I think when many saw that the Lions were going to be playing the Jets on Monday Night Football, a lopsided victory was expected. However I doubt many thought New York was going to come away with a 31 point victory. A lot of blame fell on rookie head coach Matt Patricia. Colin Cowherd made the brilliant insight that Patricia struggled because he wore his hat backwards. While that is a great point, I decided to take a deeper look into the play calling from Monday night.
I thought Detroit made an intelligent move to start the game, as they had 5 men on the line, and three additional linebackers in the box. This essentially forced rookie Sam Darnold to throw the football, and resulted in an interception for a touchdown. Patricia likes to have five men on the line, and he did that for most of this game. In 39 of the 55 plays (70.9%) 5 defenders were up on the line. Despite Detroit giving up 7.81 yards per play throughout the game, they only gave up 3.77 yards per play when they had 5 linemen in. On the next play Detroit elected not to keep the pressure on however, they kept 5 men on the line, but only had one linebacker in the box, and it resulted in a 13 yard run. Later in that drive on a third and 6, they showed blitz with 6 men on the line despite a clear passing situation, and Darnold threw for a 12 yard gain. However despite giving up another first down, no more big plays happened that drive, and Detroit was able to force a punt.
As for New York, they seemed to have a clear gaim plan to keep mixing things up, as they didn’t have the same personnel in back to back plays at all in Detroit’s first three drives (although granted it was only 13 plays, but still). One thing they did early on was they kept a lot of players in their secondary. In their first two drives every play had at least 4 defensive backs in the game (even without counting box safeties). They had a third down on Detroit’s second drive where they had 6 defensive backs in the game, and they got an interception out of it. Detroit was able to pass decently well against a standard 2 cornerback 2 safety set, as they averaged 7.88 yards per attempt with 4 men in the secondary. However when New York had 5 men in the secondary, the Lions had no answer, as they only averaged 4.25 yards per play. Part of that was due to Detroit throwing on nearly each of those sets, in the 29 times New York had 5 men in the secondary, Detroit only ran the ball once (which resulted in a 9 yard run).
One thing that I think really hurt Detroit was the loss of Ziggy Ansah. With out him on the line, Patricia made the decision to run some more sets with just 4 men on the line, instead of trying to play his not as talented players to keep five linemen in the game. I think the strategy makes sense, however it didn’t work out too well, as they gave up 12.25 yards per play over the 8 plays from those sets. However they really struggled the five times they showed blitz by putting 6 men on the line, as they gave up a total of 105 yards (21 yards per play) along with 2 touchdowns. The Detroit secondary seemed to do a fine job when they had enough men on the field, as the Lions averaged 4.95 yards per play with four men in the secondary, and 4 yards per play with five men in the secondary. However they averaged 9.69 yards per play over the 16 plays where they had just 3 men in the secondary.
For the Jets, they seemed to play better the less linemen they had on the field, which makes sense due to the fact that Stafford gets rid of the ball so quickly, it helps to have more guys in the backfield to help him out. They gave up just 5.11 yards per play with four men on the line, 6 yards per play with five men on the line and 9.6 yards per play with six men on the line (although they only ran 6 of those sets). They also ran all but four plays with either two or three linebackers in the box, and for good reason as both those sets kept working. They gave up just 5.67 yards per play with 2 linebackers and 6 yards per play with 3 linebackers. With the Jets having similar success in both sets it really made things easier for New York as they were able to put 2 linebackers in when suspecting a pass, and 3 in when suspecting a run, without having too worry to much about getting burned by guessing wrong.
Looking at the bigger picture for a second, while Matt Stafford certainly struggled, I don’t think it’s totally fair to put all the blame on him. As I mentioned earlier, Detroit passed on 28 of 29 plays when facing a set with 5 men in the secondary. But another thing worth mentioning is on the sets where New York had just 2 linebackers in the game, Detroit passed on 33 of the 36 plays. In fact, Detroit only ran the ball on 13 of the 70 total plays. While of course, part of that is because they went down multiple scores, although that wasn’t until midway through the third quarter. While LeGarrette Blount lost 3 yards on 4 carries, Theo Riddick gained 20 yards on 4 carries and Kerryon Johnson had 17 yards on 5 carries, so it’s not like they had no success running the ball. Throughout the game the Jets were never really fooled, but a part of that was because the Lions never really tried to fool them. However on the bright side for Detroit, coaching mistakes are a problem that can be fixed, especially when it’s a coach who’s only been a head coach for one game. The talent’s clearly there, and I certainly don’t expect them to throw 5 interceptions every week, they’ve just got to put it all together.