Matthew Stafford drops back to throw a pass against the Steelers.
The Lions' starting offense played three series against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday night, giving us about one quarter worth of action to look at. Although you can only tell so much from a short stint in a preseason game, it is interesting to take a deeper look at what we saw. As a result, I decided to go through every play the first-team offense ran and break it down for those of you who didn't get to watch the game or simply want to relive the action. At the end of the post, there will be a brief recap of what I learned from watching the footage, and you can feel free to share your thoughts as well in the comments.
Drive #1 - Starts at DET 3 (thanks, Derrick Williams) with 12:06 to play in the 1st
- 1st &10 (DET 3): Jahvid Best runs for three yards to the weak side. The Lions used a one-receiver set, putting two tight ends to the left and a fullback to the right of Best.
- 2nd & 7 (DET 6): Coming out of a two-receiver set, Best ran for six yards by making a great cut to the right. He got the ball going to the left, saw a big hole open up to the right side and ran through it for a solid gain.
- 3rd & 1 (DET 12): Best ran straight up the middle and didn't gain anything. The O-line got blown up and Best had nowhere to run.
- 4th & 1 (DET 12): 41-yard punt by Nick Harris.
Drive #2 - Starts at DET 15 with 8:47 to play in the 1st
- 1st & 10 (DET 15): With twins to the left, Calvin Johnson went in motion to the right and Best ran to that side on a redirection type of play. Best tried to cut upfield instead of running to the outside and was tackled immediately after only a gain of one yard.
- 2nd & 9 (DET 16): The Lions lined up in the shotgun for the first time, with Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson to the left and two backs next to Stafford. Pittsburgh blitzed, but Stafford calmly waited for Johnson to get open on a curl route, and when he did the ball was thrown perfectly. Johnson turned upfield, stiff-armed the man covering him and barely stepped out of bounds. Had he stayed in, it would have been a touchdown. Actually, correction, it would have been a touchdown called back because of a tripping penalty on Jeff Backus. James Harrison absolutely ran him over, and on the way down his legs came up and tripped Harrison for a penalty. It was a weak call in my book, but it could have been avoided if Backus didn't get run over.
- 2nd & 17 (DET 8): Coming out of the shotgun again (this time with two receivers, one back and one tight end), Stafford found Dan Gronkowski on an out pattern for a gain of seven, getting back to the original line of scrimmage.
- 3rd & 10 (DET 15): The Lions went with three receivers and Best to the right of Stafford in the shotgun. Pittsburgh brought pressure with a corner blitz, leaving Best open out of the backfield. Stafford fired a rocket at him, but it was a bit high and went off Best's fingers, allowing Ryan Clark to intercept the pass. Even if he would have caught it, Best needed a move or two to pick up a first down, but simply punting the ball away would have been better than an interception.
Drive #3 - Starts at DET 32 with 4:35 to play in the 1st
- 1st & 10 (DET 32): Continuing to utilize the shotgun (this time with a formation where Best was in the slot and Felton was in the backfield), Stafford fired a perfect pass to Burleson on an out pattern. Burleson dragged two feet inbounds to make the catch, making a nice play for a gain of 11 yards.
- 1st & 10 (DET 43): Now back under center with two tight ends to the left, Stafford handed the ball off to Best, who quickly broke to the outside and used his speed to gain 15 yards. The run could have gone for even more, but Best was tripped up a bit about 10 yards into the run, slowing down his momentum and leading to a tackle.
- 1st & 10 (PIT 42): Flipping the formation from the last play, Stafford faked a handoff to Best and had to throw the ball away because two Steelers players didn't bite on the play-action and were about to sack him. The play didn't end up counting anyways, as there was an illegal formation penalty on the Lions, backing them up five yards.
- 1st & 15 (PIT 47): The Lions went to an empty set, with Stafford in the shotgun, a tight end on the line and four receivers split wide (I believe Best was lined up to the outside on the left side). Calvin Johnson ran another curl route and Stafford again timed the throw perfectly. This time Johnson couldn't break a tackle with two defenders on him, but he did pick up eight yards.
- 2nd & 7 (PIT 39): Going back to the two-back shotgun set, Stafford found Burleson on a curl route. He took a big hit immediately after making the catch but managed to hang on and run for a first down and a gain of eight yards.
- 1st & 10 (PIT 31): Stafford faked a handoff to Best and had an open tight end in the middle of the field and Best, who ran an underneath route as soon as he faked getting the ball. (Bryant Johnson ran a deep post but was covered.) Stafford opted to throw the ball to Best, who picked up nine yards.
- 2nd & 1 (PIT 22): With three receivers and one tight end, Best got the handoff and headed to the right side, where he was met by a pair of Steelers defenders. It looked like this play would go for a loss, but Best made a spin move and ran for a gain of four yards before being brought down by a few defenders. This was Best's top run of the game, as he made something out of nothing and turned a negative play into a gain of four yards.
- 1st & 10 (PIT 18): Out of the I-formation, Stafford dropped back and threw a pass to the back corner of the end zone. If it had a little more air under it, Calvin Johnson might have been able to go up and get it, but instead he had to play a little bit of defense to make sure it wasn't picked off. The placement in the end zone was nice, but it needed to be just a bit higher.
- 2nd & 10 (PIT 18): Tony Scheffler caught a simple pass across the middle of the field for a gain of six yards. Best made a nice block on a defender on this play, allowing Stafford to have time to make the throw (he was in the shotgun again).
- 3rd & 4 (PIT 12): In the shotgun with three receivers out wide, Stafford went to Bryant Johnson on a slant. Pittsburgh blitzed and went to a zone, allowing Johnson to make the catch and pick up 10 yards.
- 1st and goal (PIT 2): Stafford attempted to throw a fade to Calvin Johnson, but it was underthrown and nearly picked off. Johnson once again had to make a defensive type of play and easily could have been called for offensive pass interference. He got the job done, though, as the pass was only incomplete.
- 2nd and goal (PIT 2): The Lions lined up with only Calvin Johnson split out wide, making it one on one against the corner. Johnson will usually win that battle, and that was the case on this play, as he ran a fade-stop and made the catch with ease for a touchdown. The corner thought another fade pass was going to be thrown, but Johnson stopped and came back for a perfect TD pass.
- TD DRIVE: 12 plays, 6:48 time of possession
The thing that stuck out to me the most was how often the Lions lined up in the shotgun. What's more, the Lions used a variety of formations out of the shotgun. Sometimes there would be two backs with Stafford, whereas others time it would be only Best or only Felton. Also, Best lined up as a receiver on a couple plays, showing just how much versatility he brings to the table.
The Lions' offense was really most effective when it spread the field. It's the type of offense you see New England use, where it's not necessarily a college type of spread, but the offense uses the shotgun and has plenty of options to choose from as far as attacking the defense is concerned. Stafford seemed very comfortable out of the shotgun, sitting back in the pocket and waiting for somebody to get open. (More often than not that open receiver was Calvin Johnson, who definitely is on the same page as Stafford timing-wise. A lot of the plays involved timing routes, and Stafford and Johnson ran them perfectly.)
All in all, I was very impressed with the offense. The first drive of the game came to an early end because the O-line got blown up on third and short, and yes, the second drive ended with an interception. Even so, had a rather weak penalty not been called on Backus on that second drive, the Lions would have had a first down and things could have ended differently. For the third drive, it was very smooth and ended with a touchdown, so that was a good way for the starters to finish their time in the game.