Every week, we’re going to break down one of the biggest plays from each Detroit Lions game. It’s not always going to be the most important or the biggest highlight reel, but it’ll be a play that deserves a second watching and could have big implications for the rest of the season.
For our first regular season Play of the Game breakdown, we had to look at Kenny Golladay’s huge 45-yard touchdown catch. We’ve all seen the catch 100 times by now, but there’s a lot more going on in this play that you may not have seen. So let’s break down the anatomy of this splash play.
In order to connect on a huge play like this, it all starts up front. If Matthew Stafford doesn’t have the room to throw and Kenny Golladay doesn’t have the time to run down field, this play is dead before it even has a chance to develop.
The Cardinals are only rushing four, and the Lions kept Darren Fells in on the left side. The protection is near perfect. The only potential chink in the armor is Fells, who was given the tough assignment of being on an island against one of the Cardinals’ best pass rushers, Chandler Jones.
But after passing along his guy to Graham Glasgow, left tackle Greg Robinson comes over and helps clean up Jones.
As you can see, Glasgow and Rick Wagner completely handle their defenders on their own, while Travis Swanson and T.J. Lang team up to give Stafford a healthy pocket in front of him. You couldn’t ask for better pass protection on a down (second-and-9) that you would expect a pass from.
Stafford and the safety
The Cardinals are playing with one deep safety. They clearly aren’t overly concerned with the long ball, as Detroit mostly dealt with the first 15 yards of the field all day. The Lions are looking to bleed clock, so a deep shot is a bit risky at this point in the game.
But offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter dialed up a shot play, and with his receivers all matched up in man-to-man coverage, Matthew Stafford had to make sure the Cardinals’ free safety wasn’t going to get in the way of Golladay’s route.
This is the key moment to the play. Stafford moves his feet and squares up toward the route to his left (a 15-yard curl by Marvin Jones Jr.). That draws the safety, whose feet you can see at the top of the screen, back... and to the left. That opens the narrowest of windows for Stafford to hit Golladay, and he does not miss.
You can see at the beginning of the GIF above that Cardinals safety Antoine Bethea has to change directions, and that split second is all it takes for Stafford to split the defenders.
Kenny Golladay getting free
We all know just how amazing Golladay’s catch was, but it never happens if he doesn’t get a step on his defender, Justin Bethel. He didn’t create a lot of separation, but it was enough to have the edge.
Here’s how he did it.
First, he hit Bethel with a little hesitation route. You can see Golladay hint at a crossing route before he plants his foot in the turf and turns on the jets. Bethel hesitates for just a split second, then is forced to try and grab a hold of Golladay to keep up.
After that, it’s doing what Golladay does best: use his hands to create separation.
To make up space, Bethel continues to try and grab at Golladay to slow him down and get to even footing with the speedy receiver. But Golladay slaps his futile attempts away, and somehow Golladay (4.50 40-yard dash time) just outruns Bethel (4.39—in 2006) in a footrace: