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Film breakdown: George Winn can’t catch a break

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Brother, can you spare a cleanly executed run block?

Detroit Lions v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The battle for the backup running back roster spots

The top two halfbacks on the Detroit Lions roster are without a doubt 21 HB Ameer Abdullah and ankle-breaking dynamo 25 HB Theo Riddick. Beyond those two names, however, it is a four-way fight between 2015 camp darling 34 HB Zach Zenner, the newly-anointed 2016 camp darling 36 HB Dwayne Washington, post-ACL journeyman 39 HB Stevan Ridley, and one other guy: dump truckin’ 38 HB George Winn. The competition is tight because all of them have looked mediocre running the ball. In all fairness to our contestants trying to make the band, the offensive line has not being doing them any favors.

Consider the plight of George Winn as he tried to make an impression against the Cincinnati Bengals in the Detroit Lions’ second preseason game of 2016. Winn played just seven offensive snaps in the fourth quarter, only three of which involved him touching the football. On the four pass plays, he had no chances to do much of anything: Winn was held back to block on the Jake Rudock interception, ran a flat release on the Jace Billingsley long gain, ran a chip release on the long incompletion to Quinshad Davis, and also chip released to the flat on the opposite side of the field of a Rudock scramble.

Let’s go to the tape now for Winn’s three rushing attempts last week.

Can’t Winn ‘em all

The first rushing attempt for Winn came in a very favorable situation: second down and only a handful of yards to pick up the first down. Somehow, the offensive line reserves managed to botch this one almost across the board.

2016 Preseason CIN, 4Q (13:20). Second-and-3 at the Detroit 41.

The Cincinnati front is trying something really interesting: 95 RDE Jack Gangwish drops into coverage while the rest of the defensive line angles to his side. Both linebackers rotate to fill the gaps on the left side, with 42 S Clayton Fejedelem widening to play outside contain. The run fits are kind of interesting, so we’ll take a minute to look at it from the defense’s perspective.

  • Right C gap outside 70 LT Corey Robinson is now 91 DT Marcus Hardison looping wide.
  • Right B gap between Robinson and uncovered 62 LB Chase Farris is filled by 28 CB Darius Hillary, who is lined up over 16 WR Jace Billingsley in the screenshot. Hillary moves up to run support shortly after the snap.
  • Right A gap is attacked by slanting 71 DT David Dean.
  • Left A gap between 65 C Gabe Ikard and 66 RG Joe Dahl is attacked by slanting 76 DE Ryan Brown.
  • Left B gap is filled by rotating 45 LB Darien Harris.
  • Left C gap between 76 RT Luke Marquardt and 44 TE Orson Charles is filled by 53 LB Marquis Flowers.
  • Left D gap edge contain outside of Charles is taken by 42 S Clayton Fejedelem.

The defense is executing something like a giant scrape exchange, with the entire front shifting gap assignments. Now here’s the thing — it worked and confused the heck out of Detroit’s offensive line.

At the handoff from Rudock to Winn, look how thoroughly the Lions’ blocking as a whole has been defeated. Ikard (point A) and Dahl (point B) have both lost to the slanting Dean and Brown shooting the A gaps. Only Charles on the edge at point C is actually sustaining a good block. Charles is setting the edge for the gap being targeted by the play call: the (from the defense’s view) left C gap between RT Marquardt and TE Charles.

Unfortunately for Winn, Flowers (boxed in red) has absolute dominance over that gap and is completely unblocked. It turns out Marquardt locked in on LDE Brown and followed him to the inside on the slant. By the time Marquardt gave up on Brown at point D, Flowers had already run by. The only worse read here is Robinson chasing after RDE Gangwish, who is dropping into coverage with his back turned and away from where the play is even heading.

There was simply nowhere for Winn to go, so it’s hard to pin this negative-yardage play on him. Rudock was intercepted on the next play, so we now move ahead to the start of the touchdown drive late in the quarter.

2016 Preseason CIN, 4Q (4:15). Second-and-10 at the Detroit 44.

The Lions’ called play is a fairly basic run to the left with man blocking and a back-side seal by 86 TE Adam Fuehne. The execution by both LT Robinson and RT Marquardt here demonstrate why the health of backup tackle Michael Ola is so important to the team. First, let’s look at the missed block by Robinson.

As Winn approaches the line of scrimmage, he pulls up and gets bogged down in the pile. Joe Dahl is obscuring the threat, but Corey Robinson’s head gives a big clue as to what is causing Winn to think about cutting it back inside. Robinson was supposed to move up and engage 51 LB Jayson DiManche at the second level, but completely whiffed on the block. The first panel shows Robinson looking over his right shoulder at DiManche blowing past him (again, blocked from view by Dahl). DiManche becomes visible in the second panel, flying untouched to the hole.

Now for the second thing to pay attention to. Locate in that split panel image 76 LDE Ryan Brown of the Bengals. We can see he is right in front of 53 LB Marquis Flowers, roughly midway between the hashes on the line of scrimmage. Now look back up at the original alignment at the snap and look where Marquardt and Brown begin the play. Brown is lined up about a yard outside the right hash! Find the left defensive end and follow him in the full motion GIF below:

Brown drives his blocker back so far into Winn’s run path that right tackle Marquardt ends up on his back on the left hash. Once again Winn had no chance, but we can see if Robinson had even gotten a token block on DiManche, there was an open running lane to the left that Winn could have busted into for a huge gain.

2016 Preseason CIN, 4Q (3:14). Fourth-and-1 at the Cincinnati 47.

Speaking of busting huge gains to the outside, here’s George Winn almost picking up 11 yards to extend the drive on fourth down. This nice run was erased by a holding penalty against Marquardt, seen below throwing 76 DE Ryan Brown to the ground by the sleeve.

Matt Shepard: They’ll go for it on fourth down — and they’ll get it! George Winn galloping his way inside the 40.

Chris Spielman: Good patience and vision by George Winn, understanding that the defensive line had a pinch on.

(Referee being shown onscreen signaling the holding penalty)

Shepard: Maybe that’s why he got the first down.

Spielman: There you go. (Replay starts) Right here, bottom of your screen. He grabbed the jersey. Didn’t need to grab the jersey.

It did not seem like it was worth throwing a flag on Marquardt, but the play was called back nonetheless.

How the heck did (fill in the blank) make the roster???

As we head into the final stretch of the preseason and the Lions staff decides who makes the team and who does not, fans should not be surprised if a guy who “didn’t do anything” in preseason games still makes the 75-man cut. How much of a great run was due to superior blocking? How much of a bad run was actually due to the runner making a bad decision like an incorrect cut?

Success in football is so dependent on the whole team executing. Even one missed block or unnecessary penalty can wipe out all the other good things the team did on a play. George Winn may have had a quiet preseason so far, but it’s hard to say how much that says about him and how much that says about the team’s overall inability to execute its rushing plays.