Five minutes into the Detroit Lions Week 3 game with the Baltimore Ravens, the Lions attempted a trick play. The result was an ugly botched halfback throw that fortunately resulted in an incompletion.
Live, the play looked disastrous. But the All-22 shows the play actually was drawn up with clever intentions, just executed poorly.
Let’s set the table.
With just over 10 minutes remaining in the first quarter, a Jamaal Williams first down run sets the Lions up in a second-and-6 from the Lions logo at midfield. This is an ideal spot for a trick play because of the down and distance, placement on the field, and it’s early enough in the game to catch the Ravens’ defense off guard.
On the play, the Lions keep their same personnel on the field, save swapping out Williams for D’Andre Swift (No. 32). They come out in a standard offensive line formation with T.J. Hockenson (No. 88) lined up inline on the left side of the line, receivers Kalif Raymond (No. 11) and Quintez Cephus (No. 87) on the right side of the formation, with fullback Jason Cabinda (No. 45) level with quarterback Jared Goff (No. 16), and Swift set up three and a half yards behind him.
Pre-snap, left tackle Penei Sewell (No. 58) shifts across the formation and assumes the tight end spot outside the right tackle, overloading the right side, leaving Hockenson to shift into the left tackle spot.
The concept here is the Lions are telling the Ravens defense that they’re running heavy right to the overloaded side, and at the snap, that’s exactly what they do with a Goff pitch to Swift.
Now for the trick.
As the play moves to the right, the Lions move three players into key positions. Hockenson pretends to miss a block and intentionally falls to the ground. Cephus chips a pass rusher, releases, and runs a drag route on the heels of the defensive line. Goff makes the pitch to Swift and drops back and to the left seven yards.
Once the Lions are in their spots, Swift is supposed to get outside the hash marks, spot, and throw the ball back to Goff. In theory, Goff should now be looking at two options in front of him: first, Cephus dragging across the formation and ideally drawing the safety down, and second, Hockenson when he gets up and gets behind the safety for the deep ball—which is the preferred big gain.
In the screengrab below, you can see the safety is indeed keying on Cephus, looking past Hockenson's attempt at an Academy Award.
But, this is also where the problems start on the right side. Raymond’s assignment (circled in red below) is to block Ravens’ safety Chuck Clark, but he misses and puts Cabinda in a bad spot. Cabinda (orange circle) has to stop his forward momentum and try to get outside to get to Clark before he gets to the spot Swift is headed to (outside the hash).
At this point, the play is unfolding on the left side perfectly. The safety identifies and bites on Cephus, Hockenson is getting up to begin his route, and Swift thinks, despite the pressure in his face, that he can still get the pass back to Goff.
The problem: Cabinda gets to Clark late, the angle is off, and he can only get a glancing block on him, which is ineffective.
Clark manages to get by both blocking attempts by the Lions and hits Swift’s arm during his throw. In a stroke of luck for the Lions, Clark connects with Swift before he can turn his body all the way around and the ball is thrown forward, resulting in an incompletion.
It’s fortunate the Lions were able to escape this play with only a lost down, but as we see in the screengrab below, they got the look they wanted on the left side. The safety is late to react to Hockenson and he has to abandon his coverage of Cephus—leaving both open for Goff if the play was blocked properly and he had gotten the ball back.
In the end, a missed block by Raymond was the catalyst for this breakdown, but it’s hard to put this entirely on him. Setting the edge block is vital to this play working and coaches are asking a 5-foot-8, 182-pound receiver to hold that spot. That’s a tough ask. Maybe they could have had Raymond and Cephus switch roles as Cephus matches up better with Clark and is a better blocker. Or even better, they could have substituted Darren Fells for the job.
While we may never see this exact play call again from offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn—now that it’s on film for the rest of the league to prepare for—the creativity is encouraging.
Furthermore, because this is a simple correctable mistake, it could lead to the Lions attempting more trick plays in the future, or at a minimum, making teams prepare for the chance they may try it again—which could lead to positive long-term results.