5(+1) things that Surprised Me in Week 2

1. Lions stalled drives:

While the Lions first drive of the game was an 80 yard drive, a string of penalties essentially chopped 30 yards off of the length of the drive, not to mention a gift by the defense in the form of a fumbled interception. The drive could have easily stalled if not for the Chiefs shooting themselves in the foot. Even with that drive included, the average number of plays per drive for the Lions before the half was 5. Before the starters came out of the game with 8:58 left in the 4th quarter, the Lions averaged 8 plays per drive in the 2nd half. That’s all very surprising based on what I thought would happen going into the game. The thing that surprised me in looking into the stats was that the lions averaged 6.4 yards per attempt in the first half, but only 5.375 YPA in the 2nd half before the starters came out. For a game that I thought was much closer than the score in the first half and was an absolute offensive onslaught in the 2nd half, I would never have guessed at that discrepancy.

2. Scott Linehan’s Chess Game:

The Lions threw out of a 3 tight end formation! I hinted at this last week in 5 Things that Surprised Me in Week 1. I figured they’d start using play action out of their power formations when they were so obviously not doing it last week. Calvin Johnson’s 1st touchdown came from a 3 TE set against a defense with 9 men in the box, which is a bit of a rarity in the NFL. Here’s a picture of the pre-snap formation:

With 9 in the box and a safety that (for some odd reason) was late to get over to cover CJ, that’s an easy TD. And if you thought they were done there, you would be wrong. On the Lions’ 2nd touchdown, they motioned from 3 TEs to 2 TEs and 1 FB. With 8 men in the box and the single high safety staring down CJ, Tony Scheffler was left 1 on 1 against a cornerback with pretty much the entire field open until he juked the safety at the goal line. In the 2nd half, Calvin Johnson was targeted on consecutive plays from the 1 yard line, catching the 2nd pass. Both plays came from the exact same 2 TE formation. Will Calvin start being double-teamed on the goal line? He’s clearly their most likely option to score from there.

Strangely enough, they didn’t utilize the tight ends very much in this game. They only ran 13 plays with 2 or 3 TEs. For a position group that was supposed to have such a great matchup coming into this game, it certainly wasn’t utilized. Scheffler, Pettigrew, and Heller combined for 3 catches.

3. Detroit is on the west coast:

At some point in the first half I tweeted (follow me!),

NateWashuta Nate Washuta

Is the Chiefs playcalling a disease that the lions have caught? Giving up big plays on defense and settling for underneath throws on offense”

The lions clearly favored a west coast style short passing game for much of the first half, and much like the Chiefs, it wasn’t resulting in first downs. I’ve attached a chart of distance to the first down marker vs passing yards.

The diagonal red line separates passes that went for first downs from those that did not. I don’t mind a lot of the ones on the x-axis because those are probably just incompletions, which may or may not have targeted downfield receivers. What I mind are the dink and dunk throws that would have kept the Chiefs in the game if they hadn’t been so adamant about giving it away.

4. 3 WR sets:

Out of the Lions’ 59 meaningful snaps, they ran a formation with 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB, and the QB in the shotgun 24 times. Remove the shotgun constraint and you have 34 plays. I think it’s safe to call this their base formation. Here’s a screenshot of each:

3 wide receivers, 1 tight end, 1 running back, shotgun

3 wide receivers, 1 tight end, 1 running back, under center

The interesting thing about the under center variation is that the lions ran 6 times out of it, threw 3 quick passes (1 step drops), and ran 1 play action. This will be a formation to watch, as with the 3 TE formation. It could lend itself to double moves or play action if a defense starts keying on it.

On a separate note, with 3 WR in the game for such a large chunk of the time on offense, is anyone still complaining about the Lions taking Titus Young at the top of the 2nd round this year? If you’re still doubting the selection, how about some screenshots of awesome catches…

Like this one…

Or this one…

5. Inconsiderate playcalling

You could see that the gameplan was different for the Chiefs than against the Bucs. Instead of letting off the gas and trying to run out the clock, they kept chucking the ball down the field. No need to slowly melt the clock away, simply run up the score until time runs out. I don’t care who’s offended by it because I’ve seen the Lions on the wrong side of a lot of these types of scores. Here’s a chart of runs per play broken down by quarter for each game shown on the same graph.

There were obvious differences between the defenses of the two teams, so just saying that they didn’t let off the gas might be a bit simplified, but the fact of the matter is that they ran a ton in the 2nd half against Tampa Bay and there was just a slight increase in rushing after halftime in week 2.

(+1) Bragging Rights

Where else do I get to brag publicly, to an audience? If you read How to Stop the Chiefs Offense, you’ll know that I broke down the chance of the Lions forcing and recovering a fumble by Dexter McCluster. Just after the start of the 4th quarter, they did just that. McCluster was on his way to the ground and Eric Wright laid out to punch the ball out before his knee was down. Granted, it wasn’t exactly the game winning play at that point, but it happened. And I called it. Shazzam.

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