Breaking Down the Lions Last Drive against the Cowboys

The very much publicized last minute heroics of Matthew Stafford has been shown a number of times and was even NFL Replay’s game of the night last night. But what exactly happened on that last drive that left Kris Durham wide open and Calvin Johnson what may have looked like an easy catch to take him down to the one yard line?

Let’s set the stage. The score is Dallas 27-Detroit 24. Dallas has 1st and 10 from the Lions 31 yard line with 1:24 remaining and the Lions have 2 timeouts remaining.  Play #1 is a hand off to the running back Joseph Randle that loses 3 yards and takes 5 seconds off the clock. Timemout #2 of the half for the Lions. Play #2 is another hand off for -1 yard that takes another 5 seconds off. Timeout #3 of the half. On 3rd and 14 from the 35 the Cowboys hand the ball off again and gain 9 yards and the clock should be running down to ~29 seconds after the play clock to setup at 4th and 5 from the Lions 26. Well there is a holding penalty on the play, that the Lions intelligently decline and not give the Cowboys a chance at another play to take time off AND the penalty stops the clock. Easy decline. So instead of 40 seconds running off the clock is now stuck at 1:07. Jason Garrett decides to kick an intermediate field goal of 44 yards to go up 6 and force the Lions to score a TD to win the game.

Now onto kicking the field goal. It’s 4th and 5 in a game in which your defense has given up well over 500 yards of offense before the Lions go into their last drive(Where they gain another 79 pass yards and 1 yard rushing on the Stafford TD sneak). The Cowboys offense had sputtered all day but in the 4th Quarter their WR’s had shown life with Terence Williams and Dez Bryant making two very big plays to score TD’s. And overall the Cowboys offense has been quite impressive all season. So on 4th and 5 from the 26 yard line, kicking the field goal seemed to be a losing decision. I don’t have a statistic to back it up but it also seems that teams that are down 3 with very little time remaining tend to play for the field goal instead of going for the TD, so it might even be worse forcing a team that has moved the ball at will against you to only play for the TD instead of having the field goal to tie. The main point remains, over 500 yards of offense have been given up and Calvin Johnson is having a historical day, kicking a field goal to go up 6 was the decision that lost the game for the Cowboys.

Field Goal is good and on the kickoff no time is used as the kickoff goes out of end zone. The drive starts at 1:02 from their own 20 yardline:

Onto Stafford’s drive:

1st and 10 @Detroit 20 1:02 remaining:


Here it is, empty set with Pettigrew and Bush at wings. Durham at the bottom of the screen and we have our trips to the top with the wing player. Our two wing players will be chipping the Dallas defensive ends in hope to give Stafford an extra second in the pocket to throw and after the chip they will be running out routes towards the sideline. The WR’s are positioned to be running fade or stop routes depending on how the defense is playing.

Onto the defense, this is the Monte Kiffin cover 2. The safeties are our deep players while our corners are going to be trailing the WR’s playing the trail technique I’ve gone over in the past. It’s just a technique that the over the top pass and underneath pass is all taken care of and any underthrow is immediately at risk of being a turnover. Our linebackers are just dropping back to their intermediate zones which each has a third of the field to cover.


On play #1 everything is covered very well. So Stafford decides to check down to Reggie Bush, putting the ball into a playmakers hand in hopes he can do something. It’s not a bad idea early on.


Bush unfortunately does not gain a yard. The play ends up costing the Lions 6 seconds but Bush was able to get out of bounds so no other damage is taken from the play.

2nd and 10 @Detroit 20 0:56 remaining


OK we see the same formation from both teams. Cover 2 from Dallas and empty from the Lions with our 2 wings that will chip. I’ve circled Calvin Johnson who is the recipient of the pass on this play. His corner is playing off and will push Calvin towards the middle of the field where his safety is and away from the clock stopping out of bounds.


So we’ve moved up a bit here. Calvin ran his stop route under the corner and as open. Stafford was forced to move a little bit and gains 17 yards on the play but the clock is moving. I’ve highlighted Pettigrew as he is wide open and has a chance to get to the sidelines. He most likely gets to where Calvin is and a chance to stop the clock. Unlike on the other side with Bush the Corner has completely jumped to Calvin while on the other side the Corner has an eye on Bush. But do notice Durham at the bottom as well. Forcing the ball here seemed to be a mistake with the chance to stop the clock.


But maybe we shouldn’t be too critical of that mistake. Here is the pass protection, notice 99 getting chipped on the defensive left.


He has swung around in a stunt and knowing the plays will be going downfield the Cowboys do know that they have a bit more time to get to the QB than normal. And a sack is devastating so running this kind of stunt is likely a low risk/high reward type play.


The pressure forces Stafford to step between his RT and RG and throw a little off balance pass to Calvin. He never really had a chance to go through his progressions and missed his wide open player on the right hand side of the field.

The next play was a spike so we move forward to:

2nd and 10 @Detroit 37 0:42 Remaining


Ok the now famous Kris Durham play down the sidelines. Well I’ve highlighted the 4 important people in this route. Durham knows how the CB has been playing based off of the past 2 plays. The CBs are not letting the WRs outside release so Durham knows he has to go through the inside hip of the CB. The weak spot of all cover 2 is between the CB and the safety towards the sideline as the safety can’t get over, the LB is usually out of position and the CB is playing trail technique.

Note Durhams route, slightly inside due to how the CB is playing and then once he is up on the CB he cuts it outside.


Ok here Durham is now up on the CB. He has taken his inside release and has kept the CB’s hands off of him. The safety is in backpedal and not committing to a receiver yet. The LB is in space and also not committing to anything quite yet.


Durham is now going towards the sideline and Stafford has read this the same as Durham. the CB is in his trail, the Safety still going backwards as is the LB with no commitment from either.


Well here is the point of reception. The CB is still in his trail but with a perfectly thrown ball he should have rallied better but did not and Durham has an easy catch. The safety is far too slow on his reaction and is completely out of position for the pass but does get the tackle, albeit out of bounds. The LB isn’t really expected to do much on this play unless he has a great instinctive play here. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, that doesn’t happen.


Here is the end zone cam to see the protection. Again we are getting chips from our wing players.


The Pettigrew chip actually pushed the DE inside and under the RT, sometimes an unfortunate risk of chip blocking if the OT is setting up outside. So we are likely to see pressure coming at Stafford from underneath him.


Fortunately Stafford moves over a little bit and the DE gets washed down, who you see in front of Stafford is the guard and defensive tackle. So he has to shuffle his feet a little bit but the protection is more than good enough for Stafford to set his feet and throw an accurate pass downfield. The Cowboys DL has gotten one positive play and forced a throw to the middle of the field. When they needed them to come up big the Cowboys DL without Ware was really unable to win the game.

The completion to Durham was for 40 yards and stops the clock.

1st and 10 @Dallas 23 0:33 remaining


Alright here is Calvin’s catch down to the 1 yard line. I circled Calvin with his CB who again will be in a trail technique. The biggest differences we see in this play. Lions have come out with a down TE, Reggie Bush in the backfield and Calvin in the slot. The defense has adjusted to a single high safety. They are showing a blitz and potentially sending 5 guys. With Bush in the backfield this could put him in a bind to either chip and go for a route or stay in and block completely. There are pros and cons for both. Bush chips but could lead to a rusher getting to Stafford or Bush not getting out for a route could lead to Stafford not having an outlet pass if the defense covers well.

Calvin again is going for his Fade/Stop route where he is going to take the outside release on the CB covering him and either stop under the safety or continue the route if the safety isn’t rolling quick enough. I’ve highlighted the LB and our friend safety Jakar Hamilton, a rookie out of South Carolina State.


Calvin has gotten his outside release and the safety has begun to roll. The LB is on Pettigrew so no inside pass is available. Durham and Bush seem well covered ad the bottom as well. And our receiver at the top has been blanketed too. Honestly at this point with a rolling safety there does not seem to be an open pass. But if you notice, Stafford is about to complete his throwing motion…pretty incredible from Stafford here to throw open Calvin.


The ball has been released and every receiver is shadowed fairly well with a safety rolling. Calvin’s route has taken him away from that single high safety though so it’s a longer run distance for Hamilton that it normally would be if Calvin took a straighter downfield route.


Here is the catch. The window Stafford had was very tiny. The safety wasn’t too far off and our CB was in a very nice trail technique but again, did not rally to the pass once he recognized a well thrown ball. Hamilton gets another tackle, this time he and Brandon Carr take Calvin down at the 1 yard line.


Here is our protection. Pettigrew gets a clean release with no chip this time and Bush is looking to chip and run a route. Our LB that was potentially showing pressure is just in man coverage with Bush.


Despite the Cowboys trying to disguise some pressure yet again their defensive line gets no pressure. And this time Stafford actually doesn’t have to move at all and without any pressure is able to fit the difficult pass to Calvin. Had the Cowboys gotten a single one on one victory in this series it could have changed the entire game.

This takes us to the last play of the drive.

1st and 1 @Dallas 1 0:14 Remaining


Stafford has been calling for a kill call which is to spike the ball. Trying to hurry his offensive linemen down field. This is our pre-snap look.


Just after the snap we see it’s a pretty lax play. The OL does give a step forward and wedge inside which is fairly usual. The only Dallas player really pushing his is is #96 who may have been going to ground in case there was a fumbled snap of sorts and also doesn’t give up any ground forward. Unfortunately Stafford isn’t trying to squeeze through which the best QB Sneak, Tom Brady, would do. Instead Stafford jumps over and gets in quite easily. A gutsy play. One thats quite risky cause had 97 or a LB just been a little more awake and swatted that ball out of Stafford’s hands as he began to reach out the media narrative would probably be one of Stafford not giving Calvin Johnson a chance to win the game with 4 passes to him and one of the worst decisions we have ever seen.

But as is it could be yet another defining moment for Stafford who has had a couple of these it seems(remember this? I was very critical of the Lions signing Stafford to a long term deal when he was still under contract for a number of years. I understood that it was mostly for cap purposes but I am very weary of adding a QB for years when you still control him and are not getting a discount. But, seeing how Stafford has been playing this year, if he becomes a bit more accurate, he has a chance to vault towards the top two tiers of quarterbacks in the NFL. It’s been a very impressive season from him.

Oh one more thing about that last Lions play….

With who was in the backfield how come the sneak wasn’t assumed?


Instead, this time, Reggie decided just to:


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