Coach Patricia’s Improvement: Analyzing the Detroit Lions Defensive Play Calling vs. 49ers

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How Did Detroit Lions Head Coach Matt Patricia Do In Play Calling Week Two? 

Another week, another loss. The week 2 loss against the San Fransisco 49ers was a lot closer than many fans predicted after an ugly season opener. This week might have seemed like a disheartening loss and the final score doesn’t indicate the struggles the Detroit Lions faced in this game, but there are plenty of positives to take away from this game.

Let’s jump to the second half when the Lions played much better. With 2:05 left in the 3rd quarter, the Lions have pushed the 49ers back to their own 2-yard line and a 3 and out here can lead to good field position in a critical point of the game. Coach Patricia calls a 4-3 Zone Cover Defense while the 49ers called an I formation play action pitch. A run play from their own end zone is a pretty typical play call for any offensive coordinator, however, the 49ers thought they could catch the Lions by surprise with a play action call. Coach Patricia was still wary of the pass play as he lined up Glover Quin near the 20-yard line to help for any downfield play (Figure 1.1).

All the Lions linebackers and defensive linemen fell for the fake initially but realized soon after that Jimmy Garoppolo was rolling to the right of the pocket with the ball still in his hands (Figure 1.2).

The linebackers quickly change direction to roll towards the QB (Figure 1.3).

However, the linebackers did not recognize the coverage and did not realize the TE Garrett Celek was uncovered (Figure 1.4).

Both Jarrad Davis and Christian Jones go deeper into coverage rather than covering Celek. Because of this Garoppolo sees Celek open and completes the wide open pass (Figure 1.5).

Celek is then able to plow his way to a first down (Figure 1.6).

The play call was good, Patricia was able to play against the obvious call of a running a play, and also called a play call that protected the pass. This play resulted in a first down for one reason and one reason only, the linebackers did not recognize their assignment and because of that left a tight end wide open for the first down. The good news about this play is that this issue is fixable and with each passing week, there will be less and less miscommunication as players get more accustomed to the defensive system.

Now let’s jump to the fourth quarter at the two-minute warning. The 49ers are facing a 3rd and 8 in another critical point of the game as the Detroit Lions are only down by 3 points. The Lions call a cover 2 man defense while the 49ers call a pass play here instead of a run as a first down would put the game away as the Lions have no more timeouts (Figure 2.1).

The Lions are able to generate pressure extremely quickly by disguising their coverage. The 49ers right tackle Mike McGlinchey sees Davis lined up inside next to Devon Kennard and assumes that both players will be rushing the QB. Since McGlinchey knows that tight end George Kittle is in the backfield to help with protection, so he focuses his attention on Davis to stop his rush. However, Davis doesn’t rush the passer and is actually acting as a spy near the line of scrimmage. In addition, safety Tavon Wilson who was disguised as a man coverage to Kittle actually gets past McGlinchey as he is preoccupied with Davis (Figure 2.2).

Kennard overpowers Kittle to get to Garoppolo and after a slight scramble to get away from the Lions linebacker, Wilson is there to clean up the sack and stop the crucial third down play (Figure 2.3).

This play was only possible by disguising each assignment that the Lions defensive players are assigned, therefore confusing the linemen and the blocking scheme which leads to a quick sack to allow the Lions to receive the ball for one last offensive drive to end the game.

Coach Patricia called a much better game for his second game as a head coach, however, it still wasn’t enough to pull off the win. The good news is that the Lions defensive players are starting to get more comfortable with the scheme and with each passing week, the Lions should play better and better. Don’t be too quick to jump off the Patricia bandwagon. If the improvement from week one to week two was any indication of how good a coach Patricia is, the Lions could start to win some football games very soon.

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