Tuesday mornings are devoted to rewatching Sunday’s Lions performances. Some of those Tuesdays are easier than others, and this week was one of them.
The game film from the Lions’ 36-27 home win over the Washington Commanders in Week 2 revealed a lot of positives from Dan Campbell’s Detroit team. Quite a few initial judgments were confirmed, but there were also some fresh observations that needed the second (and third–I watch both the game and the All-22) viewing to appreciate.
Here’s some of what really stood out from watching the film of the Lions’ triumphant date with the Commanders.
Disciplined aggression in the run game
Junfu Han-USA TODAY Sports
The Lions rushed for 191 yards on 24 carries. Strip out Jared Goff’s two kneel downs in victory formation and it equates to 193 yards on 22 carries.
The offensive line clearly deserves its credit. Special mention goes to the left side, where tackle Taylor Decker and guard Dan Skipper–in his first NFL start and first time playing guard–consistently blasted their blocking marks off the line and sealed open holes without holding. Backup center Evan Brown adeptly used his quickness to angle off the defenders, and he engaged second-level blocks very well too.
But the running backs have to do something with the good blocking, and they did in this one. All three Lions RBs ran without hesitation or fear, attacking where the hole was designed to be instead of dancing in the backfield or trying to improvise. It really stood out on a Craig Reynolds run early in the second quarter where there was only one hole. Reynolds accelerated right through the gap between Brown and right guard Logan Stenberg firing out to pick off the LB (his best rep of the day), exactly where the play was set to go.
If Reynolds doesn’t go full bore right at that hole, the run gains one yard at best. Because No. 46 attacked, he gained 11. Three snaps later Jamaal Williams gained eight on the same basic play, again because he did not hesitate or deviate from the play design.
The counterpoint was easy to see. D’Andre Swift and Williams each had one carry where they didn’t attack the hole. Those two runs gained one combined yard. This is what happens when Swift does what RB coach Duce Staley wants in staying with the blocking design:
D'Andre Swift (50-yd run)
🔹 Expected Yards: 8
🔹 Yards Over Expected: +42
🔹 Swift Top Speed: 20.19 mph
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 11, 2022
Special teams attention to detail
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
It takes some real superlative play for the special teams to earn their own segment of a film review, especially in a game where the Lions didn’t have a return score or a blocked kick. But special teams coach Dave Fipp had his units performing extremely well in all facets of the punt and kick teams.
The word that comes to mind is “tight”. As in, what a tightly run ship. A great example was the excellent free kick return by Kalif Raymond after the Lions recorded a safety in the first quarter. Raymond netted 53 yards on the return, but it wasn’t just the speedy wideout who made it happen. Anthony Pittman, Juju Hughes, Malcolm Rodriguez and Chase Lucas all had stellar one-on-one blocks to give Raymond a clear running lane. It was a perfectly coordinated series of blocks.
Hughes was fantastic all game on special teams. He defeated a block and smacked Commanders return man Dax Milne at the 16-yard line with a tackle that drew audible “oohs” from the Ford Field crowd. Hughes and LB Chris Board were aggressive but disciplined in their coverage assignments all game. Each notched two tackles. WR Quintez Cephus forced a fair catch on his own by blowing through a (weak attempt at a) block on a play where punter Jack Fox otherwise outkicked his coverage
There was only one breakdown, the opening kick of the second half–a play where two Lions cover men, Board and Justin Jackson, were egregiously held by Washington blockers.
Goff was very good but also lucky
Jared Goff had a pretty darn good game, throwing four touchdown passes and doing a fine job of keeping his eyes down the field, even under pressure. That’s growth for Goff, who has been more than a little too eager to read the field from short to deep in his Detroit tenure. The increased willingness to be aggressive worked well for Goff against the Commanders and was no more evident than his first TD throw of the game.
My friend Matt Waldman broke down Goff’s spectacular TD throw to Amon-Ra St. Brown here. Turn the sound on in the video clip:
— Matt Waldman (@MattWaldman) September 18, 2022
For my money, that’s the most difficult throw Goff has made in a Lions uniform. He didn’t get frazzled under heavy pressure and launched an aggressive throw that required putting faith in his receiver to make a play. This is 2018 Pro Bowl Jared Goff redux and it sure looks good.
But the riskier throws didn’t always pay off.
Goff narrowly avoided disaster late in the second quarter. On 3rd-and-4, he was one count late to get the ball out to DJ Chark on an outside release. Commanders CB Benjamin St. Juste, who had a pretty strong game overall, jumped it and got both hands on the ball but couldn’t secure the interception. St. Juste had another near-pick on the Lions first red zone possession, also coming when Goff wasn’t on time in delivering to a well-covered Chark.
He had two throws where he narrowly averted disaster. One was an unpressured throw to a well-covered TE T.J. Hockenson over the middle, the other a swing pass to Swift that Commanders LB Cole Holcombe has an easy six points the other way if he turns his head a count earlier. Yet Goff stayed aggressive with a fantastic tight-window throw to Hockenson late, a throw he wasn’t making in 2021. Great catch by 88, too.
There’s a balance between wanting Goff to be more aggressive and not risking bad plays. In general, Goff and OC Ben Johnson found it in this game. Goff averaged over 8.0 air yards per attempt per The 33rd Team tracking, the 4th-highest of any QB in Week 2. The positive results definitely showed on film, though the margin for error got uncomfortable a few times.
Washington's offensive speed adjustment at the half worked a little too well
(AP Photo/Lon Horwedel)
The Lions defense pitched a shutout in the first half in a truly dominant performance. The speed, the gap discipline, the tackling were all outstanding.
Alas, it didn’t carry over into the second half. Washington’s tweaks at halftime deserve a lot of the credit, but the Lions defenders themselves also share in the blame.
The most notable thing the Commanders did was better utilizing their speed. Washington moved Curtis Samuel around more and got him cleaner releases with off-sets and motion. They used Terry McLaurin’s speed more on horizontal plays, forcing the Lions defense to chase across the field rather than down the field. It’s the same thing that worked so well for Philadelphia in Week 1.
The Lions cornerbacks and safeties don’t have the raw speed or the tight coordination of movement to handle the side-to-side speed. Playing off with more cushion would seem to be the adjustment, but that’s actually the issue; Washington’s receivers getting free releases took away from the Lions aggressiveness and ability to contain the speed. The jams and tight man scheme were working. The more passive zone did not for the second week in a row.
(AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
–On the play right after Washington cut the lead to 22-15, St. Brown took the perfectly executed fly sweep for 58 yards. Craig Reynolds and Goff both sold the fake beautifully. That gutsy, well-timed play call saved the game.
–The makeshift OL performed capably, but Logan Stenberg in pass protection was really hard to watch. He cannot handle speed at all without help.
–DJ Chark didn’t have a catch and didn’t really get open other than one deep shot just before halftime where Goff overshot him by a step. But his blocking was outstanding all game long. He found a way to contribute outside of being a pass-catcher.
–Still cannot fathom how a personal foul was not called against Washington when Bobby Price got leveled in the back of the head after picking off the Commanders’ odd 2-pt. conversion attempt. If that’s college, Logan Thomas is ejected for targeting without question.
–Aidan Hutchinson technically only created one of his three sacks. That’s not a negative whatsoever. Finishing plays is important, and it also shows how effective Charles Harris and LB Chris Board were at creating pressure. Board was outstanding as a blitzer, something I’d like to see more of going forward.
–I legitimately did not know that Michael Brockers played in the game. He was on the field for 25 snaps but I never noticed him, positive or negative.
—Jeff Okudah got cooked once by Terry McLaurin, blowing both the coverage and the tackle. Beyond that, Okudah was somewhere between good and great in coverage all game. When he left with cramping in his calf, Washington proceeded to connect on 7-of-8 passes right away.