Breaking Down Harvin’s Return Touchdown

>> 10.02.2012

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'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.

Film breakdown of Percy Harvin's kickoff return touchdown against the Detroit Lions, in 2012 NFL Week 4.At the kickoff, we see nothing unusual. The Lions are lined up conventionally, and so are the Vikings. But by the time the Vikings finish retreating, some things take shape:

Film breakdown of Percy Harvin's kickoff return touchdown against the Detroit Lions, in 2012 NFL Week 4. Slide 2.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.

Film breakdown of Percy Harvin's kickoff return touchdown against the Detroit Lions, in 2012 NFL Week 4. Slide 3.

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:

breakdown_harvin_4This creates the lane Harvin eventually runs through, having sprinted on a steep angle from the far right corner. Incredibly, one Lion does his job and then some. Special teams captain John Wendling:


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.


Three Cups Deep: Week 4, Lions vs. Vikings

>> 10.01.2012

d_logo_bw no really, Dichotomy Coffee & Spirits

Being a Lions fan is maddening. Your mind must exist in dichotomous states: perpetual amnesia, so you can forget the torrents of sorrow that have drowned you your entire life, and eternal remembrance, so you can always appreciate the now for at least not being then. You must constantly believe the future will be better than the past—or else, you could never keep being a Lions fan—but always be wary, because that future may not be this present.

If you throw yourself into believing that every coach, quarterback, first-round draft pick, and season are Salvation and Glorious Future Incarnate, you will have your heart torn out again and again and again. Every loss and failure will sting bitterly, and the days those coaches, quarterbacks, first-round draft picks, and seasons are finally declared failures you’ll feel like you wasted years of your life believing in them.

If you abandon hope, harden your heart, become one of the jeerers and booers and talk-show callers every failure becomes redemption, proof the bums and morons running things are being paid millions to muck it all up while any drunken idiot in the stands can see exactly what needs to be done.

But when those good days finally come—and bringing back a playoff team intact is as good as we’ve seen around here—you must have believed to be joyful. You must have invested yourself to reap the rewards.

Lions fans who bristled angrily at the team’s three straight season-ending losses spent six months waiting for the Lions to bring in a new Savior, a new franchise cornerstone around which to build. But none was coming, because the foundation had already been laid; indeed the walls were done and the roof just needed shingles and pretty much the team was what it was, which is a damned fine young strong playoff team.

Those same fans, and many others, are today lying dazed by the side of the road, scraped and battered from having fallen—or jumped—off the Lions’ bandwagon.

What Lions fans have is called cognitive dissonance. From Wikipedia:

Cognitive dissonance is the term used in modern psychology to describe the state of holding two or more conflicting cognitions (e.g., ideas, beliefs, values, emotional reactions) simultaneously. In a state of dissonance, people may sometimes feel surprise, dread, guilt, anger, or embarrassment. The theory of cognitive dissonance in social psychology proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by altering existing cognitions, adding new ones to create a consistent belief system, or alternatively by reducing the importance of any one of the dissonant elements.

Last season, Lions fans wailed and groaned and gnashed their teeth about the team’s inability to run and stop the run. All season long, the frustration boiled and rolled about the team’s constant struggle on second- and third-and-long, the team’s slow, predictable starts, and the apparent necessity of the high-powered offense to rely on the defense for momentum.

This hue and cry reached its peak during that fateful three-game stretch: obviously, the Lions could pass and score nearly at will—but just as obviously, opponents could pass and score completely at will. This was the state of the team as we remember it, and for eight long months we saw no evidence to the contrary.

Now, it seems, the Lions are able to ball with a modicum of effectiveness, especially on first and second down. Now, the Lions are much, much better at stopping the run. Now, every Lions fan is screaming for them to drop into shotgun and throw it fifty times a game because “it worked last year.” The problem is, it didn’t.

The Lions are better this year.

The “throw it fifty times” offense has been solved, league-wide; check the Packers’, Giants’, and Saints’ results so far if you don’t believe me. Defenses are dropping very deep in coverage and demanding offenses either find balance or be perfect. The Lions are not quite balanced, and not quite perfect, and the results are what they are.

But as I walked up the steps to the Ford Field concourse Sunday afternoon, I heard two fans loudly proclaiming the team “just wasn’t good” and “didn’t do anything well.”

"They played sweet defense," I said—which stopped them in their tracks, mouths agape.

It’s true: The Lions held a Minnesota Vikings team that had just beat the Invincible 49ers to just 238 total yards and just six offensive points. In fact, if you subtract the five non-defensive touchdowns, the defense has allowed just 79 points in four games; that’d slot them 11th between Atlanta (76) and Green Bay (81). But of course, it’s a lot easier to rage about how no Lion could bring Adrian Peterson down on first contact than it is to admit that nobody brings down Adrian Peterson on first contact.

It’s cognitive dissonance: contrary to all expectations, the Lions offense is not an unstoppable passing juggernaut, the defense is not wet tissue paper, and the Rams, Titans, and Vikings are not terrible. All Lions fans are feeling some combination of surprise, dread, guilt, anger, or embarrassment. That doesn’t mean the season is lost, or the pieces aren’t in place, or that heads need to roll.

Well, no, some heads need to roll: the heads of everyone responsible for the Lions' kick coverage.

The Lions would be 3-1 if it weren't for galactically, horribly, awfully terrible special teams play. Literally no team in NFL history has ever given up kick and punt returns for touchdowns in back-to-back weeks before. The Lions have allowed those four returns for touchdowns, the rest of the NFL has allowed just five.

Jim Schwartz says special teams coordinator Danny Crossman’s job is not in jeopardy, but it has to be. Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier said they saw on film that “If everybody held their blocks, Percy's going to score . . . I mean, it was obvious.” So Crossman isn’t putting the players in a position to be successful—and the execution, getting off the blocks, isn’t there either.

Finally, of course, there is the offense: It’s not firing on all cylinders. Stafford isn’t as clinical as he needs to be. His placement on downfield passes is sometimes amazing, sometimes iffy. It’s often iffy when it most needs to be amazing, and sometimes when it’s amazing his receivers betray him, and often when it’s iffy his receivers don’t bail him out (except Nate Burleson, who earns his keep at least once a game).

The Lions have an average, streaky offense with the potential to explode, and an above-average, consistent defense. The offense is grinding out mediocre performances in the space that defenses give them, and the defense is collapsing the space opposing offenses have to work with. The Lions’ offense and defense are both playing well enough to win more games than they lose—and we know the offense is playing about as poorly as it’s capable of. Give the season time to work its levelling magic on the flukes and drops bounces; remember 2010’s regression to the mean after a 2-10 start?

The Lions’ challenge as a team is to fix the special teams. Our challenge as a fan base is to reduce the dissonance between the level of the Lions’ performance in their first four games and the final scores of those games by altering our existing cognitions—or go mad.


No Live Fireside Chat tonight

>> 9.30.2012

Sorry folks—my computer and DSL router simply will not communicate tonight. Not a problem with Google+ at all; can’t even get the darn thing on the Internet. Will try to reschedule soon.


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