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Detroit Lions offense film breakdown: The plan hits a ‘Snag’

Stop trying to make “fetch” happen.

Detroit Lions v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Second in a series of film breakdowns on the state of the Lions passing offense. See Part 1 here.

There is a constant stream of new developments in football strategies that become hot trends, and teams at every level seek to incorporate lots of stuff every year. It is hard to blame coaches for looking for better ways to do things or trying to get a little extra edge for the players in their scheme. Even if they have roots in very old football ideas, the “new and improved” ideas are often hyped as superior to the “old and inferior,” and anybody not going for it is a reactionary stick in the mud.

The fads come and go, but, of course, the larger football world figures out which aspects they want to keep around, so at least some parts remain. Hence, we no longer see the mania for tempo, nobody is heralding the new age of the wildcat anymore, and the fascination with 12 personnel, 21 personnel, or whatever the hell else the Patriots happened to be running in some prior year isn’t dominating the discussion these days—but Pepperidge Farm remembers and certain pieces and concepts from those fads are still in use.

Every good idea might not be for everyone, though. Not every team can or should run the same plays. Not every team has the personnel to run the same pass concepts because they have different receivers, different quarterbacks, different coaches, and so on. These are all obvious statements. Let’s get to a particular concept the Detroit Lions have been using, which is a three-man snag route combination (usually but not always) from a bunch grouping of receivers in the formation.

Detroit COPs a Snag

From the bunch formation, the traditional triangle read snag route combination looks like the following diagram snippet from the 2014 San Francisco 49ers playbook:

The receivers release into their routes in order of depth. Whoever is running the vertical stem into the corner route goes first, which would be the Y receiver above. The second route is what sometimes gets labeled for some reason in a lot of offensive schemes as the “arrow” being run by the Z receiver above. That route goes four to six yards deep and settles down in open space if possible, sometimes drifting a bit away from a defender if they want to get open. The third receiver in the order of when they pass through the area is the F receiver running out to the flat.

In many schemes, the progression is flat to corner to snag, looking for free yards on the quick outlet. If there is man coverage or a linebacker mirroring the running back or F receiver in this bunch, they may get picked by the Z receiver’s snag. Against zone coverage, this combination has built-in Cover 2 beaters (corner-flat) and against Cover 3 we should be able to hit either the flat or the snag on the horizontal stretch. This is a “good against everything” combination if it is run right.

The Lions run this combination, but also have changed it a little at the top in games by converting the corner to a post. It seems like either there is a play call tag to force the post route (which we will see in a bit on the Week 2 touchdown) or a COP (corner or post) option such as the touchdown near the end of the first half in Arizona.

Week 3 at ARI, 2Q (0:35). First-and-10 at the Arizona 15.

The Lions come out with 11 personnel and initially have 33 HB Kerryon Johnson in the backfield with Stafford. Johnson shifts out to be the inside of a bunch set to the left with 80 WR Danny Amendola as the outside setback receiver. Golladay runs the stem first, then Amendola on the snag, and Johnson last to the flat.

As Golladay pushes past the second level, he has two defenders to the outside and nobody in the middle of the field. It makes sense that he would rather run to where there are no defenders, so it would be nice if there really was a corner or post option that he’s acting on. In any case, Stafford throws it up where only Golladay can get it (still kind of high, but okay) for the touchdown. The coverage at the bottom is an interesting side note: the Cardinals were in zone and played the snag and flat pretty well. The outside defender switched off Amendola onto Johnson and passed the snag to the inside man.

Week 2 at GBY, 1Q (0:08). Third-and-Goal at the Green Bay 4.

Near the end of the first half in Week 2 at Green Bay, we have the Lions on third down running the snag combo from a bunch set to the right side of the formation. Hockenson runs the post, then Jones on the snag, and finally Amendola to the flat.

In the snag progression, Hockenson gets a little tangled up with 58 LB Christian Kirksey, and drives him backwards and off-balance as he makes the cut at the top of the stem (orange box in the middle panel). Interestingly, Hockenson gave a head fake to the corner and went to the post, which makes it seem even more like the vertical runner has some leeway to do stuff at the top of the route (almost like a New England Patriots Viper route).

On the snag by Jones, we can see the natural pick that occurs. 24 S Raven Greene is on Amendola in the slot and tries to follow him outside, but Jones is in the way (pink box in top panel). When we settle at the end of the routes, Hockenson is covered and both defensive backs on the outside jumped Amendola’s route. What makes the touchdown possible is Hockenson interfering with Kirksey just enough for Stafford to rifle it in low to Jones at the goal line.

Snag doesn’t need to be Bunch

Now, the Lions run this particular combination from more than just the edge bunch formation we’ve shown above. As long as there are three route runners to one side of the formation, they can be in any arrangement and still run the entire combination. The difference is that there may be fewer rub opportunities, but at least the entire triangle stretch is intact.

Week 2 at GBY, 1Q (3:19). Third-and-2 at the Detroit 47.

The fun twist on this play is that the Lions came to the line of scrimmage with a bunch formation to the left, then sent Amendola in motion to re-set on the right outside of Hockenson. Instead of running snag to the bunch side, they rebalanced to a 2x2 formation and ran it with the running back to the short side of the field.

If fans don’t remember this pass play, it’s because Stafford never threw the ball. Once he saw the flat and snag were covered, Stafford pulled the ball down and ran for the first down. It’s almost too bad he did that because Hockenson to the corner was open for the turkey hole shot you want against Cover 2 with the smash vertical part of the triangle in snag.

Here’s the thing

Now, this all sort of sounds cool on paper, right? There are vertical and horizontal stretch elements, the bunch set tight to the formation allows for more space to work and for there to be possible indecision on the part of defensive backs, maybe even a rub opportunity or two. If only we execute it well, it ought to be unstoppable.

Week 1 CHI, 4Q (1:54). First-and-10 at the Detroit 25.

That’s Marvin Jones unable to get free on the vertical part of this non-bunch example at the two-minute warning in Week 1. Stafford was tackled for a gain of 1 yard.

Week 4 NOR, 4Q (4:31). Second-and-10 at the New Orleans 14.

During the attempted fourth quarter comeback against the Saints, this is Marvin Jones on the snag, D’Andre Swift in the flat, and Jesse James unable to get free on the vertical from a non-bunch motion set.

Week 3 at ARI, 4Q (7:35). Third-and-Goal at the Arizona 8.

Fourth quarter of a road game down by a field goal, on the left side the Lions go bunch... something. I can’t even tell what this is supposed to be. Stafford goes down for a 9-yard loss and the Lions settle for a field goal to tie the game.

Week 2 at GBY, 3Q (8:37). First-and-10 at the Detroit 5.

Oh hey, would you look at that? I almost forgot that play was also the corner snag combo from a motion bunch set. Kind of wild how the protection slid away from the blitz; maybe just a great call by the defense, but Stafford had no chance here backed up in his own end zone.

(See also the Week 3 corner to James in the end zone from the first article of this series - it was a non-bunch snag combo).

According to Dave Birkett at the Detroit Free Press, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said footwork was a problem on the interceptions in Weeks 2 and 4:

In Week 2, he did not square his feet before throwing an interception out of his own end zone that was returned for a touchdown. He also threw an interception in Week 4, when he tried to force a pass into double coverage, that was overturned by penalty.

Stafford’s turnovers against both the Saints and Packers were reminiscent of off-balance throws he often completed early in his career.

Week 4 NOR, 4Q (4:44). First-and-10 at the New Orleans 19.

Note that the linebacker Anzalone gives Swift a pretty good shove, so it’s not clear if Swift was going to float outwards on the snag anyway. This is a little deeper that the regular combo is run, but I swear this looks really familiar, guys.

Balance? Stafford looks like he has a pretty good base and ample time to set. If anything, he’s waiting for the route and this is just a slow progression/read as he’s waiting for Golladay to break. That gives the back side high safety time to get depth.

Amendola was covered and Swift was covered in the big traffic jam near Golladay’s break. Golladay had someone over his right side so the corner was a bad choice and he took the post. Not sure Stafford had anywhere to go with the ball on the three-man combination here, and he never makes it to Jones on the back side. “Your feet is what gets you through your progressions, gets you through the play.” I don’t know, it just really looks like he’s locked in and there’s something wrong with how fast the Lions execute the play compared to the defense’s reaction speed. Maybe if this was a more comfortable play and read, he’d have extended the play and found a back side check coming open?

All right, look. Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Danny Amendola, and T.J. Hockenson are good players. Matthew Stafford is a good veteran quarterback. I think at a certain point we just have to accept that certain kinds of plays are simply not their cup of tea and perhaps it would be better to stop and try something else instead. Even the successful examples of the play call are nothing to write home about. Not since the days of Jim Bob Cooter’s motion WR tight into a full house run up the middle have I so desperately wanted the team to remove a part of the base offense.

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