FIRST DOWN: DEFENSE GETS IT DONE
As quarterback Matthew Stafford said after the game, he’d prefer to be up three scores with a mouth full of sunflower seeds at the end of the game, but that’s not always how it works in the NFL. Wins are hard to come by, road wins even harder, and for the second straight week, the Detroit Lions’ defense had to make a play down the stretch to preserve a win.
Last week, it was a Darius Slay interception in the end zone with a little more than a minute to play.
Sunday in Philadelphia, it was a complete defensive effort thwarting an Eagles come-from-behind attempt in the final minutes.
After a blocked field goal gave the Eagles the ball at the 50-yard line with 1:39 left and the Lions leading 27-24, safety Tracy Walker broke up a pass on first down intended for Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. Cornerback Mike Ford broke up a pass intended for Eagles wide receiver Mack Hollins on second down. Cornerback Justin Coleman made a nice tackle on Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor on third down to hold him to a 5-yard gain. Philadelphia running back Darren Sproles was called for pass interference on safety Tavon Wilson on 4th and 5, setting up 4th and 15. To complete the effort, Cornerback Rashaan Melvin was in coverage on wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside as quarterback Carson Wentz’ deep pass on 4th and 15 fell incomplete.
“I saw 10 other guys doing their job on the football field and I didn’t want to be the 11th one not doing his job,” Melvin said after the game.
After letting an 18-point fourth-quarter lead slip away Week 1, Detroit’s defense has stepped up and made winning plays the last two weeks in wins against the Chargers and Eagles, two playoff teams last year.
SECOND DOWN: AGNEW'S REDEMPTION
After he was forced to bench his All-Pro kick return man Jamal Agnew last week because of ball security issues and overall ineffectiveness in the return game the first couple weeks, head coach Matt Patricia never lost faith in Agnew. In fact, Patricia had a sneaking suspicion Agnew would find a way to make a play in Philadelphia.
“I just had a feeling something good was going to happen,” Patricia said after the game. “With everything he did, and what he does, his approach, and give him all the credit in the world for putting himself back out there in that situation and man, that was a nice play, right?”
That nice play was a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown on the first kick of the game to Agnew. He also had a nice 24-yard punt return in the fourth quarter.
Even after last week’s benching, Agnew never lost confidence. He came in and worked this week, had a good week of practice, and when his opportunity to redeem himself popped up, Agnew took it.
“I stay confident in the tough times and the good times,” he said. “You can’t stay too high and you can’t stay too low. You can’t ride the roller coaster of emotions. Keep your head up, stay confident, keep rolling.”
THIRD DOWN: SITUATIONAL AWARENESS
Patricia and the Lions were obviously not expecting to have to defend a blocked field goal late in the fourth quarter with the game on the line, but football can be a crazy game sometimes, and that’s exactly the situation Detroit found itself in. Malcolm Jenkins came off the left edge and blocked a Matt Prater 46-yard field goal attempt with 1:53 left in the game and the Lions leading 27-24.
Those are usually frantic moments for players reacting to those plays, but the Lions have practiced that play and the importance of not compounding the problem by letting an opponent return the block for a touchdown.
“It’s (a play) we certainly go over and we cover,” Patricia said. “We do a lot of situational work, depending on the day. We might walk through some situation stuff, maybe not necessarily practice it on full speed, but walkthrough, hey, this is what happens, this is where we go, these are the lanes, this is where everyone overlaps, these are kind of where we have to force the ball. Just all those little details.”
Eagles cornerback Rasul Douglas picked up the blocked kick, but Detroit did a good job tackling him at the Detroit 40-yard line. Frank Ragnow got him on the ground. An illegal block penalty on the return moved Philadelphia back to midfield, and the Lions' defense held from there.
FOURTH DOWN: PATRICIA'S CHALLENGE
Coaches are still trying to figure out how the officials are treating challenges on called and not called pass interference plays.
The situation came up for Patricia to challenge a non-call Sunday.
It was the third quarter, and the Lions were facing a 2nd and 15. Stafford went deep down the middle for wide receiver Danny Amendola. Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham was trying to stay with Amendola as the ball was underthrown by Stafford. Bradham ended up face-guarding Amendola, and impeding his ability to come back for the football. No penalty was called. Patricia challenged.
“It was kind of in front of me,” Patricia said of the play after the game. “The defender didn’t turn around. He pulled a little bit on the jersey. I think they use the impediment of the catch. That’s a little bit of what we were trying to find out in that situation.
“Personally, I think Danny Amendola would catch that ball if someone wasn’t kind of wasn’t right in his face along those lines. I just thought it was a good opportunity for us. I mean it’s a big play.”
Patricia ended up losing the challenge. He and the Lions staff will continue to study the trends we’re seeing across the league when it comes to reversals on pass interference challenges.
View photos from the Detroit Lions at Philadelphia Eagles Week 3 game at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019 in Philadelphia.