This is an excerpt of my weekly film breakdown of the week’s biggest plays over at Bleacher Report, for your edification and edumacation:
On a day when the Vikings managed only six offensive points, Percy Harvin’s runback of the game’s opening kickoff provided the margin of victory. The Lions took a brutal home division loss, mostly because of this play:
According to MLive.com's Justin Rogers, Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier said it was a victory of Xs, Os and film study:
I remember in our first special teams kickoff return meeting we saw some things, and we pointed out that if everybody held their blocks, Percy's going to score. I mean, it was obvious. There are some things that we saw if we just held our blocks and our guys did it. They leveraged the football. They got where they needed to be and Percy did the rest.
Let's see if we can see what they saw.
Doug Hogue and Stefan Logan were set up as the second- and third-leftmost players, but by now Hogue's inside the hash mark and Logan's nearly so. The Vikings have paired up into their two two-man wedges (the most allowed by current NFL rules), but are also double-teaming Hogue.
The key here is No. 34, Keiland Williams. He was initially lined up five yards outside the left hash, but in order to avoid former Lions fullback Jerome Felton's block, Williams dances to the outside of the right hash. The Lions' fate, and Williams, is sealed by Felton.
Hogue can't beat the upfield double-team, and one wedge takes out No. 97, Ronnell Lewis. The other wedge splits up; one man seals Logan, while the other, Matt Asiata, splits off to block the widest Lion, Jonte Green:
Wendling was lined up all the way to the right, but he shadowed Harvin's sprint to the left around all his blocked-off teammates. He has neither the angle nor the speed to make a play, though, and Harvin races off to the end zone untouched.
The Lions overcommitted to the right and didn't penetrate deep enough downfield to prevent Harvin from beating them far to the left. The Vikings knew exactly who they had to keep from making the play, and they made sure they had more than enough beef in place to block them.
That's the power of breaking down film.
For the Lions, this seems to be a coaching failure: the Lions have “obvious” flaws in their approach to covering kickoffs, and Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer (yes, longtime Lions STC Chuck Priefer’s son) had no problem exploiting it.
However, note the big “if” in Frazier’s statement: “We pointed out that if everybody held their blocks, Percy's going to score.” The Vikings double-teamed the two guys with the size and speed to blow the run up: Doug Hogue and Ronnell Lewis. Keiland Williams is next biggest/fastest, and he got assigned the strongest single blocker, Jerome Felton. The Vikings knew nobody else would tackle Harvin, especially if he made sure to get away from Wendling.
What this means is that it's also a failure of execution: the three beefiest Lions couldn't overcome the stiff blocks, nor could any of the other Lions get free to make a play. In all three phases of the game, the Lions are coaching to execution; they expect the talented players to make plays. When they don't, it looks like bad coaching, as in here. The question is, can the Lions coaches scheme up good performances out of okay special-teams talent? Or should they try and upgrade the talent?
At this point in the season, the latter's almost impossible--which means, the former had better happen fast.