It took three weeks, but the Detroit Lions showed us that they can be competitive and adaptive. For the first time all season, they put together four quarters of winning football and showed some promise. They went into the desert and buried the Arizona Cardinals. They haven’t restored the roar but have restored some hope.
Let’s examine what went right, what went wrong, and, well… WTF.
Matthew Stafford and company had another great opening drive, consuming 6:33 of the first quarter. Adrian Peterson continued to impress by racking up 75 yards on 22 carries, including a 27-yard run on the second play of the game.
WR Kenny Golladay made his regular season debut, and boy, did the offense look different; he shared the team lead in targets (7) and led the team in receptions (6) and yards (57). With Golladay back in the line-up, Stafford had a legitimate number-one receiver that forced the Cardinals to either bracket or shadow for most of the game. This freed up the middle for T.J. Hockenson, who also shared Golladay’s lead in targets (7) while posting four catches for 53 yards.
On offense in the first half, the Lions had established good tempo, utilized play-action, and for the most part, gave Matthew Stafford a clean pocket from which to operate.
This was, by far, Stafford’s best showing of the year. He looked comfortable in the pocket, trusted his reads, and delivered some absolute dimes, including a beautiful deep ball to Marvin Hall that was called back due to a Halapoulivaati Vaitai holding penalty.
On defense, Detroit finally made in-game adjustments. After being torched by Aaron Rodgers a week ago, the Lions did what I, and many fans and experts, have been asking for them to do, which is run more zone concepts instead of the man-to-man coverage scheme that has been Matt Patricia’s staple since he came into the league. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Lions ran man coverage 82.1% and 81.8% in each of the first two games, respectively. On Sunday, they ran a man coverage on only 55.6% of their plays. Although both interceptions, including Jeff Okudah’s first, came while the Lions were in a man look, the variation in scheme seemed to confuse Kyler Murray enough to where he made uncharacteristic mistakes.
DeAndre Hopkins was going to get his on Sunday; as, arguably, the best wide receiver in the game, it was expected. He finished with 10 catches for 137 yards. However, the silver lining in this is that the defense limited or eliminated the rest of Kyler Murray’s receiving corps. They contained Murray in the pocket, and for the most part, eliminated his rush lanes. He ran five times for 29 yards, including a highlight reel move on Jeff Okudah in the end zone. Not a perfect day by any means, but certainly an improvement over what we have collectively seen in the last two weeks.
While the Lions did switch up the scheme, this did not change one of their most glaring problems: the pass rush. The defense was only able to manufacture one sack for two yards. Some will say this is due to the fact that they tried to keep Kyler Murray in the pocket, contain the edge, and maintain rush integrity. The tape showed it was rare that Patricia sent more than three or four rushers. His blitzes primarily came from the ‘B’-gap, likely due to fear of losing contain and not wanting to leave his corners on an island. The Lions have a total of three sacks this year, ranking 28th in the league. The Saints come marching in this week, and unless they can manufacture more pressure, Drew Brees will pick them apart. Matt Patricia is going to have to get more creative using Jamie Collins and his linebackers.
There were not many reasons to say “WTF,” for a change. The Lions actually played an entire four quarters, won the time of possession, and delivered when they had to. However, if I am being picky, the offense has yet to find a consistent rhythm for four quarters. The Lions relied heavily on “the other Matthew” in the second half; kicker Matt Prater connected on three field goals in the second half, including the game winner. For this team to take the next step on offense, they cannot abandon the run game and get too cute.
We can only hope with Kenny Golladay being back, this offense will find its next gear and unlock the potential it has. If Detroit has any hopes of beating the Saints, despite not clicking on all cylinders, this Lions team still has enough firepower to make others play catch-up.