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Why did Lions’ play calling change in the second half against the Eagles?

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It is tough to use plays designed for first down situations when the offense does not pick up first downs.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Where did Robinson go after halftime?

One of the recurring questions that popped up over the last few days was why we saw such funky and inventive play calls from offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter in the first half against the Philadelphia Eagles but not nearly as much in the second half. For example, from the article on tight end blocking we posted yesterday, there was this comment from Joe DoubleYou:

I'd love to know

Why did Cooter abandon the odd formations and plays like the bounce pitch to Tate? Did he forget them or was there some reason to think the Eagles had figured them out (and did the Eagles figure them out)? Were they just trying to keep the Eagles off-balance and out-thinking themselves?

While I can’t speak to the fresh new plays as much (see, for example, Tim Twentyman’s film review of the second Theo Riddick touchdown or Dave Birkett’s article on Tate in the backfield for more on that kind of stuff), we can definitely say there was a situational factor in the usage of Corey Robinson as a substitute tight end. Here are two of Jeremy’s bullet points from the snap counts article for the Week 5 win over the Eagles:

The Lions surprisingly used Clay Harbor the most at tight end despite the fact he was added just five days prior to the game. At 38 percent of snaps he didn't play very much, but Khari Lee and Cole Wick combined for just 16 snaps on offense.

Instead, the Lions decided to use a sixth offensive linemen for a good chunk of the game. The lucky lineman was Corey Robinson, who played for nearly one-third of the game.

We went back to the tape after snap counts were released and tried to find all of the plays where Corey Robinson was on the field. Let’s consider when in the game those 19 offensive snaps occurred:

1Q 15:00 1-10 First snap of the game, Theo run for 6 yards

1Q 13:49 1-10 Theo run for 4 yards

1Q 12:25 2-10 Theo run for 17 yards

1Q 6:02 1-10 Zenner run for 3 yards

1Q 4:46 1-10 Stafford incomplete to Boldin (the PI on Carroll over the middle)

1Q 4:42 1-10 Zenner run for -2 yards

1Q 4:00 2-7 Zenner run for 3 yards

2Q 10:21 1-10 Theo run for 13 yards

2Q 9:42 1-10 Stafford incomplete right side to Tate (the one that went over his head I think)

2Q 8:11 4-1 Stafford run for 2 yards (QB sneak for first down)

2Q 7:32 1-10 Theo run for no gain

2Q 6:06 1-10 Stafford pass to Zenner for 19 yards (this was the screen pass)

That accounts for 12 of Robinson’s 19 offensive snaps in the first half. Only seven were in the second half:

3Q 9:12 1-10 Theo run for 4 yards

3Q 8:32 1-10 Stafford sacked by Logan (This was the Boldin unsportsmanlike conduct penalty)

3Q 1:25 1-10 Theo run for -1 yards

Just three plays in the third quarter! The final four snaps were mostly special situation plays in the fourth quarter:

4Q 15:00 4-1 Theo run for 2 yards (this was the second effort fourth down conversion)

4Q 13:32 2-8 Theo 1 yard run

4Q 1:50 1-6 Zenner -2 yard run

4Q 1:46 2-8 Zenner 3 yard run

Lead foot but possibly no gas

Some clear patterns emerge from this:

  1. Ignoring the fourth quarter for now (see the next point), 12 of the 19 plays were on first down, all first-and-10 situations. One play was a second-and-10 situation (the long run off right end by Theo Riddick that was shown in the TE article). So that’s 13 plays accounted for.
  2. Four of the remaining six plays were situational: two heavy formation fourth down conversions and the two clock burning plays at the end of the game following the Golden Tate strike to move the ball inside the 10 (after the penalty).
  3. All of the pass plays—which I think also all used play action—were called in first-and-10 situations.
  4. The last two plays not yet accounted for were both in second-and-8 run situations: 1Q 4:00 and 4Q 13:32.
  5. Aside from the end of game plays, only two of the Robinson snaps were inside the red zone: 1Q 6:02 and 3Q 9:12.

What we can pretty clearly say, then, is that this was a package slated for use in the base open field offense and with drive openers between the pre-red zone areas, to use Brian Billick’s terminology. The plays involved would be mainly for regular start of down series first-and-10 type situations and as an option a bit down the play call sheet for second-and-medium while on schedule.

The reason Jim Bob stopped using these plays is because the Lions did not convert any first downs for most of the second half. If the Robinson plays were being used for first-and-10 but the team was hardly ever in first-and-10, they were just situationally not the right plays to call.

Fortunately, Big Play Slay saved the day and Jim Schwartz stayed on his feet at the end of the game. Had the Lions actually moved the chains after halftime, would Jim Bob have kept using the Robinson plays? Maybe. We don’t know—and there’s no way to know, but there is a good chance he would have.