Lions’ Red Zone Offense Entered Week Nine Tied For 27th In Touchdown Efficiency.
The Lions’ red zone offense struggled mightily last week against Pittsburgh. They failed to score a touchdown in all five trips to the red zone and eventually lost the game 20-15 behind five Matt Prater field goals.
Entering Monday’s game at Green Bay the Lions were only scoring touchdowns on 45% of their trips to the red zone, bad enough to tie for 27th in that category. The blame game has found its way to everyone from the offensive line and running backs to quarterback Matthew Stafford‘s play to offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter’s play calling.
Scoring touchdowns when you find yourself near the end zone is a must for any team trying to take the step to becoming a true contender. The Lions were in the redzone four times tonight in Green Bay. How much has changed from last week’s disaster?
2nd & 1 at the 15- The Lions came out with two tight ends overloaded to the right and twin receivers to the left. An inside handoff to the lone running back Ameer Abdullah went to the left side, away from the overload. Abdullah gained three yards and picked up a first down on a simple running play.
1st & 10 at the 12- This time the Lions were in a balanced 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) formation with a receiver on each side. Another handoff to Abdullah went around the left for eight yards. The blocking on this play wasn’t fantastic. There was no push up front, but the line did manage to stay in front of their defenders long enough for Abdullah to get to the edge. An unspectacular play ended up going for a good gain thanks to Abdullah’s athleticism. Green Bay was in their nickel package so this is a look the Lions should be happy to see when they come out in this type of power running formation.
2nd & 2 at the 4- We saw another two tight end overload, this time to the left, but the ball would go away from the overload again. Twin receivers out to the right were the key to this play. Both receivers did a good job on their crack blocks, and tackle Rick Wagner led the way for Abdullah to score an easy touchdown on a toss to the right. This was a terrific call by Jim Bob Cooter. Green Bay was set to blitz linebackers in both the A and B gaps to stifle any attempts at running straight ahead. Their defenders got caught up behind the play and it was checkmate.
1st & 10 at the 15- For their next trip to the redzone the Lions showed the overload left formation again. A simple running play to the right was disrupted and Abdullah forced the ball back to the left. This was the third time the Lions went to the opposite of the overloaded side on a running play.
2nd & 8 at the 13- Shotgun, four wide in the game, with trips to the right. Green Bay countered with six defensive backs on the field for the play. Stafford made a pre-snap adjustment here to change the routes based on the coverage, and it seemed to have worked. Receiver TJ Jones was open in the middle of the field after beating his man coverage on a jerk route. The catch went for 11 yards and set the Lions up with another first down. This was likely a good change made by Stafford, though it’s impossible to know exactly what was communicated pre-snap.
1st & Goal at the 2 (continued from 3rd quarter)- Another new alignment from the Lions was revealed. They showed the usual singleback formation with three wide. This time tight end Eric Ebron was set up a yard off the line as an H-Back to the right. Wide Receiver Golden Tate motioned across the line from right to left as the ball was snapped and handed to Abdullah en route to the B gap. Ebron came across the line to set a trap block, but missed his asignment. This play may have worked if Ebron was able to get to his block. The hole was there briefly. Abdullah fumbled on the run, but Wagner was able to make an alert play and get on the ball to retain posession.
2nd & Goal at the 1- Stafford started with twins to the right before motioning one back to the left. They followed the motion and gave running back Theo Riddick his first goal line carry of the night. The offensive line did a fair job of clearing out the defenders lined up over them, but Green Bay’s linebackers and secondary were there in a hurry to make the stop. The Lions inexplicably went to the line with only 10 players on the field for this play. It’s fair to question how a personnel mistake of this magnitude can occur at the one yard line. Someone certainly needs to be chewed out for that one.
3rd & Goal at the 1- This was more accurately near the six inch line. The Lions came out with three wide and had tight end Darren Fells in the same H-Back position that Ebron was lined up at on first down. However, the formation proved to be irrelevant when Stafford was stuffed for no gain on a quarterback sneak attempt. There was no push from the interior of the line. The look they got from Green Bay wasn’t particularly inviting either. Last week the Steelers practically begged the Lions to run a sneak against a soft front, but the Lions declined. This week they took the plunge against a defense that was prepared and they paid the price.
4th & Goal at the 1- Head Coach Jim Caldwell learned from his mistakes last week and took the easy field goal on fourth down this time. It’s good to score points when the touchdown doesn’t come, but failing to punch it in after having 1st & goal from the two is a tough pill to swallow.
4th Quarter, 2nd Drive
1st & 10 at the 12- Here we saw the 12 personel again. Stafford made another pre-snap adjustment on this play that ended up being a handoff to Riddick. He looks to head left when Packers linebacker Bruce Matthews blows past Lions tackle Brian Mihalik. Matthews ruined the play quickly as Riddick managed to steal a single yard on the play. Missed assignments like this one are hard to ignore.
2nd & 9 at the 11- The Lions came back to their shotgun formation with trips to the right again. After a quick play-action fake, Stafford looked at Tate who was running a decoy screen route. Wide Receiver Marvin Jones posed as a blocker for the decoy before turning his phantom block into a fade route. He was able to get a step on Packers cornerback Damarious Randall and went up to fight for a beautifully thrown touch pass from Stafford. Jones was able to haul it in and secure his second touchdown of the game.
This may have been Cooter’s best play call of the night. Both fakes that took place on this play were not only believable but reasonably honest. Cooter has tendencies to run out of shotgun as well as trying to hit quick screens on 2nd and long. The fake block by Jones was enough to get himself positioned to make the play, and he didn’t disappoint.
4th Quarter, 3rd Drive
1st & Goal at the 2- At this point there were under three minutes remaining and the Lions had a comfortable lead. It didn’t stop them from being aggressive. They came out in their overloaded left formation. After motioning one a receiver from right to left, Stafford was able to throw a quick fade to an isolated Marvin Jones. The ball was overthrown by a bit and fell incomplete. The play was unsuccesful, but it’s a play every team should be able to run in goal-line situations. It was encouraging that Cooter had the confidence to take that shot when running the ball and the clock was an obvious thing to do.
2nd & Goal at the 2- Once again, the Lions came to the line overloaded to the left with twin receivers to the right. Cooter clearly likes this formation as he went to the well several times tonight. Running back Dwayne Washington took the carry to the right where he was tackled for a six yard loss. Center Travis Swanson allowed a major leak in the protection, and Rick Wagner was unable to get outside before colliding with receiver Jarred Abbrederis on the way to his own block. That’s too many mistakes to expect any success from the two yard line.
3rd & Goal at the 8- The Lions came out passing and didn’t hide it. This shotgun formation had an empty backfield with five wide. On the right side Marvin Jones ran a quick slant behind Ebron’s pick. The connection might have been there, but the pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage. The ball bounced up and was caught by Brian Mahalik of all people. It’s a highlight for any offensive lineman who catches a pass, but it was another failed attempt to score a touchdown after 1st & Goal at the 2. They settled for a field goal and the game was over shortly after.
Red Zone Overview
The Lions scored two touchdowns on four redzone attempts this week. 50% is certainly better than zero, and it’s a slight improvement for their average on the season. Both Stafford and Cooter showed improvement from last week’s performance. The play calling seemed a bit more creative, and the different looks from similar formations worked to keep the Packers on their heels. Cooter proved he is determined to run the ball near the end zone. He heavily favored running plays tonight. Great timing with a couple of Cooter’s calls led to touchdowns, and that’s what they need to keep trying to figure out.
The blocking up front was disappointing again. There were times where missed blocks were the problem and foiled what should have been succesful plays. That will be a key if the Lions expect to contend later this season. At some point they will need to line up and punch the ball in from the 1. Hopefully they can build on what improvements they did show and keep ironing out the details as the season continues.