An inside look at the sideline adjustment process

Posted Oct 16, 2013

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and quarterback Matthew Stafford talk about what goes into making adjustments on the sideline and in the locker room at halftime

After every offensive series, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford trades in his helmet for a baseball cap and finds himself a nice spot on bench next to offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

The pre- and post-snap pictures from the previous series find the way from the printer into their hands (unless you're in Washington) and the two brain trusts of the Lions high-potent offense go to work deciphering what's happening on the field.

It's an important process in every game, but it's particularly essential from week-to-week on the Lions sideline, especially early in the game, because the Lions rarely get looks they see on film because of Calvin Johnson and some of the other personnel they employ.

It's those early adjustments, and the ones made at halftime, that is usually the key to the game for the Lions offensively.

Last week, Cleveland showed them some man defense looks they hadn't played in any of their previous five games. But that's become the norm for Linehan and Stafford and it's the chess game that goes on within every football game.

"You anticipate things could be different," Linehan said. "The game plan isn't going to stay the same. (The Browns) were radically different, we knew it was part of their capability, but they were quite different in their first five games than (what we saw Sunday)."

The Lions immediately began to adjust on the fly, according to Linehan.

"It takes a few series," he said. "The game is going pretty fast. I don't think people realize how fast it goes. You've got to decipher all of this information in between the series looking at the pictures and you're saying, 'Okay, it looks like they ran that same blitz but they played man behind it. It was a zone blitz (on film). They played man behind it. They're trying to say, 'we're going to put guys up in close coverage against you guys and see if you can beat man coverage and not give you an easy zone or a free access route or something like that.'

"It takes a couple series to kind of say, 'Okay, this is what they're doing.'"

Matthew Stafford and Scott LinehanQB Matthew Stafford and Scott Linehan. (Photo: G. Smith/Detroit Lions)

The adjustments Linehan and Stafford then make are all within the framework of the scheme.

"It's not like we're over there going, "Oh, here, this is a play we've never run before, let's try this,'" Stafford said of the thought process on the sideline. "It's usually like, ‘okay, let's run this motion and run this play out of it that we ran all training camp.' It's basically plays that are plays for us, but it's just a different way to show them or a different way to run them.

"It's not draw it up in the dirt, you run this squiggly line and you run this squiggly line and we have a play. There's a lot that goes into it, but the communication is the most important part and that's where we're strong right now."

It's not just up to Linehan and Stafford to figure it out, either.

"It's (Curtis) Modkins, it's Shaun Hill, it's guys that have been around this league for a long time that see things that can make adjustments and make suggestions," Stafford said. "Sometimes we say, ‘No, you're crazy' and sometimes we say, ‘that might work, let's try this.' But it's within the framework of our offense."

The Lions had six offensive series in the first half last week in Clevaland. They scored on one and punted on the other five.

In the second half, however, they countered the Browns man looks by changing their run looks, attacking them more through the air and utilizing mismatches vs. their linebackers.

"We knew at halftime there was going to be a lot of changes made with what we were practicing against during the week," Linehan said.

"Linebackers are generally going to be a part of covering running backs, so, if you play man, that's got be something you've got to do."

After not being targeted in the passing game at all in the first half, Lions running back Reggie Bush was targeted on the very first play of the second half (a ball he dropped) and then later in the drive for an 18-yard touchdown on a play he easily beat Browns linebacker Craig Robertson in the middle of the field.

All told, Bush was targeted six times in the second half and caught five for 57 yards and a score. He finished with 135 total yards and 121 came in the second half.

Detroit outscored Cleveland 24-0 in the second half.

"A lot of the things we did in the second half were reactionary to how they were trying to do defend our run game," Linehan said. "You build some tendencies as a team and so you see things different from defenses based on that. That's the cat and mouse game every team goes through and there's some nice adjustments that I thought the players and out staff did as far as changing up some of the run looks."

All that success in the second half, according to both Linehan and Stafford, was built on the adjustments that begin after the first couple series on the sideline.

"I take a look at the pictures and talk to people that are out there," Stafford said. "The pictures don't tell you everything. You get a pre-snap or a post-snap and that's it. Sometimes it's a second-and-a-half after the picture or a second before the picture that you remember seeing something that looks different than it does on the picture.

"Sometimes you go into a game and you run plays and you're like, ‘Yup, that's exactly what we saw on film.' A lot of times, when we play them, it's a lot different.

"Like I said, there's a lot of communication that goes on. We may want to change something in the run game and I'm not the only guy that has to know the adjustment. The offensive line, the tight ends, the receivers, the running back, everybody has to be on the same page and that's where communication comes in. I think that's where we are at this point in the season, we're doing a good job of that and it's enabling us to make some plays.

"We came out in the second half trying to prove something and we were successful in doing it."

The adjustments only work if the quarterback, the coordinator and everyone else involved are on the same page.

"He gets it," Linehan said of Stafford. "Very bright. Knows immediately that changes are made and anticipates it. We talked about it and he was ready to go at halftime."