The Detroit Lions did not play particularly well during their Week 3 victory over the Arizona Cardinals but still came out on top for one very obvious reason. They won the turnover battle. After not coming up with a single takeaway so far in 2020, and not having a single game with multiple interceptions since the start of the Matt Patricia era in 2018, Detroit’s defense came up big. Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray was intercepted three times—all three by players new to the roster this year—leading on Detroit to the win.
The three interceptions were all very different than each other, though. One was created by the Lions blitzing—an already rare occasion—and doing a good job disguising it. One came from a linebacker making a great read in coverage—and even MORE rare occasion for Detroit. And the third off of an error from a young quarterback in a sticky situation.
Detroit’s first interception was a result of pressure, and while safety Duron Harmon will get credit for it in the box score, linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. is the guy who really made the play.
Collins did a great job shedding a block one-on-one in the backfield. Cardinals running back Chase Edmunds did not do badly—he read the pressure well, was quick to react, and got low enough to gain some leverage—but Collins showed great hands in being able to shed him away and get on top of Kyler Murray.
The quarterback had to quickly get rid of the ball with a man in his face, and also had to adjust it high to get it over the pursuing linebacker. Murray’s pass floated over tight end Dan Arnold, and Harmon made the play in center field.
Collins got the assist on the first interception, but got the job done all on his own for the team’s second pick.
This play also shows the benefits of playing zone coverage, which Detroit rarely did before this season. Not only does it make your defense unpredictable, it also puts less stress on each individual linebacker. Detroit’s linebackers are not exactly coverage aces, but in zone they can rely more on their instincts and football IQ rather than their footwork and speed. This puts a player as smart as Collins in position where he can make plays.
The third interception of the game is the one that got Lions fans most excited. Jeff Okudah, who has not had a particularly great introduction to the NFL since being drafted third overall last spring, notched his first career interception in what proved to be a crucial swing late in a close game.
One thing to note here is that Murray may have overreacted to the little pressure he was under in the pocket. No defender was near him, and he still had time to get off a clean pass—or step forward and run—before he bolted. This has been a problem for the quarterback throughout his career, as he seems to dance around the pocket more than necessary and panics for little-to-no reason in the backfield. He seems almost too eager to use his feet.
Throwing across your body into traffic is tough and is an ill-advised choice for anyone not named Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes. It his hard to properly control the placement of these passes unless you have a cannon for an arm. Murray overcompensates when slinging the ball backwards, puts it slightly behind his receiver, and gives Okudah—who was beat on the play—a chance at the ball. Okudah makes a great read and times his leap perfectly to jump the route before DeAndre Hopkins can get around to catch the ball.
The three interceptions show three things from the defense that felt like they were missing, not only in the two previous games this season, but from the previous two years in the Patricia era as well. A good pass rush, positive plays in coverage from linebackers, and a stroke of luck. Turnovers are not dependable, so do not expect the Lions to regularly win games this way, but their defense showed up in Week 3 and earned their team a rare victory.