We started to see it in the Minnesota game. We saw more of it in the Dallas and Chicago games. We saw a steady diet of it in the San Francisco game. Tight end trap blocking. The 49ers killed the Lions running the football between the tackles.
What makes TE trap blocking so effective against the Detroit Lions? TE trap blocks attack penetrating defensive interior linemen from the side. This frees up interior offensive linemen to attack linebackers in the gaps created by Detroit’s defensive tackles.
The Lions defense depends upon penetration up front on every play. Penetration by defensive tackles is the disruptive heart of the Lions defensive scheme. It’s simple, yet effective against pass happy NFC North teams, where the Lions like to feast on QBs.
But, what about run heavy offenses like the Niners and the Falcons? We have to assume that Atlanta will use a heavy dose of TE trap blocks to spring RB Michael Turner, who gashed the Panthers for 139 yards on 27 carries.
By contrast, Matt Ryan had only 22 pass attempts versus Turner’s 27 rushing attempts last week.
Taming the Tight End Trap
The Lions have to assume that TE trap blocks are going to be featured in the run heavy Atlanta game plan. What adjustments will be needed to force Atlanta to throw the ball?
First, the Lions will have to get away from the “wide nine” positioning of the defensive ends. Playing the wide nine is fine for rushing the QB and controlling the run on the edge. However, every time a TE pulls, the DE finds himself out of the play.
If the DEs squeeze the seven gaps (the outside shoulder of the TE), they can read and react to the TE trap block more effectively. If the TE pulls, the faster of Detroit’s DEs, Cliff Avril and Willie Young, should be able to meet the RB before he hits the hole.
Second, the over aggressiveness of Detroit’s DTs needs to be checked on all run, or run/pass snaps. By setting a static defense at the line of scrimmage, a trapping TE has no blocking assignment until he gets to the point of attack.
Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams, Nick Fairley, Sammie Hill and Andre Fluellen have the strength to take on multiple blocks and clog the running lanes.
This, in turn, allows the linebackers additional freedom to clean up.
If the Lions can gain control of the line of scrimmage, Atlanta will be forced into a passing game that it cannot sustain against the Lions pass rush.
In any event, the Lions have to be more effective against the run. Being ranked 25th in run defense is not the recipe for playoff contention or a championship.