I never thought I’d say this, especially this season, but maybe Jim Schwartz should take some tips from Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan.
With less than two minutes to go in the Monday night game against the Giants, the Redskins have a one-point lead and the ball to try and close out the game. On first-and-10, instead of running the ball to try and drain the clock, the play call is a play-action pass by ROOKIE quarterback Robert Griffin III.
First down, game over.
The Lions have a fourth-year franchise quarterback in Matthew Stafford and what do they do with the game on the line? Run the ball…on third-and-five. On a team like the 49ers that can actually move the pile, a decision to run makes a bit more sense. The Lions rarely get any push from their offensive line, and didn’t on that play, resulting in no gain and a punt.
The rest is history.
Why did the Lions run the football? Head coach Jim Schwartz insists it was the correct call because another 40 seconds would run off the clock even if they did not pick up the first down. But with the way the defense had played all game (poorly), not to mention you have the best player on the planet that has been on fire all game in Calvin Johnson, how can you not try and take one shot to win the game?
This decision felt eerily similar to a game two years ago against the Jets that resulted in a 23-20 Lions loss in overtime. With Drew Stanton filling in at quarterback for an injured Stafford, Linehan called for a pass-run option for Stanton to try and get the first with a throw to Jerome Felton in the flat. If the pass was not there, Stanton could try and scramble for the first, and keep the clock running if possible.
Stanton ended up throwing an incomplete pass, giving the Jets more time to kick the eventual game-tying field goal that would ultimately lead to another Lions loss.
The play call was correct, but the execution was wrong. Some may question the decision to put the ball in the hands of a backup quarterback, but Stanton had a simple throw to make and couldn’t do it. In this game against the Colts, you have your franchise quarterback that you trust in that situation to make the correct decision. Put the ball in his hands instead of this offensive line that rarely creates any holes.
This happened in each game of the three-game home stand in which the Lions had the lead and multiple opportunities to step on the opponents throats, but failed to do so. For some reason, even with the best offensive player in the NFL, the Lions get conservative with the lead and leads their eventual undoing.
The staff can give all the explanations they would like as to why this is happening, but since it repeatedly continues to occur, something needs to change in how they execute late-game play calling.
There is a reason you pay guys like Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford so much money. They make plays that can win you football games. Put the trust in them to do that, and reap the benefits.