A film breakdown Of The Lions Win Against The Vikings On Thanksgiving Showcases Rookie Talent.
Run Blocking Looks Solid Despite Production
One of the key reasons for the Lions stagnant offense the past four weeks has been a lack of running game. The Lions are posting a 3.7 yards per carry average on the season thus far and have only had a running back get more than 50 yards twice. Both times those 50 yard or more games were from Theo Riddick.
This lack of production has been killing drives by being put in bad 3rd down situations, but also has put a strain on the passing offense since opposing defenses can stop the run with just six men in the box.
The biggest problem with the running game in Detroit is that there is not a running back with enough patience and vision to run the ball consistently since the injury of Ameer Abdullah. Without Abdullah, the only Lion to average over four yards per carry is quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Rookie running back Dwayne Washington has been a big factor in this lack of production. While Washington has a great combination of speed and strength, his lack of patience and vision are extremely evident on film. For the second straight week a big running play was missed due to these mental struggles for Washington. While, this is a struggle you expect for some rookie running backs, Washington’s 2.8 yards per carry average is creating dead weight for this offense to carry. His lack vision and patience is the leading factor in his poor production.
With Zach Zenner suffering from similar deficiencies, the Lions should look to Theo Riddick to take the bulk of the carries. While he has not been phenomenal running the ball with patience and vision either, he has been marginally more productive than the other two running backs. Featuring Riddick more would allow the Lions to be better set up on 2nd and 3rd downs and help the Lions offense maintain drives better than they have thus far.
The reason the Lions have had any assemblance of a running game has been mostly due to their offensive line looking solid and improving every game in run blocking. This game against Minnesota on Thanksgiving was further proof of this situation. While Riley Reiff started the year strong run blocking, the best run blocking lineman for the Lions lately has been Taylor Decker.
Taylor Decker’s Success Has Been Key For Detroit
Decker’s run blocking success should not be a huge surprise to Lions fans as Decker was touted as a very strong run blocker coming into the last year’s draft. While he played almost at left tackle almost exclusively at Ohio State, many analysts saw Decker as a better right tackle given his run blocking prowess. Media analysts were surprised that Decker looked like he was the starter at left tackle for the Lions coming into week one. However, Decker has proven why the Lions chose to move Reiff over to right tackle in favor of the rookie.
Decker’s ability to move and move opponents down the field in the run game has been great recently. It’s a big reason that even without the production, the run blocking has looked good in Detroit so far. Once Abdullah is able to play, look for him to take advantage of this improved run blocking line. Abdullah was averaging over five yards per carry before he was played on the injured reserve with an ankle injury.
One of the negatives for Decker coming into the draft was his ability to handle speed rushers coming off the edge in pass protection. While there still is room for improvement in this area, Decker has easily surpassed expectations in this area. Decker’s surprisingly great play has been essential for the Lions to win seven of their 11 close games, including the most recent performance versus Minnesota.
Decker displayed great footwork all game. Decker was able to ride Danielle Hunter up the field in pass protection multiple times. This has been a great fundamental aspect of Decker’s game this year. His ability to take defensive players out of the play to allow Matthew Stafford to move around the pocket until he can find someone to throw to and opens up running lanes that have been critical for the Lions recently. Decker was also able to stonewall Everson Griffen for most of this game in pass protection as well. He’s done a great job staying low and keeping his hips underneath him against more powerful defensive lineman and it showed up big for Detroit.
Film Room Mentionable Players
Ziggy Ansah finally showed some life against the Vikings this week as he has been nursing and injured ankle. It’s still evident that Ansah is not at 100 percent yet as he has still gotten held up when he fires out of his stance too high. Usually Ziggy is able to use his pass rush moves and athleticism to compensate when he does fire out high. The injury definitely slowed him down, allowing the Vikings to slow him down much easier than normal. Expect Ansah to improve as his injury heals.
The Vikings keyed in on Eric Ebron this week. Most of the game there was a safety shadowing him with a man underneath. They were not going to allow a repeat of his previous performance where he approached 100 yards receiving including a crucial big gain on the game tying drive. Ebron had one of his better games run blocking as well.
The defensive backs had their best game of the year. Darius Slay had the game winning interception, but was exceptional in coverage all day. Nevin Lawson continues to look sticky in man coverage and Miles Killebrew is making the most of his limited snaps. Killebrew’s development could be huge for the Lions going forward.