Detroit Lions playoff chances in the hands of their defense

12/08/2020
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Believe it or not, the Detroit Lions are one game out of a wildcard playoff berth in the NFC playoffs. I’m writing these words for my heart to be broken next week, probably. In the meantime, let’s have some fun because it’s not fun being miserable watching football.

Before this past week, it felt as if the Detroit Lions locker room was miserable.

After beating the Chicago Bears 34-30 on Sunday, the Lions were all smiles in their post game press conference. So much so, that Matthew Stafford even joked about his interception to Bilal Nichols on his sidearm throw.

At that point in the game, it felt as if the Lions were done. It felt as if the Bears were going to run out the clock and send the Lions back to Detroit with their eighth loss of the season. Instead, the Lions scored quickly and the game was in the hands of their defense with just over two minutes left in the game. Most of the day, they had been shredded by David Montgomery and Allen Robinson. For the closing minutes of the game, they found a way to keep it together as a defense and made some of the most important stops of the season. Let’s jump into the film and take a look at what the Lions did to close out the game against the Bears!

Everson Griffen spin for the sack 

Before we get into some of the big defensive plays to end the game, let’s look at the play that got the Lions the ball back with enough time to get down the field to make it a one score game. It’s the play where Griffen spins on Charles Leno to come up with a big sack on third down.

For the Bears, they came out in 11 personnel (one running back and one tight end) with a trips right formation. It was third-and-4 and all day, Robinson was eating the Lions secondary up. Meanwhile, Anthony Miller and Darnell Mooney were finding success over the middle of the field and creating some yards after the catch. Being at midfield, the Bears just needed to get the first down and they probably would have been able to seal this game up for the win.

Defensively, the Lions give a Cover 1 look on defense. They’ve got their corners in man coverage and Duron Harmon (safety #26) is the single high safety in the middle of the field. As the Lions do a great job in man coverage, they’re finally able to generate some pressure on their pass rush with Griffen. Aligned across from Leno (LT #72), Griffen sets on his rush outside. His initial punch is set on the outside shoulder and this forces Leno to slightly turn his shoulder to stop the rush outside.

In the process, Griffen uses his momentum to spin inside and he quickly closes to Trubisky for the sack. Believe it or not, this was the Lions first sack of the game and it came at one of the most crucial moments of the game. This gave the Lions just under five minutes to try and quickly score a touchdown and that’s exactly what they did.

Romeo Okwara forces key turnover 

Maybe I’m just living in the past but it felt as if the Lions defense would have already given up on Matt Patricia at this point in the game. Their defense seemed gassed but somehow, they made the plays needed to win the game. There was no play bigger for the Lions defense all season or all game than the Romeo Okwara strip sack.

Facing another third-and-4, the Bears just need a first down and they should be able to escape the Lions for the victory. However, Okwara has other plans. On this play, the Bears come out 2×2 and the Lions show another single high safety look with Harmon (safety #26). Don’t get me wrong, the secondary does a nice job here but they’re not the main focus of this play. We need to focus on Okwara (#95) aligned at left end.

Matched up across from Okwara is Bears right tackle Germain Ifedi (#74). Once the ball is snapped, Trubisky takes his three step drop and as he gets into his third step, he looks to be preparing to throw the ball but Okwara reaches in swipes the ball free. Aside from forcing the fumble, watch how Okwara uses some speed-to-power to defeat Ifedi and get into the backfield. This was Okwara’s seventh sack of the season and was without question, the biggest play of the season for this Detroit Lions defense.

Kevin Strong key stop to end the game 

Want a feel good story? How about a practice squad player getting a chance to make a play on a crucial fourth down? Kevin Strong is that story and he makes that exact play. On a fourth-and-1, it all felt like the Bears were sure to get the first down and keep their drive alive. The Lions defense makes another key stop and this one was to end the game.

When watching the Lions front-7, I’ve noticed a lot of hesitation from their defense. Much of this must be that they want to limit mistakes and don’t want to get caught being out of position. But it leads to a lot of players taking poor angles to the football and missed tackles. On the play above, it didn’t look as there was much hesitation from the Lions and to be honest, there shouldn’t be any hesitation. Watch the middle linebacker run right up in the middle of the offensive line and force the center to miss his block at the second level.

Most importantly, watch Kevin Strong (DT #92) aligned in a 2i-technique on the right guard. Despite the guard crossing his face, he does a great job swimming over the guard and throughout the entire rep, he keeps his pad level low. This puts him in position to wrap up Montgomery and force the Bears to be inches short of the first down. Meanwhile, this leads to the Lions getting the ball back and winning a must-win game to keep their season and playoff hopes alive.

The Lions playoff chances rest in the hands of their defense

For the entire game against the Bears, the Lions gave up 389 total yards. It sounds like a lot because it is. However, they made adjustments and kept it together on defense to hold the Bears offense to only 136 total yards in the second half.

Not only did their defensive line make some of the best stops all day, their secondary made some key adjustments as well. For example, Justin Coleman missed two key tackles at the end of the first half and was in coverage against Anthony Miller during a 19-yard reception for the first down. During the Bears first drive of the second half, Coleman made back-to-back tackles to hold the Bears to only 7 total yards gained on those two plays.

Those little things continued to carry over throughout the rest of the second half as you can tell by the plays above. But the Lions defense can’t take another step backward. They have to continue with this win and try to play some of their best football during the final month of the season. It won’t be easy as they have to play the Packers next week and follow it up against a Titans football team that can run it better than just about anyone in the NFL. Meanwhile, they have to end the season against a red hot Minnesota Vikings football team that has won five out-of-their last six games.

We all know the Lions offense can put up points. Whenever the ball is in the hands of Stafford, the Lions can score. But the rest of this season and the Lions chances of making the playoffs rests in the hands of their defense. On the season, they’re one of the worst units in football and at times, it shows. But if they’re able to make plays like they did against the Bears to end the game, there’s plenty of hope for Detroit.

National Scout for Cover 1. Host of Cover 1 | The NFL Draft Podcast. NFL Draft Enthusiast. X's and O's. Heard on ESPN Radio, FOX Sports Radio and CBS Sports Radio.

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