Jones Breaks Through
Jason Jones has had a rough stretch with the Detroit Lions so far. He played just two and a half games last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Even before the injury Jones struggled to get any pressure on opposing quarterbacks, recording just two total pressures and zero sacks on 84 defensive snaps.
Jones had a pretty mediocre start to this year as well. Through three games, Jones had just one sack and two QB hurries. Pro Football Focus gave him a -2.8 pass rushing grade for his struggling effort. Things just haven’t been looking too bright for Jason Jones. That is, until he faced off against Geno Smith and the New York Jets.
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Against the Jets, Jones recorded three QB hurries and two QB hits (five total pressures). That equals the amount of total pressures he’s had in his last six regular season games combined.
One of these pressures came on the very first drive of the game where the Jets began to march up the field with ease against the Lions’ front seven.
Jason Jones explodes off of the snap and immediately beats the right tackle on a swim move to the inside and forces Geno Smith to scramble right into a hungry Ndamukong Suh. This would save a touchdown and result in the only score for the Jets in the first half.
If Jones can continue to play as well as he did against the Jets, it would go a long way for the Lions’ front seven.
Teryl Austin’s Brilliance
We’re nearly five weeks into the season now, and the Lions still rank as the top defense in total yards given up. Did anyone seriously see this coming?
Even with the Lions’ top two options at slot corner and starting middle linebacker out for the year, along with having starting strong safety James Ihedigbo out for the first three weeks, the Lions have still found a way to shut opposing offenses down. You can attribute this to the scheme that Teryl Austin is running.
Since he’s arrived, Austin has done a phenomenal job at finding a way to create pressure for the Lions. Compared to former coach Jim Schwartz, we’ve already seen more blitzing, especially on third down. Last year with Schwartz, the Lions blitzed just 18.34 percent of the time, which was the second least in the NFL.
Austin does a great job of mixing in the double “A” gap blitz into their defensive repertoire, whether it’s real or just for show.
NFL Game Rewind
On nearly every third down against the Jets, Tahir Whitehead and DeAndre Levy would line up directly over the “A” gaps (space between the center and guards).
In the play above, the Jets are facing a 3rd-and-7 in their own territory. Geno Smith tries a hard count and Levy reacts by taking a few steps back while Tahir Whitehead stays put in his two-point stance. Smith then points to Whitehead letting his blockers know that he’s going to blitz.
NFL Game Rewind
Once the ball is snapped, Whitehead actually drops back into coverage while Levy is the blitzer. The center is completely caught off guard and lets Levy blow right by him. Luckily for Geno, the running back quickly recognizes this and picks up the block on Levy. Regardless, Geno dumps the ball off short of the first down marker and the Lions get the ball back.
I must say, watching the Lions’ defense under Teryl Austin so far has been a treat. It’s nice to see some variety and unpredictable play calling coming from the defensive side of the ball for once.
Under Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, it seemed to me that Stafford rarely made any pre-snap adjustments. I don’t know if that meant that coaches didn’t trust Stafford, or if he was purposely handcuffed to just running the plays that were given to him.
After just four regular season games, I’ve noticed that the new coaches seem to trust Stafford more than our previous coaches.
With the First Pick
We’ve already heard Stafford use the famous “Kill, kill, kill” terminology when meaning to switch the play pre-snap, but I’ve also noticed a few run/pass option plays called on offense.
Last year, Jim Light broke down Linehan’s packaged play where Stafford would read the defense and either toss the ball to the receiver on a slant if the defense over-committed, or hand it off to the runner on an inside zone. (Thanks to @ToSouthBeach for pointing this out).
Against the Jets, Joe Lombardi had Stafford run a similar play out of “Singleback” formation. Instead of reading the defense post-snap, Stafford has to decide whether to hand the ball off or throw the ball to Tate on a slant judging how the defense is lined up pre-snap.
As you can see on this particular play, the deep safety is over 15 yards away from the line of scrimmage and is creeping towards the middle of the field. Stafford looks to his right and realizes that if Tate creates seperation, he has a chance at some big yardage.
Unfortunately, Stafford rifles the ball into Tate who cannot hold on for the catch.
Stafford has had his ups and downs this year, but I see some improvements in his decision-making. He’s also worked tirelessly on improving his mechanics and it’s clearly paid off. I expect Stafford to continue to improve as the season progresses, and the offense should find some more consistency as they continue to take more and more reps.