FIRST DOWN: TRICK PLAY
When Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell puts a trick play on the call sheet during the week, he better hope it works in practice.
“In practice the players know I have to see it in practice and it has to work the first time,” Lions head coach Matt Patricia said. “Or I won’t take another look at it.”
The trick play that propelled Detroit to a 31-26 win over the Giants Sunday was a pitch to running back J.D. McKissic and a pass back to quarterback Matthew Stafford, which turned into a 41-yard touchdown from Stafford to a wide open Kenny Golladay for the final touchdown for the Lions in the fourth quarter.
The play worked the first time in practice this week, and Patricia said the players were calling for it to be the first play run in the game Sunday. Bevell and Patricia hung on to it for the right moment, however, and it was a perfect call at the right time in the game.
It actually worked twice in practice, according to Stafford.
“That was a good one,” Stafford said after the game. “Great call and obviously Kenny did a great job, J.D. did a great job and just happy it scored.”
Stafford joked that McKissic should get a hockey assist or something for the throw back to him, which was a good one.
“Just an aggressive run set and some safeties that like to play downhill,” Stafford said. “They are aggressive players and Kenny did a good job sneaking behind them. I put it out there far enough for him to score.”
SECOND DOWN: SLOT VS. SLOT
The Lions traded slot receiver Golden Tate to Philadelphia at the trade deadline last year, a move that wasn’t very popular at the time with most Lions fans.
Detroit signed veteran Danny Amendola this offseason to take over their slot receiver duties. Tate hit free agency and signed a contract with the Giants this offseason.
Tate made his return to Ford Field Sunday, and he was good, catching eight of 10 targets for 85 yards.
Amendola was also good. He caught all eight of his targets for 95 yards, including a couple crucial receptions on third down. For the season, Amendola has 28 receptions for 347 yards and a touchdown, and is averaging 12.4 yards per reception.
“He’s doing a great job. I still think he and I can continue to build and be better,” Stafford said of Amendola after the game. “But he’s doing a really nice job on the inside part of the field, both down the field, he had the nice one down the seam early in the game on a third down, big conversion for us, that was a tough one. Had a couple crossers in there as well.
“He’s just doing everything for us, you know? He goes out there and works his tail off. Gets open when he’s supposed to get open, makes great catches, blocks in the run game. He’s just a guy that tries to do everything right.”
THIRD DOWN: STAFFORD EXCELS
Stafford threw for 342 yards Sunday with three touchdowns and finished with a passer rating of 129.4. It brings his touchdown total on the year to 16 – vs. just four interceptions – and he’s easily been Detroit’s most valuable player through seven games.
It’s always funny to me that postgame, no matter what, win or lose, big performance or rough outing, Stafford always seems to remember the bad plays more than the good.
“There’s a couple more (throws) I want back,” Stafford answered when asked about Detroit’s success on third down Sunday.
Stafford’s biggest mistake in the game came on Detroit’s first possession, when he under-threw a pass that was picked off by Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
“I got totally in between on how I wanted to throw the ball,” he said. “Whether I wanted to rip it over 21’s (Jenkins) head or I wanted to throw it in the back of the end zone and let Marv (Marvin Jones Jr.) go get it and somewhere in between was not a good place. Poor decision, slash throw, I guess. I was beating myself up pretty good about that one.”
Stafford is a competitor who wants to win. There will never be a harsher critic of him than himself.
FOURTH DOWN: PASS DEFENSE
Credit Detroit’s defense for stepping up and making a play early Sunday – linebacker Devon Kennard’s fumble recovery touchdown – and then late – the fourth-down stop under four minutes to play – that helped Detroit squeak out a close win over the Giants and keep their season alive.
But there’s definitely room for improvement moving forward, especially when it comes to the pass defense. For a second consecutive week, the Lions allowed a 300-yard, four-touchdown performance from an opposing quarterback. Last week it was Vikings veteran Kirk Cousins. This week Giants rookie Daniel Jones.
The Lions didn’t have Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay because of a hamstring injury, they traded starting safety Quandre Diggs earlier this week, and their other starting safety, Tracy Walker, left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury and didn’t return. That’s three fourths of the starting secondary not in the lineup for most of this game, which is a lot for any team to overcome.
Detroit’s pass rush was a little better than it’s been in recent weeks, which helped the pass defense a bit. They sacked Jones three time and hit him five times total, but the Giants were aggressive in attacking Detroit down the field in the passing game and had a lot of success doing it.
It’s an area the Lions have to improve quickly before heading out to Oakland next week to face veteran quarterback Derek Carr.