There was a key moment in the Lions-Falcons game last week. The Lions had just intercepted Matt Ryan, down by four early in the fourth quarter. The Lions were pinned deep at their own four-yard line and desperately needed to, at the very least, get a few first downs to flip the field position. Unfortunately, the Lions offense went three-and-out, punted and Atlanta drove down the field to push their advantage to seven. This was a great drive to analyze because it captures all that was good, bad and terrible with the Lions offense last week.
1st and 10 from own 4-yard line - Keiland Williams rushes for 8 yards
Follow along at the 8:20 mark below (via Sandman7773).
Here's what the play looks like in diagram form:
The Lions are in a rare I-formation. The give is to the fullback (Williams) while Stafford fakes the pitch to the deeper back, who is Stefan Logan in this play. That fake draws the outside linebacker outside, leaving a big gap. Dominic Raiola originally goes to help Rob Sims on the tackle, but upon seeing Sims has gotten in a favorable position, Raiola heads to the second level to take on the middle linebacker. Stephen Peterman and Gosder Cherilus take on the other tackle and easily force him out of the play. Meanwhile, the weak-side linebacker (who is actually a safety) runs outside and basically runs himself out of the play. This run could've gone for a lot longer, but Brandon Pettigrew fails to prevent the defensive end from busting inside quickly and getting a hand on Williams. Keiland does a good job of spinning off this tackle, but he has been slowed down enough for the weak-side linebacker to recover from his initial mistake and make the tackle eight yards downfield.
2nd and 2 from own 12-yard line - Williams rushes for -1 yards
Here the Lions line up with three tight ends, two to the left and one to the right. The run is to the weaker side, with the Falcons in a very tight 4-3 formation. A second into the play, you can tell it is already doomed to fail. Take a look:
The first thing I noticed was how every Falcons defender was committed to the run at the point of the handoff. If this play would have been play-action, the Falcons would have been in BIG trouble. The second thing that jumps out at me is Peterman. It appears he has locked arms with the defensive tackle and has been turned around, preventing him from getting to the middle linebacker, who has read this play easily. Finally, the cornerback on the near side is fully committed to the run and beat Calvin Johnson to the inside. The middle linebacker and the corner are there to meet Williams in the backfield. In my opinion, this is a missed opportunity by Scott Linehan to try and run a misdirection play, as the Falcons were extremely vulnerable on this play. Of course, that's much easier to say now.
3rd and 3 from own 11-yard line - Matthew Stafford pass to Will Heller is incomplete
Empty backfield, four wideouts. The non-numbered receiver is Titus Young, but he's fairly insignificant on this play. Stafford's first read is to the left side of the formation. Pettigrew and Johnson are running similar routes, but Johnson runs his a little deeper. Because the cornerback lined up against Pettigrew backs up at the snap, it appears Brandon is likely open enough to convert the first down.
However, I have a sneaking suspicion that Stafford was looking at Johnson this play. I can't know that for sure, of course, but he appears to be eyeing Johnson, and if he saw Pettigrew at this point, it's hard to imagine him passing up that opportunity. This screenshot is taken immediately before Stafford gets happy feet and looks to his right. On that side, Will Heller has released while the linebacker on him is attempting to run to where he believes the play is going. Nate Burleson gets in his way and leaves Heller wide open. Unfortunately, Stafford has scrambled himself into trouble and instead of stepping into his throw, he stands flat footed and just misses Heller. The pass was likely catchable, but it would've been tough to stay inbounds.
This play breaks down mostly because of Stafford. He could've made the pass to Pettigrew and it would have been very close to a first down. But Stafford also had the opportunity to hit Heller. As you can see above, Stafford did not have to escape the pocket when he did. If he would've stayed composed, he could have stayed where he was, step into his throw and given Heller plenty of time and space to turn upfield and get the first down. Unfortunately, none of those things happened and the Lions suffered another three-and-out.