Lion’s Offense Stumbles On Every Level In Loss To Texans

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Film Review of Lions vs Texans Highlights Inconsistent Play For Detroit’s Offense.

Running Game Lacking Vision

The Detroit Lions have had a history of running woes since the retirement of legendary running back Barry Sanders. This season has been no exception. While Ameer Abdullah looked promising to start the season, his injury has shown a very big weakness on this Lions team. Without Abdullah, this roster lacks a running back with patience and vision.

With Theo Riddick being a better receiver than a running back and Dwayne Washington inactive for the game. The running game relied on the shoulders of Zach Zenner and Justin Forsett, two running backs who struggle with patience and vision.

The Lions tried to establish the run early against the Texans. In the 1st Quarter, the Lions call a stretch run to the right. Swanson makes a textbook run block, keeping his feet moving while he maintains inside position. Larry Warford helps Riley Reiff kick out the defensive end before going to the next level and sealing the cutback lane against the middle linebacker. Lee holds his ground against the outside linebacker to prevent outside penetration.

Running back Zach Zenner receives the hand-off and is running full speed before he hits the hole. This limits his ability to make a cut, if he saw the opportunity. Once his foot hits the 11 yard line Zenner has two options, continue the run to the edge likes it’s designed or take the cutback lane the Lions offensive line has provided him. Zenner chooses the former and runs over straight through the tight end for a small gain. However, Zenner could have had a much bigger gain had he taken the cutback lane.

While these missed opportunities are small on their own, compounding mistakes and missed chances can lead to losses like the one on Sunday in Houston. This play is an example of a bigger issue developing in Detroit. A lackluster running game is allowing defenses to keep their safeties out of the box and play nickle to stop the Lions potent passing game.

Stafford and Wide Receivers Not on the Same Page

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Quarterback Matthew Stafford has had a phenomenal season so far. Stafford finally began to receive praise from the national media the past two weeks. Unfortunately, Stafford came back down to Earth on Sunday. Stafford was struggling to find a wide receiver open against Houston. This was in large part to miscommunication and solid man coverage by the Texans.

Stafford looked to wide receiver Marvin Jones early and found emerging Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye blanketing Jones. As Stafford looked to other targets he found the same result. Stafford looked to Anquan Boldin and still found tight man coverage and knocked down passes.

The Lions Offense began to fall apart after the first two drives. Receivers dropping the ball in key situations and penalties stalled momentum. Stafford’s frustration began to show as he started missing his receivers on several throws following the 1st quarter. This team has needed Stafford’s heroics to win the previous three games and unfortunately he could not steal this one in Houston.

Film Room Mentionable Players

Offensive Coordinator Jim Bob Cooter had the worst three quarters of play-calling of his career against Houston. In the 1st quarter, Cooter utilized motion and was creative with his run calls. He used Golden Tate again in the running game effectively and used Taylor Decker and Graham Glasgow‘s road grating ability in space on toss plays with Theo Riddick for solid gains. However, this was lost due to very predictable play-calling and poor play design the following three quarters leading the Lions to score a tie for season low of 13 points.

Defensive Coordinator Teryl Austin had some more exotic play-calling than past games. He was blitzing early and using stunts often. While the execution was not always there, Austin put his players in a position to make plays throughout much of this game.

Rookie defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson got his 2nd sack of the year and also registered a nice tackle for a loss utilizing a rip technique. He created penetration in the run game, which is what media scouts raved about from Robinson in college. He was not asked to pass rush at Alabama, so it is very positive to see him creating pressure in the pass game.

Tight end Eric Ebron had a solid game. He led the Lions in receiving and blocked better than we have seen all season, in the 1st half. He was open in the back of the end zone for a touchdown, but ultimately he could not finish the play as he was  interfered with by the defender. This play set up the Lions for an easy touchdown from the one yard line.

Jim Caldwell followed up 3 of his better coached games with one of the worst coached games of his career. Calling for an onside kick after running 30 seconds off the clock on the field goal attempt was counter-intuitive. If the plan is to onside and get the ball back, then you call a timeout and save the 30 seconds. If you want to use all 3 timeouts and stop the opposing team for one last drive, you kick the ball deep. This compounding with not challenging the non-fumble by Houston and putting yourself in a position to potentially be awarded the ball, was huge. The “pro” of potentially getting the ball back far outweighs the “con” in this situation as it only would have cost Detroit one timeout. The Texans ended up scoring on that drive and won the game 20-13.

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