When the Detroit Lions jumped out to a 24-0 lead against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, it didn’t seem like there were going to be that many individual key plays that determined the outcome. A comfortable lead like that is usually just because of pure dominance on a play-to-play basis.
But that wasn’t the case this week. The Packers managed a furious comeback and threatened to win the game at the end. Had it not been for these three key plays, they probably would’ve walked out of Ford Field with a win. Let’s break them down.
Play No. 1 - Lions third-and-11 at own 45-yard line
We’re going to work our way backwards through the game, starting with the game-clincher.
I’ve already spoken about the importance of this play and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter’s aggressive decision to pass instead of running the ball here. But let’s take a look at how Matthew Stafford found Golden Tate for the game-sealing first down.
On the surface, the play simply looks like a pass-and-catch between Tate, who beat his man, and Stafford, who threw a perfect pass. But when I asked Tate about the play, he pointed out something I hadn’t even noticed.
“Stafford found me, looked off the linebacker, I believe, and hit me in the window with a heater.”
Indeed, Stafford did. Take a look:
Here you can see it perfectly. Stafford squares his stance and shoulders angled toward the Packers sideline and keeps his eyes in that direction. It draws the linebacker that way, ever so slightly, opening up a clear window in the middle of the field. Here’s it in slow motion:
“If I don’t catch that ball things could be a lot different,” Tate said on Monday. “They have way more time on the clock. You want to leave Aaron with about just one second with the ball, and even sometime that’s too much time, as he’s shown before.”
But this wasn’t the lone occurrence of Matthew Stafford making a big play by drawing defenders away out of a zone. Back in the first half, Stafford did something remarkably similar to make sure the team put up six points, not three. And former Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky broke it down perfectly.
Play No. 2: Third-and-goal from the Packers 8-yard line
It’s hard to see from the broadcast angle, but the All-22 shows just how badly Ha Ha Clinton-Dix bites:
Clinton-Dix was so far out of position, he couldn’t have made that play even if he had dinosaur wings.
This play was so crucial in the final outcome, because a 24-0 lead at halftime is so much more significant than a 20-0 lead. Detroit’s red zone offense was 4-for-4 on Sunday, and this being a third-down conversion as well just highlights how Stafford can rise to the occasion when the pressure is on.
Play No. 3: Packers second-and-1 at own 35-yard line
The only reason the Lions had the opportunity to go ahead 24-0 is because of a couple huge defensive plays. Down just 17-0, the Packers were preparing their lethal two-minute drive. In two plays and just 30 seconds, the Packers had already carved out 20 yards of the drive, and considering they were moving the ball efficiently all half, it seemed certain they’d get at least three points out of the drive.
Da’Shawn Hand had other plans.
There’s a lot to like about this play, but let’s start with Hand. At NOSE TACKLE (!!!), Hand beats a double team with relative easy (with help from the center abandoning his post), tracks down Aaron Rodgers, forces the fumble, then finds the ball for the recovery. It’s truly an overall fantastic play from the rookie.
But he couldn’t have done it without help. Romeo Okwara deserves a ton of credit for not only beating his man to the outside, but holding the edge so that Rodgers has to step up in the pocket to try and escape, rather than sliding out past the edge. Devon Kennard does the same on the other edge, making Rodgers feel claustrophobic in the pocket. The Lions’ pass rush struggles regularly, but on this play they worked together perfectly.
Oh, and I wouldn’t even consider this a coverage sack. Rodgers had checkdown options wide open, but he didn’t have the time to go through his progressions:
Without even one of these plays, the Lions may be 1-4 right now, but thankfully they executed well in big moments. So don’t let anyone tell you that the Lions didn’t win this game, and that the Packers simply lost it. Detroit did what they needed to.