The Detroit Lions were down six points with roughly five minutes remaining in the game and were driving the football. On second-and-10 at the Rams’ 12-yard line, the Lions dialed up a play to get the ball in T.J. Hockenson’s hands in the end zone.
They were confident in the play. In fact, they had worked on it all week in preparation for this type of situation. They felt they were in a good spot to take the lead with a score and were willing to be aggressive to try and get it.
Unfortunately, the Rams’ superstars were up to the task and their two biggest defensive players stepped up to thwart the Lions' efforts.
“(Aaron Donald) made a great play,” Lions quarterback Jared Goff said. “So did Jalen (Ramsey). Those two guys are the best at their position for a reason, and they made a great play on us. If I had to do it again, I’d probably throw it out of the endzone. That was the look we wanted, that was the play we wanted, and unfortunately, we’ve got to hit on it.”
Here’s the play the Lions dialed up.
The Lions came out in 13 personnel (one running back and three tight ends), with all three tight ends lined up inline off the right tackle. Darren Fells was the most interior and he ran a drag route across the short area of the field. Next to him, Brock Wright ran a post that was designed to draw the attention of the single-high safety, pulling him towards the middle of the field and, in theory, away from Hockenson. Hockenson was lined up furthest outside and ran a similar post route to Wright, and with Ramsey in off coverage on the outside, Goff was targeting Hockenson on the inside where the safety should have vacated the area.
Here’s a look at the play from the television feed:
The first issue the Lions ran into was Donald getting inside penetration on Lions' left guard Jonah Jackson (who had a pretty solid day defending Donald up until this play). Once Donald gets the inside track to Goff, his explosiveness shortens the clock and Goff has to make the throw early.
Enter the next issue. Ramsey was sitting back in off coverage, and when he saw the ball come out early, he was able to break on it before Hockenson turned to locate it. By the time Hockenson did turn, Ramsey was already in front of him and making the interception.
So why make this throw when the pocket is collapsing and you have to speed up the play? Coach Dan Campbell explained his reasoning.
“Well, you’re trusting your player,” Campbell said. “That’s Hockenson. That’s one of our best players. It’s something we worked on during the week, and shoot, man, we wanted to rip in it there. Let’s let our guys go make a play. Otherwise, if you don’t, then Donald’s coming and it’s a sack.”
Donald did deliver a quarterback hit on Goff and it very well could’ve been a sack if he held the ball half a second longer. But the play design called for Goff to “rip it in there” and that’s what he did. And per Campbell, It was the right decision.
“I would blame that more on me for (play) design,” Campbell continued. “Don’t blame that on him.”
It was a good play design, and Goff apparently did what was asked of him. But it was second down and it wouldn’t have been the worst idea to throw it away or take the sack to live another play. But this is part of what you get with an aggressive coaching staff. There are going to be days when it works, Goff and Hockenson are the heroes, and the Lions win. And there will also be days like today.