We have talked about it a bunch throughout the first eight games of the 2023 season. How the Detroit Lions have won games in a bunch of different fashions, and in their Week 10 matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers, the now 7-2 Lions found yet another way to get it done—winning 41-38 in Inglewood.
Coming off of their bye week, the Lions arrived in California rested and healthy—and man, did they need all of it. The Chargers, led by quarterback Justin Herbert and Pro-Bowl wide receiver Keenan Allen, are playing some good football right now. When clicking, their offense can keep pace with anyone, and despite allowing 41 points to the Lions in Week 10, their defense is stocked with playmakers at every level.
And in spite of all of that, the Lions’ offense was still able to rack up 533 total yards, as well as dominate the line of scrimmage. Per ESPN, Lions’ quarterback Jared Goff was only hit twice throughout the course of the afternoon, and running backs David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs had a ton of room to run nearly every time they toted the rock.
Let’s get into the All-22 film of the Lions’ offensive performance against the Chargers and specifically, how the offensive line was able to impose their will against a really talented Los Angeles front.
Second-and-1 on the Detroit 34. 12:56 left in the first quarter
To me, this play was a sign of things to come for the Lions’ offense. On their second play of their first offensive series, Goff was under center, with Montgomery behind him and two tight ends outside of left tackle Taylor Decker.
Pre-snap, tight end Brock Wright is sent in motion to the right of the offensive line, and serves as a lead blocker for Montgomery after he receives the toss from Goff. Conceptually, this looks like outside zone that the Lions are running, and it is blocked to near-perfection. Just look at the screen grab below. If you want to talk about resetting the line of scrimmage as an offensive line, this is what coaches are talking about.
The Chargers’ defensive front is moved off of the ball, giving Montgomery ample room to make a decision on where he wants to go. Right guard Graham Glasgow and right tackle Penei Sewell do an excellent job of uprooting 51 of the Chargers, while left guard Jonah Jackson and center Frank Ragnow are simultaneously moving 99 off of his spot.
It was only an 8-yard gain, but for both the Lions offense and the Chargers defense—it was a sign of things to come.
Second-and-5 on the Los Angeles 47. 5:33 left in the first quarter
Later in the first quarter, the Lions are on the Chargers’ side of the 50-yard line and on the move. Operating under center with Gibbs behind Goff as the single back, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson has his unit in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end).
Pre-snap, tight end Brock Wright is sent in motion towards the top of your screen, and along with Sewell, acts as as lead blocker for Gibbs as the rookie back turns the corner. On the play-side, wide receiver Josh Reynolds and tight end Sam LaPorta get a good block on 45 Tuli Tuipulotu of the Chargers. allowing both Sewell and Wright to pick up blocks of their own.
Sewell relocates Murray Jr., leaving just Chargers’ safety Alohi Gilman to make the tackle on Gibbs in space. Gibbs puts a nasty move on Gilman, leaving the defender grasping for air, while safety Derwin James is able to get Gibbs on the ground before any more damage can be done.
Once again, because of how well the Lions have blocked this, extra stress is being put on the Chargers’ linebackers and safeties, and this would go on to be a theme of the entire afternoon.
First-and-10 on the Los Angeles 36. 4:54 left in the first quarter
On the very next snap, the Lions went back to the well, this time for a 35-yard run by Gibbs, and, once again, just look at how much room the Lions’ offensive line is generating immediately after the ball is snapped.
Keep an eye on 98 Austin Johnson of the Chargers, lined up directly over Ragnow. Ragnow gets him on the move, and when Jackson latches onto the block as well—Johnson gets driven back to nearly the first down marker before he is able to even somewhat anchor.
On the right side, both Glasgow and Sewell do an excellent job of sealing off their assignments, giving Gibbs options as he works his way upfield. He uses his speed to cut back to the opposite side of the field, where he almost wins a foot race to the pylon—despite the defender having an angle on him.
I love runs like this from Gibbs and Montgomery because it is almost like a reward for the offensive line. Yes, the concept was blocked to near-perfection, but backs like Gibbs can get even more out of a run than most because of his elite speed and agility.
Fourth-and-Goal on the Los Angeles 1. 7:30 left in the second quarter
A lot of the time, football can be a really complex, nuanced game. However, it can also be as simple as my guy is better than your guy. And to me, that is what this was.
Up to this point, the Lions offense had been making it a point to run behind both Sewell and Glasgow. The Chargers stack the line of scrimmage, with 51 Sebastian Joseph-Day lined up on the inside shoulder of Sewell. Once snapped, Sewell fires off the ball, engaging Joseph-Day and extending his arms.
Sewell turns Joseph-Day away from the hole, which causes a bit of a pile up. Glasgow wins his assignment, and Wright gets just enough of James for Gibbs to punch this one in. Nothing really fancy about this one. Just some good, old fashioned, bully ball by the Lions.
First-and-10 on the Detroit 25. 3:07 left in the first quarter
Remember at the end of 2022 when Ben Johnson talked about how the Lions needed to turn some of these 7 and 8-yard gains the Lions had last year into bigger chunks in 2023?
As I mentioned earlier, when a play is blocked this well, it is almost a disservice to an offensive line to only pick up what is blocked. And on this 75-yard house call by Montgomery, everything is clicking.
Watch left guard Jonah Jackson here. His assignment is lined up on his right shoulder, and since this play is a designed outside zone, Jackson needs to get off the ball and get between the defender and the back. Once snapped, he does just that and ends up washing the defender down the line of scrimmage, opening up a huge cutback lane for Montgomery.
As Montgomery cuts it up, Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown gets a block on Derwin James, and Montgomery is off to the races. Lastly, receiver Jameson Williams does a great job of ensuring this play ends in a score. He uses his world-class speed to catch up to the back, and gets a block on the final defender that has a chance to make the stop.
Just watch how excited he is once he realizes his teammate is going to score. What a beautiful sight.
Second-and-7 on the Los Angeles 49. 13:53 left in the third quarter
When he was drafted out of the University of Iowa, there was plenty of chatter about how tight end Sam LaPorta was a competent blocker on top of being a really good pass-catcher. However, I am sure you won’t blame me if I was a bit reluctant to believe that. After all, we had heard that about Iowa tight ends from the past.
With that said, I have been ready to make this declaration. LaPorta isn’t just a competent blocker. He is damn good, both as a run-blocker and as a pass-blocker. And because he is a good blocker, it helps Ben Johnson better disguise what he is doing offensively.
Throughout the course of the afternoon, the Lions had used motion with tight ends as a way to have an extra lead blocker when they decided to run the ball. But in this instance, LaPorta is sent in motion to block Chargers’ edge rusher Joey Bosa—not a typical assignment for a rookie tight end.
After a playfake to Gibbs toward the weakside, Goff is able to set his feet, scan the field, and find St. Brown breaking towards the boundary for a first down conversion.
The offensive line has been elite this year. Make no mistake about it, but the Lions’ offense only clicks like this if everyone buys into blocking. That includes receivers, tight ends, and running backs.
Fourth-and-2 on the Los Angeles 26. 1:47 left in the first quarter
(1:47 - 4th) (Shotgun) J.Goff pass short left to S.LaPorta to LAC 20 for 6 yards
I won’t lie—I loved this call by Lions’ coach Dan Campbell, but man, was I nervous. Fourth-down with two to go, and if you convert—you can essentially bleed the clock down to zero before attempting what would end up being the game-winning kick by Riley Patterson.
On the most crucial play of the afternoon, Bosa was lined up outside of Sewell, hoping to get a good rush on Goff in an effort to give the ball back to Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles offense. But sadly for Bosa, Sewell shut it all the way down.
Bosa attempts to engage, but Sewell shoots his hands perfectly, latching onto Bosa’s breastplate. One thing that has really improved with Sewell from 2022 to 2023 is his hand placement and the unison between his hands and his feet. The screenshot below shows the third-year tackle with almost perfect technique as he engages with Bosa.
The veteran edge rusher tries his best to swim under Sewell and bend the corner, but Sewell’s grip was tighter than a lid on a pickle jar (if you get that reference, you are both old and cool in my eyes), allowing him to execute a snatch-and-trap technique that ends with him laying on top of Bosa.
LaPorta does a great job of finding a soft spot in the Chargers’ zone and moves the chains on what would be the biggest first-down conversion of the afternoon for the Lions’ offense.
I know he has only been in the NFL for not even three whole years, but at this point—I feel really comfortable in saying this. Penei Sewell is an elite tackle in this league, and will be for the foreseeable future.