Coordinator Cut-Ups: Lions have to learn how to piece together long drives

Posted Oct 2, 2012

Teams aren’t going to let the Lions push the ball down the field until they prove they can put together long drives and make their run game a weapon.

The Lions have run 296 offensive plays in four games this season. Can you guess how many of those plays have been against man coverage?

If you said five, you’d be right, according to offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

That’s less than two percent of the time the Lions see man coverage. This is a copycat league and it’s safe to say opponents have a very clear plan of attack against the Lions offense. They are going to play their safeties deep and play zone coverage in front of them.

So how do the Lions counter it?

“We’ve got to adjust so we’re going to have to score touchdowns on multiple-play drives, like double-digit drives,” Linehan told this week.

“I think we’ve had maybe five snaps of any kind of man coverage. I’m not excluding two-man, which, to me, it’s a zone – man-under with two deep safeties. But we’ve had maybe five snaps in four games of man coverage – any kind of man coverage. We didn’t have one snap the week before; we had two snaps this last game and maybe a handful in the first two. We’re going to have to have the ability to execute multiple-play, double-digit drives and score touchdowns.”

Through the first four games last season – all victories – the Lions had 21 plays of 20-plus yards and seven plays of 30 or more yards.

Through the first four games this season – three of those losses – they have 17 plays of 20-plus yards but only three of the 30-yard variety.

Teams aren’t going to let the Lions push the ball down the field until they prove they can put together long drives and make their run game a weapon.

Linehan said Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has done a good job so far this season of choosing when to take his shots and when to try and drive the offense.

“Even from Week 1, I think he’s done a wonderful job of being patient and, even in this last game, he took the shots that he needed to take. We missed on a couple of them, but I thought they were good throws and he was going in the right place,” Linehan said.

“He’s just got to keep doing what he’s doing and when we execute better as an offense, we’ll be able to keep some drives alive by executing some things better, by running the ball better – a lot of things factor in. By doing that, his ability to get us in the end zone will continue to improve.”

Stafford has just three touchdown passes through the first four games. He had 11 through the first four games last season.

Linehan also spoke to on a number of other topics:

On how the offense changes being outscored 2-1 in the first half:

“We’ve got to turn field goals into touchdowns the first half. Not a lot of teams probably, if you look at it, aren’t scoring as much as they do certain quarters or as games go on because there’s a little feeling-out period that goes on with teams. We’ve scored twice now in the first drive – field goals in the last two weeks. We’ve scored on the opening drive twice. We just need touchdowns. We have to embrace the fact that field goals aren’t enough. If you take out the miscellaneous scores that other teams have had, we’re kind of right there – probably not as big a differential. That doesn’t matter, points are points and we’ve got to produce touchdowns, not field goals, as an offense.”

On how disappointing it was not to be able to run the ball against Minnesota after the efficiency at Tennessee:

“What we’ve got to be able to do is have an efficiency level against that. Some teams are going to play solid against the run like the 49ers do and even Minnesota when they play their defense; their front seven allows them to do that. We played a couple good defenses, too, the last three weeks that have the ability to play that way, but we have to be more efficient.

“The thing last week that was disappointing was the lost-yardage plays. We didn’t have the negative rushes, even against San Francisco and definitely not against Tennessee. I think we had three negative runs that put us in long-yardage situations, which – when you’re calling a run – you’re not expecting to lose any yards. You want to gain, you want to be efficient. If you’re not doing that, don’t lose yards and I think that was the thing that hurt us the most.

"What we’ve got to be able to do during the course of a game and even more so as the season goes on is we’ve got to find that elusive, explosive run. We haven’t got an explosive carry this year. Four games into it, don’t have one. So if you get a couple explosive runs a game just like you do in the passing game, your run game looks a lot different.”

On if that’s really where they’re missing RB Jahvid Best:

“Well, I think we can get it from other areas and Jahvid’s certainly an explosive ball carrier for us and has been, but he’s not out there. So we’ve got to get it from the guys that are playing – Mikel and Joique and Kevin – whoever happens to be in the game, we’ve got to get that and it’s got to be a team thing. Create the hole and then get to the second level and have the second-level blockers blocking them – it’s a team goal that we need to strive to improve.”