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Detroit Lions film breakdown: Brian Branch is a baller

Breaking down the all-22 of the Detroit Lions’ win over the Falcons, including a revitalized pass rush and Brian Branch’s breakout performance.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

It may be too early in the 2023 NFL season for a statement win, but hear me out. Coming off of what was a deflating Week 2 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the Detroit Lions found themselves back at a raucous Ford Field—hosting the then 2-0 Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta was riding high after two weeks, having won both of their home games to start the season, beating the Carolina Panthers, followed by the Green Bay Packers.

However, due to the Lions’ aforementioned loss to the Seahawks, the Falcons ran into a sharp and hungry team. Atlanta’s high flying offense could never get into any kind of rhythm, and the Lions offense made enough plays to secure a comfortable 20-6 win for Detroit.

There were several standouts throughout the course of the Lions’ Week 3 victory, and I will be moving through this game in chronological order. Once again, to avoid redundant language, each video being referenced in this article will be directly under its accompanying paragraph.

Atlanta second offensive series

After three weeks, we finally got to see the Lions’ pass rush really come to life. Everyone got in on the action, and the first person to join the sack-party isn’t one of the frequent attendees.

Lined up as a one-technique on the center’s left shoulder, Lions’ defensive tackle Benito Jones (number 94) is off the ball in a flash, engaging with center Drew Dalman. Before All-Pro right guard Chris Lindstrom can reach Jones to get another body on the defensive tackle, Jones executes a perfect swim move, splitting the gap between Dalman and Lindstrom. Falcons’ quarterback Desmond Ridder has nowhere to run, and on only the second series for Atlanta—the Lions defense has their first sack of the afternoon.

Atlanta third offensive series

On this rep, I wanted to highlight how sound the Lions’ front seven was against Atlanta. The Falcons boast a young and explosive offense, so the job the Lions did at bottling up so many potent playmakers should not be understated. This is the same Falcons team that racked up 211 yards on the ground in their Week 2 win over the Packers. A week later against the Lions? Twenty carries for a grand total of 44 yards, and it was because of plays like the one below.

For most of the afternoon, Lions’ defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn flooded the box against the Falcons with an extra defender. This time he opted for a five-man front with veteran edge rushers Charles Harris and Romeo Okwara on the outside. Behind the line, linebackers Alex Anzalone and Malcolm Rodriguez were joined by rookie defensive back Brian Branch for a total of eight players up near the line of scrimmage.

The Falcons tried their best to combat a lot of the stacked boxes from Detroit by using a lot of 12 and 13 personnel groupings (one running back and two to three tight ends), but time and time again, the Lions’ were sound in their run fits. On this particular rep, both tackles do an excellent job. Jones squeezes the gap as best as he can, and third-year defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike does a good job of occupying the double team and not getting uprooted out of his gap.

Atlanta third offensive series

On the same series, Branch began to make his presence felt in what was a huge afternoon for the former University of Alabama standout.

Here he is up near the line of scrimmage again, stacked outside of defensive end Aidan Hutchinson. As soon as the ball is snapped and Branch realizes it’s a run, he teleports into the Atlanta backfield—stopping rookie running back Bijan Robinson for his first of what would be three tackles for loss on the day.

Atlanta third offensive series

In the final highlight from Atlanta’s third series with the football, another young Lions defensive back makes a play in the backfield—third-year Ifeatu Melifonwu.

Melifonwu is down in the box, with the Lions’ showing a man-to-man look pre-snap to combat the Falcons’ 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers). The motion forces a switch between cornerback Jerry Jacobs and safety Tracy Walker. On the other side of the bunch, Falcons’ head coach Arthur Smith schemes up a nice design, with tight end Jonnu Smith blocking for a moment, before turning and releasing into the flat for a screen pass from Ridder.

Melifonwu recognizes what is happening in front of him and is on Smith in an instant, easily evading the block of tackle Jake Matthews. Another excellent play from the defense.

Detroit third offensive series

Offensively, it wasn’t the cleanest or most efficient day for the Lions’ offense, but they did enough to get the win.

After coming away with a field goal on their second offensive possession, the offense needed a jolt to get things going. And they certainly got that, this time in the form of a 45-yard touchdown reception from rookie tight end Sam LaPorta.

The play fake to running back Jahmyr Gibbs and the movement by the offensive line stretch things one way towards the top of the field, while all other routes besides LaPorta’s break towards the bottom of your screen. From there, LaPorta’s feet and headfake get the safety to overcommit, and Goff delivers a perfect ball.

Timing wise, the offense really needed a chunk play. Driving the ball down the field systematically is all well and good, but having that quick-strike ability as an offense is huge.

Atlanta fourth offensive series

After the LaPorta score, the Falcons are back in 11 personnel on first down. Branch is once again down near the line of scrimmage. Ridder motions Smith tight into the formation, leaving tight end Kyle Pitts alone near the bottom of your screen.

The Lions are in zone, and as soon as Smith runs past Branch down the hash, Branch knows he has to get out to Pitts in case he runs a route near the boundary. Branch immediately turns, sprints to find Pitts, locates him using his left hand, and gets his head around to find the football to make a play. Can we appreciate how high that man climbed the ladder?

Atlanta fifth offensive series

A wrinkle I really enjoyed against the Falcons was utilizing players like linebackers Derrick Barnes and Jack Campbell on the edge at times. Barnes began as an edge rusher at Purdue before making the switch to off-ball linebacker, and it shows on this rep.

Working against right tackle Kaleb McGary, Barnes uses his quick-twitch athleticism to get off the ball in an instant. As he bends the edge, Barnes works a nice chop-move against McGary, swatting his hands away from the linebacker. The pressure hurries Ridder, who short-arms the checkdown pass to Robinson on third down, forcing an Atlanta punt.

Atlanta seventh offensive series

Fast forwarding a little later in the second half, the Falcons have moved the ball to the Lions’ side of the 50. And similar to earlier in the article, we have another bounce-back play from Branch.

The play prior to this, Falcons’ running back Tyler Allgeier broke several tackle attempts, including Branch’s. This time, Branch wasn’t having any of that. Branch darts behind Matthews before the tackle even realizes what has happened, and executes a perfect form-tackle on Allgeier. I don’t know about you, but this warmed my football soul.

Atlanta ninth offensive series

Veteran edge rusher Charles Harris gets the sack here, but this one was textbook in terms of rushing as a team. Atlanta motions number 40 towards Harris, but Harris easily wins the outside shoulder. It looks as though Ridder notices the blindside pressure at the last second, but because of the effort of both defensive tackles Alim McNeill and Benito Jones, the pocket is compressed, leaving the Falcons quarterback with nowhere to escape even if he did have the time.

Detroit 10th offensive series

Jumping forward to later in the fourth quarter, the Lions’ are in need of a drive that burns the clock and ends in points. And even on a day in which he wasn’t at his best in terms of run-blocking, your best bet will always be to run behind third-year tackle Penei Sewell.

Just watch what he and left guard Jonah Jackson do to the left side of the Falcons’ defensive line here. Number 90 David Onyemata is essentially erased out of his gap and pancaked by Sewell, while Jackson manages to get a piece of linebacker Kaden Elliss as well, resulting in a first down for Gibbs.

Atlanta 11th offensive series

On the Falcons’ 11th offensive possession, the day ended similarly to how it began—with Brian Branch blowing up a play in the Atlanta backfield.

On his third tackle for loss, Branch was in the nickel and seemed to immediately diagnose what Atlanta was attempting to do with Pitts. Pre-snap, Ridder motioned Pitts from the top of your screen towards the bottom on a designed swing-pass into the flat. And once again, Branch was having none of it, knifing his way under the block of Robinson on his way to his third tackle for loss of the game.

Atlanta 12th offensive series

With the Falcons in desperation mode, the Lions’ pass rushers could really pin their ears back and get after Ridder. Lined up inside and standing up, Hutchinson is a massive mismatch for the majority of interior offensive linemen in the league.

I love how he strings multiple techniques together on this rep to get the strip-sack on Ridder. He works his bull, transitions to a long-arm with his right arm, and finishes with a mean rip with his left hand. All of this and he still has the presence of mind to jump on the football. Excellent work by Hutchinson to allow the Lions to finish the game in my favorite formation of them all—victory formation.

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