You can tell a true Detroit Lions fan by how they are feeling when the team has a lead. Detroit was dominating the Packers for a full three quarters in Lambeau. When they took a commanding 20-3 lead in the fourth quarter, it seemed like the game was in hand.
But then the Packers quickly scored their first touchdown of the night, and suddenly it felt like a game again. Logical fans would likely still be at ease, knowing Green Bay was still behind a full two possessions, hadn’t shown any signs of slowing the Lions offense and still had Brett Hundley as their quarterback.
But seasoned Lions fans have seen the Lions blow so many leads. They’ve witnessed so many squandered opportunities at Lambeau Field. This felt like it could be the turning point of the game.
Then offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter dialed up the Play of the Game and destroyed any doubt of a win in even the most pessimistic of Lions fans. Here’s how the 63-yard screen to Theo Riddick won the game for Detroit.
Lions 20, Packers 10 — Second-and-10 at the Lions’ 25-yard line
The Packers are bunched close to the line, with their corners in press coverage and both safeties within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. They are not only looking for a stop here, but they are looking for a disruption play: A sack, a tackle for loss or even a turnover.
They send seven defenders, including their nickel cornerback into the backfield, hoping for a sack. That leaves the four remaining defenders in man-on-man coverage.
Notice anything missing? That’s right. There’s no one on Theo Riddick. Absolutely no one.
Normally on a screen play, the success is determined by how quickly the offensive line can get downfield and make important blocks. However, the offensive line had no impact on this play whatsoever*. The timing of the call and the brilliant route combinations gave Theo acres of land ahead of him.
Notice that at the time of the throw, Riddick already had seven defenders behind him. Eric Ebron’s crossing route has the safety clearing out of the space ahead of Theo, while TJ Jones perfectly sells the fly route, getting the corner to completely turn his back on the play. This opens up so much space for Theo that he outruns his offensive linemen almost immediately, as he literally doesn’t need them.
The safety is out of position and off-balance thanks to Ebron’s wisely schemed route. TJ Jones has got the outside corner completely oblivious to the play behind him, and Riddick has a clear path to the end zone from 75 yards away. Roll that beautiful bean footage:
Notice when the cornerback finally wises up, TJ Jones is in a perfect position to continue to block him downfield. At this point, it simply becomes a footrace between Riddick and the recovering safety. Unfortunately, the Packers defender catches up to Riddick, forcing Theo to the outside, where he’s eventually tackled just outside the Packers’ 10-yard line. Ultimately, however, it wouldn’t matter. The Lions punched it in two plays later and the game was essentially over.
*But wait... there’s one more key to this play, and it should not go overlooked. All too often, screen plays like this are broken up by an defensive lineman who has a free shot into the backfield and are right in the passing lane. Thanks to T.J. Lang, Matthew Stafford didn’t have to worry about this:
Lang tosses the defender to the ground, leaving the perfect lane for Stafford’s pass to land in Riddick’s arm. As you can see, ball sails directly over the defender’s shoulder, highlighting just how important this block from Lang was. Without that play from Lang, this becomes yet another batted ball for Detroit.