Detroit Lions: Takeaways from the Lions' 31-30 Win over Dallas
In one of the most exciting games since the last time these two teams met, the Detroit Lions eked out an amazing 31-30 win. Matthew Stafford sneaked across the goal line with 12 seconds left to culminate a last-minute comeback.
With the thrilling victory, Detroit improves to 5-3 and stays in the thick of the NFC playoff race. The Cowboys fall to 4-4 but still lead the NFC East.
Detroit carries all this positive momentum into a bye week, where the walking wounded can get some much-needed rest. The Lions return to action in Week 10 at Chicago, which is 4-3 and on its bye this week.
Here are my initial takeaways from the win over Dallas.
All statistics are from ESPN unless otherwise noted.
Everything Can Change in an Instant
Allow me to take you through the final few moments of this game at my home.
My son and I were forlorn after the Cowboys forced an incompletion on fourth down and took over with 1:24 remaining in the game. It appeared as if it was all over.
Even when the Lions defense held strong and judiciously used timeouts to preserve as much time as possible, the mood remained decidedly bleak. As Dan Bailey knocked home the 44-yard field goal to stretch the lead to 30-24, I was already contemplating how to frame such a devastating loss.
It still looked grim when Reggie Bush couldn't gain a yard on the first play after the touchback. The heart rate perked up a bit when Calvin Johnson made a nice catch over the middle. It really started thumping when Stafford hit Kris Durham down the left sideline with a perfect strike to get the Lions in position to reasonably consider a touchdown.
Johnson's subsequent reception, taking the ball to just outside the goal line, had us jumping up and down and nervously awaiting the next call.
When Stafford fooled everyone and reached the nose of the ball over the line for a touchdown, we both leaped as high as we ever have before. I hit my head on the ceiling in my basement and I didn't even care. I could hear my neighbor let out a loud, joyous bellow, and I'm sure we were not alone.
Instead of writing a "what could have been" game story as I wallowed in a depressed sullenness, I now get to write in joy and exaltation of a heart-stopping victory. This is why we love sports!
The Slow Starts Continue for the Offense
The Lions have not scored on their initial drive all season. Here's a look at the first Detroit drive from each game so far.
This week’s first drive resulted in three plays for three yards. To add insult to injury, right guard Larry Warford was flagged for illegal procedure before the first play.
Going forward, this needs to be a point of emphasis in the bye week. This is especially important because Jim Schwartz likes to take the ball first when given the option. If the Lions want to ease some late-game pressure and drama, focusing on starting quicker is a good place to start.
Brandon Carr Cannot Handle Calvin Johnson
I like Cowboys corner Brandon Carr, I really do. He’s a talented player and one of the better cover men in the entire league.
Yet Calvin Johnson owned the former Grand Valley State Laker. On the 87-yard catch-and-run, Carr had no help inside, and Megatron simply ran away from him. He got no help on the early touchdown reception, and Johnson easily got open inside Carr.
Johnson had one of the most prolific receiving days in NFL history. He broke the team records for receptions (14) and receiving yardage (329). Johnson wound up just seven yards shy of Flipper Anderson's NFL record for most receiving yards in a game.
On first watch, it appeared Carr was heavily involved in coverage on every single catch. I still think Brandon Carr is a good corner, but he was no match for Calvin Johnson.
Turnovers Are Deadly
One of the reasons why the Lions have been successful early in the season has been their protection of the ball. Detroit had just eight giveaways in the first seven games.
That ball security went out the window against Dallas. Four Detroit turnovers really cost the Lions dearly. Even though the Lions moved the ball almost at will against the Dallas defense, the Cowboys came up with takeaways to keep points off the board.
The turnovers came in many forms. There was a tipped pass for an interception by Sean Lee, which the linebacker followed up with an exceptional read and reaction to pick off Stafford for the second turnover.
In the second half, Reggie Bush coughed up the ball while trying to stiff-arm a defender...with the arm in which he held the ball. Calvin Johnson fumbled after a catch when he took a big hit from safety Barry Church.
It's exceedingly rare for teams to overcome so many turnovers. According to the Fox broadcast, teams are now 2-54 since 2011 when minus-four or worse in turnover margin. Amazingly, the Lions are one of the two.
Micheal Spurlock’s Days Are Numbered
The return specialist was a healthy scratch against Dallas. With the bye week looming, that does not portend well for Spurlock. His lack of productivity has been a thorn in the Lions' paw all season.
For those wondering, #Lions ranked 21st in PR average and 24th in KR average with Spurlock on the field— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) October 27, 2013
Jeremy Ross returned kicks in his stead, while Ryan Broyles lined up as the punt returner before leaving with injury. Both of those players offer more at wide receiver than Spurlock.
Ross was on the field for several plays, and he was the intended receiver on the second Sean Lee interception. In the third quarter, he caught a nice slant to convert a first down.
Yet here is the real kiss of death for Spurlock:
Jeremy Ross with a 44-yard kickoff return on his first attempt. #DALvsDET— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) October 27, 2013
Spurlock brought no value as a wideout. He has not been targeted once as a receiver this season. Since he also offers negligible value as a return man, it appears his days in Detroit are numbered.
Creativity Reigned on Defense
After struggling to generate any sort of pressure last week, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham broke form with his scheme.
On the first drive alone, Detroit pulled out several stops. On one play, the Lions used a three-man front. On another, Ndamukong Suh lined up as the right defensive end. One play earlier, he lined up as a straight 0-technique nose tackle.
Bill Bentley blitzed out of the slot early on, which was quite effective against the run. On more than one occasion, linebacker DeAndre Levy lined up as an extra defensive end.
Some of the creativity was a byproduct of all the injuries. Suh played end several times in part because Ziggy Ansah left the game with an ankle injury. On a play where Louis Delmas was out, Stephen Tulloch lined up wide in coverage while Glover Quin played in man coverage on Terrance Williams.
It was nice to see Cunningham break character and mix up the defensive looks. It was also quite effective; holding an explosive offense like Dallas to 4.8 yards per play and 268 total yards is quite impressive.
Perhaps the Lions have seen the light of being less predictable on defense. It's certainly something to build upon heading into the bye week. The next game is against Chicago, an opponent that has already seen the standard Detroit defense.
Joseph Fauria’s Blocking Needs a Lot of Work
Lions fans have been quite excited with Joseph Fauria's contributions as a receiver so far. The undrafted rookie tight end has produced five touchdowns in his first seven games.
That sort of productivity begged the question, "Why aren't we seeing more of Fauria?"
Today provided a very valid answer. His blocking is atrocious.
I tweeted this on the first interception of the game.
The QB hit on Stafford on the INT was on Fauria, who was real soft on the edge. Waddle was fine. #Lions— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) October 27, 2013
On the very next drive, Dave Birkett from the Detroit Free Press noted more issues with Fauria's blocking.
Fauria missed a block there. His guy got off the ground to make the tackle.— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) October 27, 2013
Some of his struggling stems from simply being so tall and trying to block defenders who are several inches shorter. But his technique and anchor strength are both sorely lacking. The former can be addressed over the bye week. The latter needs to be his top offseason priority. Only then will Joseph Fauria become a more integral part of the Lions' attack.
The Offensive Line Played Very Well
There was, rightfully, a lot of concern about the Detroit offensive line heading into this game. Starting tackles Riley Reiff and Corey Hilliard were both questionable with injuries, while nominal starting right tackle Jason Fox was still recovering from a groin issue, which had kept him out for weeks.
Reiff wound up playing at left tackle, and he played pretty well. The pleasant development of the game was the play of right tackle LaAdrian Waddle. In his first career start, the undrafted rookie from Texas Tech handled veteran end George Selvie adeptly.
Selvie got one hit on Stafford but was largely invisible during the game. He only recorded one tackle in the early box score from ESPN.
Waddle was guilty on the one Dallas sack when he failed to pick up Jason Hatcher on a pretty outside twist move. Hatcher looped from his inside tackle position clear around the right end and planted Stafford late in the fourth quarter.
Yet on the day, Waddle did nothing to curb my enthusiasm for his future potential. The Lions plucked a future starter at offensive tackle from the college free-agent pool. That future might even come as soon as now; Waddle has been better than Hilliard in pass protection in his limited duty.
This was also an excellent game for left guard Rob Sims. As I noted in the fourth quarter:
It will get lost on the day, but Rob Sims is destroying Dallas today. He crushed Sean Lee on the Bell TD, had a couple other pancakes.— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) October 27, 2013
The Dallas defensive line has been decimated with injuries, but nonetheless, the Detroit offensive line paved the way for a 623-yard offensive output. That doesn't happen without great line play.