The Plays You’re Not Talking About: Week 1

Every week, there’s that obvious play or two that you’re talking to everyone about. From the guys you watch Sunday night football with to your co-workers on Monday morning, by this point, they’re probably sick of hearing about Stafford’s 3 interceptions or his game winning TD pass. What I want to highlight are the plays and performances that you’re not talking about. Whether you didn’t notice them or just forgot about them in the shuffle of the plays that made it to the highlight reel, these are the things you can bring to your co-workers from Tuesday through Friday that they didn’t see on Sportscenter.

You’re not talking about…

Replacement Refs

Was there even a bad call in this game? I’m the first to admit that I complain about refs every week. They miss blatant calls every single game and are completely biased against the Lions (the way I tell it in the heat of the game). But in week 1, I had no issue with their calls. Sure, they certainly impact the game. These replacement refs might call the game a little differently that the regular ones—fewer facemasks, less holding, less pass interference—but does that really matter? In fact, I think the game is better with a few less fouls. Let them play unless it’s blatant. Refs can call the game however they want depending on how they interpret the rules. The most important thing is consistency, and that’s one thing the replacement refs had in week 1.

Penalties

While I’m on the topic…you’re also not talking about penalties. For a team under intense scrutiny for their penalties last year, their off-season incidents, and some perceived lack of discipline, the FOX announcers sure didn’t spend much time talking about it. The Lions simply didn’t give them the opportunity. After all but the late monday night game have finished, the Lions are 6th of 30 in least penalty yardage and tied for 3rd for fewest penalties. The only incident that occurred was a reported Titus Young headbutt. Which brings me to my next point…

Titus Young

Titus Young, popular breakout candidate, was largely silent on Sunday…and that’s both good and bad. In the 2nd quarter after Stafford’s 3rd interception (the one returned for a TD), Young reportedly headbutted Janoris Jenkins. I say ‘reportedly’ because there’s no broadcast footage of the incident. This is good. It took away the broadcasters’ ability to knock the “undisciplined” Lions. Rather than playing into their storyline like the penalties in the Saints game last year, this one fell by the wayside. On the other side of the coin, Jim Schwartz saw it just fine, leading to a Titus Young benching for much of the next quarter. For the game, Titus Young was only in for 40 of 69 snaps, fewer than Burleson’s 54 or even Scheffler’s 45. When on the field, he was only targeted 3 times and ended up with 1 catch and 1 run for a total of 25 yards, hardly a breakout performance. But his performance didn’t leave the Lions one dimensional. The Lions had plenty of other options…

Scheffler & Burleson

These two have become fan favorites, mostly due to their endzone celebrations. A year ago, in week 1 against the Buccaneers, Tony Scheffler trotted out a classic endzone celebration that put him on the map. This week, many fans had high hopes for possible week 1 celebrations. And by “many fans”, I am referring to myself and Jeremy Reisman of Detroit OnLion.

While most of the world was wondering how many TDs Stafford would throw, Jeremy and I were diligently trying to make Tony Scheffler aware of this youtube video, Gangnam Style:

I am of the opinion that this dance was practically made for Tony Scheffler. You should all tweet to Tony Scheffler to make him aware of this video.

In any event, Janoris Jenkins is probably the only thing that prevented us from seeing a hilarious rendition of this Korean pop dance. Despite not getting into the endzone, Tony Scheffler and Nate Burleson both had a significant impact on the game. Burleson had 6 receptions for 69 yards (up from an average of 4.6 catches/47.3 yards per game last year) and Scheffler had 5 receptionf for 30 yards (up from 1.7 catches/ 23.1 yards per game last year). They caught 6 passes for first downs between them and Scheffler was targeted twice in the endzone. Burleson finished the game with a +1.6 PFF receiving grade. However, they weren’t the Lions’ only offensive weapons…

Kevin Smith & Brandon Pettigrew

Kevin Smith was incredible on Sunday. With everyone doubting the Lions running game in the absence of Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure, Kevin Smith stepped in and put on the best performance for a Lions running back since he tore Carolina a new one in week 11 of last year. He gained 62 yards on the ground (4.8 YPC) and another 29 through the air (7.3 YPC). He also found the endzone twice, including the game tying score with 7:24 left in the game and the game winning TD with :15 remaining. Oh, and he had 2 tackles after interceptions. And Brandon Pettigrew was impressive in his own right. He was targeted 10 times, more than any other player in the game. He finished with 5 catches and 39 of his 77 yards came after the catch. He also delivered a nice block on the final TD pass to Kevin Smith. Despite a few drops for both of them throughout the game (1 for Pettigrew and 2 for Smith), the two combined for 7 touches and 94 yards on the final 2 drives, including all 80 yards on the next to last drive. Of course, Kevin and Pettigrew wouldn’t have been so successful without…

The Offensive Line

Another unit receiving considerable (mostly unfounded) scrutiny all offseason was the offensive line. Not only did Kevin Smith have holes to run through all day, but Matt Stafford dropped back to pass 48 times and was only sacked once. They were particularly exceptional on the last play of the game. In his postgame press conference, Jim Schwartz had the following praise:

“We had a lot of guys in there; Pettigrew is a very good red zone receiver, Scheffler, Nate Burleson was in there at that time; Calvin was in there. Truth be told, when the play went off, I saw that where we intend to go had been covered. I mean, Kevin is the last option on that play. Probably behind ‘throw it away.’ He’s in the play-action. He’s really part of the play-action and the protection and he’s leaking out really late. The head coach was on the head phones saying, ‘throw it away, Matt, throw it away.’ Saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got two more plays here.’ They did a good job of taking away what he did. But the offensive line did a very good job of protecting and bought Matt some time. He could go through the whole progression and found Kevin wide open. Kevin made a nice play, got it in the endzone and shows you what a good quarterback I’d be.”

You can’t underestimate the job the O-line did on that play. It’s very, very difficult to go through a progression that way when you’re already sped up. You’re already thinking about, ‘Hey, there’s 0:15 left in this game. We’re already in field goal range, let’s take a couple shots – we can’t afford a sack. You get sacked right there? We might not get that ball clocked and be able to kick a field goal. So Matt did a very good job of understanding a situation, controlling a situation and was able to make the play that won us the game.”

Giving Stafford enough time to not only not get sacked, but to also go through his entire progression was crucial to winning the game and it was just one example of just how good the offensive line was all day long. Every member of the offensive line finished with a positive PFF grade and all were positive in both pass blocking and run blocking except for Backus’s -1.4 run block grade and Gosder Cherilus’s -0.1 pass block grade. The other side of the line was pretty good too…

The Defensive Tackles

The Lions defensive line bottled up the run game and got after the passer all day long. Suh looked to be much improved from last year (PFF disagrees, as usual). At one point, he tackled Steven Jackson (one of the stronger backs in the league) with just one arm while still engaged with his blocker.

Corey Williams also chipped in with a forced fumble and Fairley and Sammie Hill both showed flashes in limited snaps. Which brings me to my next point…

The Defensive Line Backups

You’re probably not talking about the backups along the line because, well, they hardly played. All of Fairley, Hill, Lo Jack, and The Great Willie Young received 20 snaps or less. Fairley and Hill made the most of it, each posting a +2.4 PFF grade, but the defensive ends were largely invisible. After his dominating preseason performances and increased training camp snaps with Avril’s holdout, many expected Willie Young to step it up big time this season. If the first game is any indication, he hasn’t come quite as far as we thought. Maybe the reason the defensive line seemed so dominant throughout the whole game was because of the guys behind them…

The Linebackers

You probably aren’t talking about the linebackers today, but you should be. For a Lions defense that was pretty awful against the run last year, these guys stepped up to fill their gaps extremely well all day long. The starting linebackers combined for a total PFF run grade of +4.0. They played a big part in holding Steven Jackson to 53 yards on 21 carries (That’s 2.5 YPC). Only San Francisco held him to a lower per carry average last year. A big part of keeping him quiet was limiting big runs. His longest on the day was a 9-yarder. In fact, the whole defense did well in this category…

Limiting Big Plays

Last season, the Lions gave up the 4th most runs of 20+ yards (16) and the 2nd most runs of 40+ yards (6), but the 8th least passing plays of 20+ yards (46) and 12th least passing plays of 40+ yards (9). The Lions are currently leading the league in every one of those categories after allowing just 1 play of 20+ yards, a pass (The Bears, Colts, Saints, and Bucs each gave up 7 passes of that distance).

A Loss

Most Importantly, you’re not talking about a loss. It’s easy to lose sight of how far the Lions have come. Two years ago on the opening day of the season, the Lions had what has to be one of their most painful games to remember in recent history. Near the end of the first half, Julius Peppers destroyed Matt Stafford’s right shoulder, which essentially ruined his entire season. With Shaun Hill leading them in the 2nd half, the Lions would come back to within striking distance, only to have a win stolen from them on the now infamous “process” catch. So the win this past Sunday wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t the type of enjoyable, relaxing blowout that Jets or Bears fans watched this weekend. But it was a game with plenty to talk about.

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2 thoughts on “The Plays You’re Not Talking About: Week 1

  1. Just thought of something: if Scheffler wanted to recreate the elevator scene, and he put the ball on the ground and pelvic-thrusted over it, would he get flagged for using the ball as a prop? Someone call Mike Periera, this is important!

    • nwashuta says:

      I think it would be fine. It would be a prop, but it would take a detailed knowledge of the video for the refs to flag it as such. But actually the refs have probably also seen it and are obsessed with it. Okay, let’s bring in Periera.

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