose to slide the protection because the Rams would have had a numbers advantage to the left because the mike (#52 Alec Ogletree) is a threat to the B gap and the Rams already had a numbers advantage on the left side of the line. Ogletree doesn’t blitz, but the standup LB (#59 Josh Forrest) over Cole Wick does. Zenner attempts to cut the defensive end and stalls him for just long enough for Stafford to get the pass off.

By this point, Stafford has identified the blitzing linebacker and Ogletree has bit on the play action, which means that there’s nobody covering the left side of the field. Meanwhile, Boldin was granted a free release and has earned yards of separation on his crossing route. Had this been a zone call by the Rams, Boldin would have found a crease and sat down in it. Since it was man coverage, he continued across the field for an easy 11 yards and a first down. Before we move on to the next play, take mental note of Khari Lee’s wheel route, even though the ball didn’t go to him.

Mesh/Yankee Concept with 11 Personnel vs. Vikings Cover 0

This next play occurs against the Vikings. And this time, the Lions are in their ‘base’ 11 personnel, a grouping they were in over half (50.9%) the time. They called a pass at a whopping rate of 85.7%, but saw a success rate of just 37.7% on passing plays in 11 personnel. The Lions show a 2×2 alignment with Golden Tate and Marvin Jones bunched closely together. The Vikings are running a four-man front with their linemen pinched inside to take away the A and B gaps. Meanwhile, they’re showing a blitz with a safety (#34 Andrew Sendejo) lined up in the left slot and a linebacker (#55 Anthony Barr) lined up close to the line of scrimmage on the right. The other safety (#22 Harrison Smith) is shaded over Eric Ebron.

This is a good look because the Vikings could also roll this coverage into a Cover 1. Upon the snap, Smith could rotate to a deep middle responsibility, and either Sendejo or Barr could run to cover the high-hole, with the line crashing accordingly to not give up the edges. They could also roll it into a Cover 3 with the outside corner running a bail technique, and the inside corner rotating to the flat while Sendejo drops into a hook zone.

In the event that this they do roll into a Cover 1 or Cover 3, the Lions have paired a Yankee concept to go with the mesh. Ebron will run a deep dig and Jones will run a post, which is designed to stretch the middle-of-the-field safety vertically and put him into conflict. Just as they did with Khari Lee, the Lions like to give Stafford a home run option to exploit the one-high safety look.

However, the Vikings end up running a Cover 0 (six rushers and man across the board) with banjo coverage on the left, meaning the outside corner will take whichever receiver releases outside or vertically, while the inside corner takes whichever receiver releases inside. The six-man blitz versus a five-man protection means Stafford will have to throw hot out to Theo Riddick in the flat. Unfortunately, linebacker Eric Kendricks does an incredible job of recognizing the play and makes a textbook open field tackle.

At this point, it’s important to note the splits of the wide receivers on these mesh concepts. On the first play, Boldin had a reduced split. On the secondplay, Tate and Jones were grouped up closer to the line of scrimmage, as well. They also motioned Boldin pre-snap to 1) help identify the coverage, and 2) to reduce his split. On both plays, they’re aligned closer than normal because this decreases the amount of ground they must cover before reaching the mesh point. Anytime you see this, it can indicate that the Lions are rushing a mesh concept. Furthermore, the Lions like to use inside releases on the running back’s side of the formation in an attempt to clear space and exploit a favorable matchup with a running back in an empty flat.

Mesh Concept with 11 Personnel vs. Bears Cover 1

On this play against the Bears, we see both a reduced split from an isolated Marvin Jones in a 1×3 alignment with the running back lined up to Jones’ side. On the other side of the field, Eric Ebron is flexed out into the outside slot position. The Bears are showing a one-high coverage with one safety backed up 15 yards and the other lined up over Ebron. Once more, it is indeed Cover 1. At the snap, Boldin releases to the outside to run interference on Ebron’s man, who was backed off the line of scrimmage. Boldin executes this successfully, but the protection breaks down and it results in a sack.

Note that the running back is matched up one-on-one against a linebacker in the flat after Jones draws the cornerback in man coverage. On the outside, Tate runs a streak to again give Stafford a home run option on the outside. Note that this is the second play where the innermost receiver on the right side has run a dig route. This pairs nicely with the mesh concept because it functions similarly to a levels concept, where ins/digs at multiple depths stretch underneath zone defenders vertically.

The mesh concept was perhaps the most creatively applied of the Lions’ preferred passing concepts in power situations. As you can see, they often used it with rub principles in it. In fact, the rub/pick play is the next concept to go under the microscope here at Stay tuned!

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