Lions All-22: Calvin Johnson feasts on Bears’ secondary

Photo Credit: Andrew Weber/USA Today Sports

Photo Credit: Andrew Weber/USA Today Sports

The ice cold Lions offense finally broke out of a season-long slump, scoring four touchdowns in a satisfying 34-17 win over the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving.

There was trouble early. Chicago stormed out to a 14-3 lead after a strip-sack of Matthew Stafford set-up the Bears at the Lions’ five-yard line.

But the team stayed calm and responded with a confidence-boosting touchdown drive of their own, culminating with a beautifully thrown pass from Stafford to Calvin Johnson. It halted Detroit’s touchdown drought at 25 possessions, spanning three games. Here’s the play that broke the proverbial ice.

The Lions face 3rd-and-six from the Bears’ 25-yard line. The Bears show blitz before the snap, stationing two defenders in the A-Gap. They send five rushers and play Cover 3 in the back-end.

The Lions attempt to stretch the defense both vertically and horizontally. They attack the seams with both slot receivers (No. 2 receivers) running vertical routes at the numbers, while the outside receivers (No. 1 receivers, closest to the sideline) also go deep. It’s a perfect play call by offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi because in essence, the Lions have four receivers running deep against only three defenders. In Cover 3, both outside receivers are taken away by the cornerbacks. This leaves the deep safety, in this case rookie Brock Vereen, to defend against two seam routes.

CHI-DET CJ TD v zone blitz

One defender blitzes up the gut while the other falls back to defend the middle of the field. Center Dominic Raiola is responsible for the defender who dropped so he has nobody to block. Instead, running back Joique Bell is called upon to thwart the blitzing defender and slows him down just enough. This gives Stafford time to survey the field and make a decision.

Johnson gets a free release off the line and gets behind the first level defender. Stafford reads Vereen and rookie corner Kyle Fuller (on the outside across from his older brother Corey Fuller) and determines he can fit the ball in between three Bears. In this frame, Stafford is already winding up to throw just as Johnson clears the underneath defender.

CHI-DET CJ TD v zone blitz2

Vereen actually cheats to Johnson’s side and is in position to make a play on the ball. Fuller (No. 23) comes off his brother to try to defend the pass.

CHI-DET CJ TD v zone blitz3

Stafford takes a big hit after the throw but puts the ball on the money. He does a tremendous job of anticipating the throw and trusting Johnson to make a play.

Johnson high-points the football, and although Fuller does his best to rip it away, the decorated Megatron makes a play that Detroit fans are accustomed to seeing: Johnson coming down with the football amidst two or three defenders.

Vereen is unable to make up enough ground and fails to even hit Johnson. It was poor safety play from the rookie and will certainly serve as a teaching point for the youngster.

CHI-DET CJ TD v zone blitz4CHI-DET CJ TD Seam v Zone

After the missed opportunities against the Patriots, some questioned whether Johnson had lost a step. Johnson sure answered the critics on Turkey day.

Johnson tore apart an admittedly weak secondary, catching 11 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson has now scored in six straight Thanksgiving Day games. He became the fastest player to rack up 10,000 yards receiving for his career (115 games) in this contest, bypassing former Rams receiver Torry Holt.

Yes it was just one game but clearly, Megatron remains one of the most dangerous weapons in football.

All Illustrations and GIFs were created by Marlowe Alter for the purpose of reporting, commenting and critiquing.

Marlowe Alter freelances for the Detroit Free Press. You can follow Marlowe on Twitter and check out his film review articles for the Freep.

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