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Lions-Patriots Play of the Game: Jalen Reeves-Maybin blows up a screen

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The rookie linebacker was one of the few brights spots for the Lions defense on Friday.

Today I’m kicking off a new segment to both scratch my itch for breaking down film and to remain positive even when the Detroit Lions got shellacked in the first quarter against the New England Patriots.

After every game this season, I will break down one specific play I deem the “Play of the Game.” It may not always be the literal best play of the game, but it’ll be one of my favorites and one for which I want to celebrate a team or individual performance.

In today’s case, it’s all about the individual. And that individual is rookie linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin.

The Lions’ fourth-round pick wasn’t expected to contribute much defensively in 2017. Reeves-Maybin’s quickness and agility was supposed to be an asset mostly on special teams for his rookie year, but the former Tennessee linebacker has made a case for himself just three preseason games in.

Reeves-Maybin saw a lot of playing time in Detroit’s dress rehearsal game against the Patriots. Part of the reason is because Tahir Whitehead left the game after three defensive series with a knee injury, but Reeves-Maybin was already in the game by then. He saw some time as the SAM linebacker in the first quarter, splitting time with second-year player Antwione Williams.

But it was Reeves-Maybin’s play early in the second half that earned him Play of the Game.

The situation: Q3 10:28 - First-and-10 at the Patriots’ own 8-yard line
The play: Jimmy Garoppolo throws a screen pass for a 3-yard loss

In the Patriots’ opening drive of the second half, Garoppolo leads the second-team offense out starting deep in his own side of the field. To help create some room for the offense to work with, the Patriots dial up a screen on first down.

A few seconds in, the play appears to be a wild success. None of the Lions’ four defensive linemen—Detroit’s first-string players, mind you—read the screen and all of them over-commit.

That leaves Reeves-Maybin alone against the receiver and three blockers. This play is about to go for a long gain:

But as you can see from the still, Reeves-Maybin has sniffed this play out. Garoppolo hasn’t even pulled his arm back to throw yet, and the Lions rookie linebacker is already making his cut towards the running back, who is sneaking out of the backfield.

With three offensive linemen closing on him, Reeves-Maybin cannot spare a single instant of hesitation. Thankfully, he doesn’t blink.

Just how fast did Reeves-Maybin close in on the running back? The Patriots receiver wasn’t even able to get a second foot down before getting hammered by Reeves-Maybin.

In his NFL Draft profile, Reeves-Maybin was described as an “early responder after the snap.” Someone who is “uniquely instinctive” and “will not hesitate to take a chance and shoot a gap.”

This is exactly the player we’ve seen through three preseason games now, as Reeves-Maybin has blown up two screens, shown incredible instincts and explosive speed. The one knock on his game is that he’s a bit undersized to absorb blocks and drive through bulky NFL backs. However, that hasn’t been much of an issue for him yet.