5 Scheme Adjustments the Detroit Lions Should Consider in 2012
It seems like the more NFL teams stay the same, the more they change.
The Detroit Lions may fit this description perfectly next season. Most of their offseason has been concerned with bringing their players on board long term, and there have been few, if any, major changes to the team.
No major roster changes, no coaching changes, no quarterback drama, and quite possibly no changes to offensive or defensive schemes.
Or so it would seem, but coaches are always refining their schemes to reflect what does and doesn't work and the talent on the team.
After all, when Gunther Cunningham joined the team in 2009, he talked about blitzing as much as 40 percent of the time. Some three years later, he decided he didn't see the need to blitz hardly at all.
Why the change? He simply altered his scheme to match the talent he had on the team. New circumstances arose, and the Lions adapted.
There may not be a whole bunch of new personnel on the team, but there is a considerable amount of game film showing what didn't work last year. Here are a few tweaks we might see the Lions make to fix that in 2012.
Play a Little Less Wide-Nine
I get that the Detroit Lions are all about rushing the passer.
That's a good thing, and I don't want to see much of a departure from that. Today's NFL demands that you get pressure on the quarterback to win.
But lost in the Lions' late-season pass-stopping woes is the fact that they lost several of their games early in the season to teams that were able to run it down the Lions' throats.
Part of the reason for this is the wide-nine. While the scheme certainly allows excellent angles to the quarterback, a simple run up the middle all but neutralizes both edge rushers, leaving two defensive tackles to cover three gaps. And since neither tackle is Vince Wilfork, that often doesn't happen.
The Lions have great interior linemen, but the closest thing they have to a two-gap tackle is Corey Williams, and he...isn't. The Lions employ mostly one-gap tackles who specialize at shooting into the backfield, and teams with consistent running games have been able to use this scheme against the Lions, putting a lot of pressure on linebackers to make open-field tackles.
I'm still in favor of the wide-nine in general, but it would probably be beneficial if the Lions could tighten up the spacing between linemen on rushing downs. If the Lions defensive ends aren't expected to be skilled enough to bring pressure from the traditional seven position once in a while, then the Lions may as well just start drafting rush linebackers to play DE.
More Snaps from Under Center
I realize that the Lions are a passing team, and they need to give time to their quarterback to pass the ball.
And I realize that the offensive line, while it takes more criticism than it deserves, is not as effective as the scheme makes them look.
But the Lions took only 32.2 percent of their offensive snaps from under center last year according to MLive.com, and while perfect offensive balance is overrated, the fact remains that it's tough to run from the shotgun.
Now, the Lions run a pretty effective offense from the shotgun, but nobody is going to deny they had a difficult time running the ball. When Stafford took snaps from under center, the offense often seemed more fluid.
Even Stafford seemed like he had a better feel for things after dropping back.
Of course, it's hard to argue with a 5,000-yard season from Stafford, but the last thing the Lions want is for opposing defenses to adjust to the scheme and start keying in on the shotgun. It isn't like the Lions can counter with draw plays; the interior line isn't good enough at holding the point of attack.
More run plays (and offensive snaps in general) from under center could help bring more balance to the Lions offense, but more importantly, it could help keep opposing defenses off-balance.
Prioritize Eliminating the Short-Passing Game
If you factor out the last two games of the season, in which it seemed like anybody could launch the football down the field and earn a completion, the Lions did a mostly decent job of keeping plays in front of them last season.
Very few quarterbacks effectively went deep on the Lions defense, partially because of an effective pass rush.
The long-pass plays opponents got from the Lions were more often catch-and-runs within a few yards from scrimmage.
In fact, the Packers made a living off the short-passing game. They completed countless timing routes to receivers firing off the line, and the Lions never did find a way to neutralize that.
And while there are worse things than giving up passing yards to the Packers, it seemed like every team in the league was able to complete a seven-yard pass down the middle of the field last year.
I'm not saying the Lions need to allow the deep ball, but in games where they're getting yardage chunked away from them, they might tighten up a bit on the wings.
More Passes to Wide Receivers
Let me say, first of all, that I have a lot of respect for Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler, and they should remain big parts of the Lions passing game for a good long while.
With that said, I do not want Pettigrew to have the second-most receptions on the team again. The receivers on the team have to be good enough at getting open and giving Stafford better options than "Megatron or dump-off."
To the Lions' credit, they are certainly moving in the right direction, and have been adding solid receiving targets each year since drafting Stafford. With Ryan Broyles in the fold, they have a four-receiver set that opposing teams should fear.
So those receivers need to step up and be stars themselves. Though Nate Burleson is talented and Titus Young is developing fast, Calvin Johnson still doesn't truly have his "Johnnie Morton"; the secondary receiver with the talent to be a game-breaker when the true No. 1 is blanketed in double coverage.
It's nothing against Pettigrew; he plays an important role and he plays it well. But it would be beneficial for the Lions if Stafford showed some more trust in his other receivers and started filling up those route trees. There's a good chance a completed pass to any receiver is going to have more explosive potential than a pass to Pettigrew.
Run the Ball to Run Play-Action
As I mentioned earlier, I could honestly care less about play-calling balance. What I care about is the Lions keeping defenses off-balance.
A great way to keep defenses guessing is to run a play-action pass...unless your team never runs the ball effectively and takes two-thirds of its snaps from the shotgun.
Then defenses laugh and run straight at the quarterback.
The Lions actually didn't run a lot of play-action last season, though. They couldn't—nobody was buying the run fake.
And when the Lions did run the ball, it was either ineffective or some kind of gadget reverse. There was no push up the middle, so even if the Lions did run the ball, there was no reason for opposing defenses to fear or game plan for it.
Now, whatever kind of run game the Lions might be able to conjure up in 2012 would be great, but it is truly of secondary importance. What is really going to help the Lions offense is if the run game is enough of a threat to create misdirection on a run fake.
If the Lions can do that, and maybe figure out a way to bleed out the clock with a lead, the offense will benefit greatly.