Rams-Lions Preview: Play a Full 60

The Lions were down 21-7 to the Packers midway through the second quarter, and 28-14 after the first drive of the second half. But from that point on, the Lions’ D forced three Packers turnovers, and Shaun Hill led the Lions’ offense on an improbable four consecutive scoring drives against one of the NFC’s best defenses to pull within 2 points, for a nailbiting 28-26 finish. Did a light come on for the Lions backup? And will this game, between two hard-luck teams over the past several years, turn into a shootout?

Some game notes, from watching video of the Lions-Packers matchup, and what it means for the Rams after the break:

What the Lions did

  • Scott Linehan didn’t get desperate. The Lions’ 21 rushes versus 54 passes look, at face value, like they must have hit the panic button after falling behind by multiple scores. But in fact, that’s how this Lions offense is compensating for a still-poor offensive line. In the first half, they ran the ball 9 times in 35 plays (25.7%); in the second half they ran 12 times in 40 plays (30%). For the season, they are rushing on only 32% of snaps.
  • The Lions used Shaun Hill almost exclusively in the shotgun in the second half… as opposed to 75% of the time in the first half. Clearly, they’re worried about how pressure affects Hill’s accuracy, which isn’t very good to begin with. A collapsing pocket led to a near interception to Nick Collins, one play before a route miscommunication between Hill and Johnson led to Charles Woodson’s pick-6. They will run from the shotgun … and the Packers honestly didn’t do a very good job of picking up those runs, or stopping them for less than 6 yards a pop.
  • The Lions’ biggest play was a busted play. Detroit had only three plays from scrimmage go longer than 10 yards in the second half — and one was a 40-yard scramble by Hill. They rarely tested the deep ball, and when they did, they couldn’t connect. (While Hill’s lack of deep touch was often to blame, one semi-deep misconnection was a flat-out drop by Brandon Pettigrew that could have given the Lions a first-and-goal.)
  • The Packers were flat and lackadaisical on offense. For all intents and purposes, the Packers got up two scores and mailed it in. They held the ball for all of 10 plays while the Lions were driving, losing three interceptions (one of which was called back on penalty) and a fumble in the process. Their lack of commitment to running the ball helped the Lions’ improved front four (Kyle Vandenbosch is playing well, and they have some guy named Suh on the interior) get up the field against Rodgers. Had Detroit been able to convert some of their 3s to 7s, this would not only have been an upset, but a possible blowout.
  • The game came down to a crucial fourth-down decision, and as Josh Pung at RoarOfTheLions.com posts, Jim Schwartz made the wrong choice.

What this means for the Rams

Firstly, this Lions team is playing better than their 0-4 record suggests, and better than you might expect with their #1 pick from 2009 sitting on the sideline. Jahvid Best is a complete back already, and Shaun Hill is solid enough veteran presence to be effective. They deserve respect as a dangerous opponent that can beat you if you aren’t careful. That said, the Rams have been playing hungry all season, and one thing you can’t say about them, on offense or defense, is that they take plays off the way the Packers did last week.

Ball security and offensive continuity will be the keys this week, as the Rams likely can’t afford to give the Lions the same kind of breaks they got last week. And as improved as this Lions’ defense is, they can be run on, as Steven Jackson well knows.

On defense, continuing to get pressure with four rushers will be key, as Hill will be spending a lot of time in shotgun sets — Rams will need to flood the zones with defenders, forcing him to wait to find an open man. And Bartell will have to do his best Charles Woodson impression on Calvin Johnson. (Hill was 3-7 on passes to Johnson with Woodson in coverage, and 3-3 for 41 yards and a TD to Johnson with anyone else in coverage.)

Most importantly, playing a full 60 minutes will be a must. Pat Kirwan, in the pregame video above, says this game will come down to the last drive. I agree, though I’ll disagree with him when he says it will go to the Lions. I say this is a Rams win, 27-23.