A look at fourth-down decision making in 2014 highlights Sean Payton, Marc Trestman, and... wait, this can't be right... Jim Caldwell? Plus: Chip Kelly may be less aggressive than you think he is.
22 Oct 2012
by Andy Benoit
The Lions offense has scored just 50 points in their first, second, and third quarters this year. They've scored 73 points in the fourth quarter. Why the difference? One explanation could be their commitment to the run game. They make a commitment in the first three quarters, but not in the fourth, where lately they’ve been playing from behind. The Lions are a shotgun-based offense that lacks athleticism along the front line and a wiggling, agile tailback who can operate in short space. In other words: they’re not built to spread and run. They don’t find their rhythm that way. Last season the Lions threw 66.8 percent of the time and posted 29.6 points per game. This season, they’ve thrown 63.4 percent of the time and are averaging 25.2 points per game. That may seem like a minor difference, but keep in mind that the Lions aren’t adding on extra running plays to protect late leads the way they were last year.
It’s not only the play-calling, though. Matthew Stafford and his receivers haven’t been as crisp. A few inconsistencies in mechanics have compromised Stafford’s accuracy at times, and he’s also forced some throws into coverage downfield. Even the forced balls to Calvin Johnson often haven’t worked, as defenses have contained Detroit with two-deep safety looks.
Two-deep coverages are something the Bears, of course, are known for. Their defense has been bolstered by improvements from safety Major Wright and cornerback Tim Jennings, as well as better depth and variety along the defensive line. First-round rookie Shea McClellin has been the dynamic outside speed-rusher that the front office and coaching staff expected. Henry Melton has emerged as one of the game’s most explosive one-gap shooters. His ability to win one-on-one matchups inside and outside has made it easier for Julius Peppers to align all over the front line. The Bears do as good a job as any team in football at creating favorable one-on-one pass-rushing matchups for their defensive linemen. Expect them to go after right guard Stephen Peterman Monday Night.
We think of Detroit as a vanilla Cover-2 defense that relies on its four-man pass rush. Lately, though, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham has been more diverse in his third-down play-calling. The Lions have a 3-3-5 sub-package that features Ndamukong Suh inside and blitzers from the second and third levels. They also have packages that have Suh or ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril (who, by the way, is one of the most underrated athletes in football) stand up as jokers prior to the snap. Chicago’s propensity for pass protection breakdowns should encourage Cunningham to get creative Monday night.
The return of safety Louis Delmas from a knee injury should also help. The fourth-year player looked solid as a box-safety in his season debut at Philadelphia last week. Most likely, he’ll drop back near centerfield more as the season unfolds. Delmas infuses Detroit’s secondary with some much-needed speed, which lends the group more freedom to be aggressive. The Lions play extremely fast in the box, but as an 11-man unit, they’ve been too susceptible to methodical rushing attacks in 2012.
The Bears have a sustainable ground game as long as Matt Forte is healthy, but what’s obviously propelled their offense is the addition of wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Mike Tice has done a great job constructing one-on-one scenarios for Marshall in the slot. Being a zone team that’s razor-thin at cornerback, the Lions may be inclined to take their chances and give speedy linebackers DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch significant help-coverage responsibility against whoever lines up inside. If that’s the case, all Jay Cutler will need is tolerable pass protection and the self-discipline to unload the ball off a three-step drop. That sounds easy, but often it hasn't been for Cutler.
14 comments, Last at 23 Oct 2012, 3:58pm by LionInAZ