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Notes: Understanding the Lions’ unique and fun run game

The Athletic’s Nick Baumgardner loves how the Lions are executing their “run anything, from any personnel group, anywhere on the field” attack even better this year.

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Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Athletic’s Nick Baumgardner writes some of the most impressive film articles on the Detroit Lions, so you’ll definitely want to check his newest one that went up early Saturday morning: “How Ben Johnson crafted a Lions run game that’s diverse, unique and a whole lot of fun.”

Everybody knows Ben Johnson is one of the best offensive coordinators in the NFL today, and the Lions have an identity rooted in the run game, but if you want to look under the hood to see what makes that run game go, Baumgardner explains it clearly and in excellent detail.

The co-host (with Chris Burke and Colton Pouncy also of The Athletic) of a Lions-focused podcast named One of These Years, he brings deep Lions-specific knowledge to his football analysis. The payoff for the rest of us Lions fans is that it makes Baumgardner one of the best sets of eyes on NFL tape when it comes to looking at the Lions since he has both the tactical football knowledge and actually knows something about the roster (unlike some national folks who might only know or focus on stars). Baumgardner’s article mentions David Montgomery was a pretty substantial upgrade at running back, but it carefully builds the case that it’s really the offensive line that makes the Lions run game what it is today.

In short, we have a situation where the Lions offense is able to run both zone and gap-blocked plays equally well because their athletic linemen are so good across the board and defenses are stuck trying to guess what they are going to be hit with next. You have athletic pullers like Ragnow and Sewell plus tons of power from those guys, Vaitai, Jackson, etc.

A paragraph that captures the general idea is this:

Not unlike San Francisco or Philadelphia, Detroit’s front can handle just about anybody inside the tackle box while also maintaining the collective athleticism to just destroy people in space. It’s not uncommon for Detroit to root half its game plan around a particular counter run designed to attack the interior, and the other half around an outside zone or sweep series.

Defensively, you’re on alert for literally every type of run in the book — on first, second and third down.

Add to that a whole ton of motion and shifts to make any given concept tough to read tendency-wise and then play-action passes built off the same looks and run action; Ben Johnson simply presents an incredibly tough and complicated scheme for opposing defenses to prepare for.

In his article, Baumgardner describes the work he’s done charting the concepts the Lions run (he lists 16 run play types he’s seen in the first five weeks), and has some fine examples of pin and pull, jet sweep, and the run-pass counter package.

A lot of it boils down to the same kind of stuff that Ted Nguyen (also from The Athletic) talked about last year when he said the Lions were going old-school to attack faster and smaller defenses. They can execute well on complicated gap-blocked plays out of all kinds of personnel and looks because their offensive linemen are so good; Ben Johnson can pick whatever concepts he wants out of the toolbox and his high-end veteran offensive line (Second overall in PFF’s OL unit rankings) can run with it.

We saw earlier this week that former Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky is also a fan of the team’s “diverse” run game. It is a joy to watch the Lions doing this to other teams on a regular basis. If you want to understand how it’s finally happening, head on over to The Athletic and read Baumgardner’s article.

We now proceed to the rest of your weekend Notes:

  • This team is so much fun to follow. German translation from Twitter user maddie (@detrussy):

Here’s the German translation:

How are you progressing and feel to play this sunday?

“Yeah I feel really good. I hurt myself a little last week but I’m feeling good. I’m training again already with the team and been doing everything with them (screaming) and I’m feeling good”

  • The new episode of the One of These Years podcast is also up, with Chris Burke and Colton Pouncy from The Athletic discussing Jared Goff’s contract extension and the team’s hot start. You can listen to the 37-minute audio in a web player on Spotify.

  • Last week at Ford Field’s Crucial Catch game, cancer survivor Sean Mackin from Yellowcard played the national anthem. Turns out we have some video now (hat tip to Eamonn Reynolds from the Lions for reposting)!

  • The Detroit Lions are among the top teams in the league when it comes to getting chunk plays for substantial yards.

  • Benito Jones versus Roary for denim overalls fashion supremacy:

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