Bevell sets the table
While reviewing the tape from the Lions’ recent win against the Eagles, our fearless leader Jeremy Reisman fell in love with a great pass play from the first quarter that went for 20 yards to Marvin Jones. As several responses to Jeremy’s tweet pointed out, basically every Lions pass catcher in the pattern looked open. A huge part of that is in the play design, which is very cool (and we will get to that), but this chunk play was more than two weeks in the making:
Two just absolutely filthy routes from Marvin Jones and T.J. Hockenson on the same play.— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) September 24, 2019
Jones gets the target for 20 yards. pic.twitter.com/fIZ8ODUjY0
What we mean by this is that offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell not only came up with a great design, but also set the play up to succeed by feeding the beast known as opposition film study. We know opposing defenses study what the Lions do on offense, checking what route combinations are run, what personnel groupings and formations might tip a play, and even searching for tics and tells they can key on. With that in mind, let us turn back time to Week 1 against the Cardinals and Week 2 against the Chargers.
Week 1 at ARI, 2Q (9:11). Second-and-11 at the Detroit 4.
Backed up against their own end zone, the Lions come out with three tight ends for a “predictably safe” heavy run package to hopefully eke out some breathing space. All three tight ends line up to the right side, but 88 TE T.J. Hockenson motions pre-snap across to the left side as the move TE standing up inside of 19 WR Kenny Golladay.
At the snap, the left side pair of Golladay and Hockenson run double quick outs. On the back side to 9 QB Matthew Stafford’s right side, 83 TE Jesse James posts up for a quick hook and 82 TE Logan Thomas runs a quick out of his own to the other sideline. 33 HB Kerryon Johnson stays in to block, and Stafford gets rid of the ball quick in the three-step game to Hockenson. The play was for very few air yards, but with the run after catch it picked up 10 yards and almost moved the chains.
Week 2 LAC, 2Q (3:29). First-and-10 at the Detroit 20.
This is the same play with different personnel on the field. Instead of three tight ends in the package, the Lions are using their standard 12 personnel set of James, Hockenson, Jones, and Golladay. With Hockenson and James set up in-line with the right side of the line, the formation tips run heavy to the right and pass heavy to the left.
Just like against the Cardinals, the Lions have double quick outs to Stafford’s left and a hook plus quick out to Stafford’s right. The target is Marvin Jones, who only picks up 3 yards, but feels out the Chargers’ defense for later.
Week 2 LAC, 4Q (8:06). Fourth-and-1 at the Los Angeles 35.
From the same game, this is later. It is the fourth down conversion that happens right before the double post touchdown to Golladay. Obviously a crucial situation, the Lions go to a play they are comfortable with and call the same frontside double quick out pass from the gun. Same personnel, same setup except now the big load 26 HB C.J. Anderson is in the game.
The Lions invite the Chargers to stack the box, and they certainly do: both Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay are out there with corners over them in off-man coverage. Stafford drilled the ball in to Marvin for 4 yards to move the sticks.
Week 1 at ARI, 3Q (3:51). Second-and-10 at the Detroit 18.
Even on plays that are not exactly the same as that double quick out, the defense might expect a similar combination with a designed quick out for easy yards. On this play in the third quarter of Detroit’s road trip to Arizona, Hockenson and Amendola run a pair of out breaking routes to stress the edge of the defense. On the back side, Golladay had a route breaking to the inside under a vertical stem. Stafford hit the quick out to Amendola, who tacked on some bonus yards for a nice 15 yard gain.
Stafford and Marvin sit down for lunch
Now then, given all that film showing the Lions running quick outs in the three-step game, Darrell Bevell has conditioned opposing defensive backs to anticipate those plays. Consider the following setup from the play Jeremy Reisman raved about from Week 3 in Philadelphia.
Week 3 at PHI, 1Q (4:27). First-and-10 at the Detroit 36.
Here is the formation the Lions come out in. Marvin Jones started in a bunch formation on the left side, but motioned over to the right and dragged 23 S Rodney McLeod over with him. Otherwise, this is a 2x2 shotgun formation and the Eagles look like they are matching up underneath (McLeod stops inside and aligns over Hockenson, passing Marvin to 21 CB Ronald Darby on the outside). When the ball is snapped, Stafford takes a three-step drop and this is what the defense sees:
Boy, that sure looks like a pair of frontside quick outs and a backside quick out with Amendola possibly breaking or posting up, right? The way Stafford sets with his shoulder fully pointed at Hockenson and Marvin is convincing. Look at McLeod already springing forward to take away Hockenson’s outside break. Darby is likewise going flat footed to move up against Marvin’s break.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, this is a great play design that is counting on the defense anticipating the quick outs. All of the receiver breaks are synchronized with the depth of Stafford’s drop: as his back foot hits, the receivers all bust out into new routes at the same time (this is really easy to see in the GIF embedded in Jeremy’s tweet at the top of this article). Marvin double moves into an out and up, blowing by Darby on the sideline while Hockenson double moves into a post. Three-time Pro Bowler 27 S Malcolm Jenkins up high is caught in a bind and initially reads imminent threat from Hockenson breaking open - but Marvin is also breaking open!
Had the ball been delivered on stride to Marvin, this is a touchdown, but it is an incredibly tough throw. Remember, Stafford is hard faking that he is throwing the quick out, and re-setting immediately to throw over the top to Marvin downtown.
This is what we get with the total package of football knowledge that Darrell Bevell brings to Detroit; it is a combination of years of play calling, refining an offensive system, and a deep understanding of how to manipulate defenses before the game even starts. While you may not like how this play or that play is called, there’s a method to coach Bev’s madness, inducing defenses into going heavy for Stafford to pick apart through the air.
Just think - it’s only Week 4. Who knows what other fun twists are waiting to be revealed in this new Lions offense?