Detroit Lions film review: Who's to blame for Vikings' 10 sacks?

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press

They were ugly when they happened, and 10 sacks don’t look much better on film the next day.

“It felt pretty bad (during the game), it felt pretty bad (re-watching them),” Detroit Lions guard Frank Ragnow said. “You get to learn from them more and realize what happened (when you see them on film), but otherwise I think they both felt pretty terrible.”

The Lions gave up 10 sacks in Sunday’s 24-9 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, the most they’ve allowed in a single game since the Philadelphia Eagles sacked Jon Kitna 10 times in 2007.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is sacked by Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter (99) during the second half of the Lions' 24-9 loss on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, in Minneapolis.

And while the offensive line rightfully took the brunt of the criticism for the Lions’ weekend protection issues, this week’s all-22 film review shows there were several factors at play.

Of the Vikings’ 10 sacks Sunday, I’d attribute five of them to poor play on the offensive line. Two of the remaining five sacks were coverage sacks, an eighth was due to a mix-up by a Lions wide receiver, the ninth came on a cornerback blitz when Matthew Stafford or someone on the offensive line didn’t set the protection right, and the last sack was a result of Stafford simply not pulling the trigger when he had someone who appeared to be open downfield.

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Here in chronological order are the 10 sacks the Lions allowed Sunday:

First sack: Third-and-goal at Minnesota 8 (14:13 left second quarter)

Amazingly, all 10 of the Vikings’ sacks came in the final three quarters, and they didn’t get to Stafford until this red-zone play. Give Vikings defensive tackles Tom Johnson and Sheldon Richardson credit for a well-executed stunt as both players split the sack. Johnson, rushing from the left defensive tackle position, crashed hard on center Graham Glasgow, and when right guard Kenny Wiggins, playing a spot series in place of starter T.J. Lang, followed Johnson, it gave Richardson a clear path to the quarterback.

The Vikings' Sheldon Richardson and Tom Johnson sack Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the second quarter of the Lions' 24-9 loss on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, in Minneapolis.

Five different Lions ran pass routes on the play, but with the Vikings in a standard four-man rush there was no hot read for Stafford to dump the ball off to and no one who won early enough for Stafford to throw to before Johnson and Richardson sandwiched him about 2.4 seconds after the snap.

Vikings defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson closes in on Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford during the second quarter of the Lions' 24-9 loss on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, in Minneapolis.

Second sack: Second-and-10 at Minnesota 12 (6:12 left second quarter)

Danielle Hunter (3.5 sacks) had his way with Rick Wagner all day, and he got an easy sack here when he beat the Lions’ right tackle in about 2.4 seconds with a speed move inside. The Lions ran another five-man route near the goal line on this play expecting their line to buy Stafford time. Stafford looked right off the snap, like he wanted to throw a fade route to Luke Willson, but Harrison Smith had the slow-developing route covered well.

Officially, Everson Griffen split the sack with Hunter. He used an inside spin move on left tackle Taylor Decker, and Decker might have been able to keep him at bay if Stafford hadn’t tried to step up in the pocket to get away from Hunter.

Third sack: Third-and-13 at Minnesota 15 (5:27 left second quarter)

Hunter got a sack on the very next play when the the Lions botched a wide receiver screen and gave the Vikings a jailbreak pass rush. Kenny Golladay motioned right before the snap to give the Lions three receivers to the left of the formation, and all three went downfield to block on the play. It’s impossible to know who the pass was designed for, though given their positioning I’d guess either Golladay or Marvin Jones (TJ Jones was the third receiver). Willson did not get a good block on Hunter, but it didn’t matter as Stafford was wrestled to the turf in another 2.5 seconds.

The Vikings close in on Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford during the Lions' 24-9 loss on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, in Minneapolis.

Fourth sack: First-and-10 at Detroit 33 (1:31 left second quarter)

I put this sack to the offensive line, but Stafford appeared to get his feet tangled with Decker as he tried to escape a rush by Stephen Weatherly on the play. Weatherly drove Decker back into Stafford’s lap with a good two-hand power move, and Stafford went to the turf in about 2.7 seconds. The play was designed to be a quick pass to Theo Riddick in the left flat, but Riddick didn’t win quick enough against linebacker Eric Wilson and Stafford was forced to pull the ball down. Even if he didn’t trip, Stafford probably would have been sacked by Hunter looping around Wagner from left end.

Had Golden Tate still been on this team, that’s the type of pass that would have been thrown his way.

Fifth sack: Third-and-4 at Detroit 31 (13:39 left third quarter)

The Lions had the potential for a big play here with two receivers split wide left and running complementary deep routes against a single-high safety look by the Vikings.
Marvin Jones ran a deep post down the numbers while TJ Jones ran an out-and-up move from the slot position. Stafford initially looked Marvin Jones’ way, and probably had a window to throw him the ball. Nickel cornerback Mackensie Alexander dropped into zone coverage underneath Jones, with safety Anthony Harris playing over top, but Alexander was cheating towards the middle of the field against tight end Roberts.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is back to pass before being sacked by the Vikings during the 24-9 loss on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, in Minneapolis.

Stafford hesitated, believing TJ Jones would run free down the sideline, but Xavier Rhodes had Jones well covered and as Stafford pulled his arm down, Johnson lunged at his legs for a sack in about 3.7 seconds. Johnson tried to beat right guard Lang at the line of scrimmage with a rip move that took both players to the ground, but he popped right back to his feet to finish the play.

Given the chance again, Stafford probably throw the ball to Marvin Jones on his first read.

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Sixth sack: First-and-10 at Detroit 13 (6:25 left third quarter)

Backed up close to their own end zone and looking to create more room to operate, the Lions called what was supposed to be a quick pass to tight end Wilson in the left flat. Stafford wisely thought better of the pass when Rhodes, who was matched up wide left on Marvin Jones, left his man looking to jump Wilson’s route for a pick-six.

Stafford re-loaded to throw to Jones down the left sideline, but safety Smith was close enough in coverage that Stafford once again wisely thought better of unleashing the ball. With nowhere to go on his left and two covered receivers to his right, Stafford tried to escape the pocket only to tackled from behind by Hunter for another sack.

Hunter didn’t make a great pass rush on the play, but while Wagner didn’t do much to disrupt his move, this was a clear coverage sack that took about 4.6 seconds.

Seventh sack: Second-and-5 at Detroit 36 (1:25 left third quarter)

Nine of the Vikings’ 10 sacks Sunday came via a four-man rush. This was the lone exception as Griffen dropped into coverage from his right defensive end position and Alexander and linebacker Eric Kendricks blitzed off the left side.

A pre-snap look before Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is sacked during the 24-9 loss to the Vikings on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, in Minneapolis.

Riddick stepped up to stop Kendricks, and Alexander came in untouched to take Stafford to the ground in about 1.8 seconds. Clearly, there was a mix-up in protection on this play, as Wiggins at right guard tried to help both Riddick on Kendricks and center Glasgow on his defender, and Ragnow was left to block air at left guard.

Eighth sack: Third-and-13 at Detroit 28 (42 seconds left third quarter)

The Lions gave up sacks on back-to-back plays for the second time in the game, and while Griffen beat fill-in left tackle Tyrell Crosby with a looping rush outside, this sack was more about Stafford needing to hold the ball in the hopes of something developing downfield.

He bought time stepping up and scrambling around in the pocket and had running backs Riddick and Kerryon Johnson as safety valves, but at this point in the game there was no reason to dump the ball off. Chalk this sack, which came in 5.5 seconds, up to good coverage downfield.

Ninth sack: First-and-10 at Detroit 49 (4:15 left fourth quarter)

Tom Johnson got the last of his 2.5 sacks here, with the Lions in desperation catch-up mode and Stafford hoping to hit one of two receivers running deep routes on the play. Stafford climbed the pocket as Jaylen Holmes came with a strong speed rush from left end against Wagner, and Johnson at left defensive tackle shoved his way past Wiggins to haul Stafford to the ground in about 2.9 seconds.

Tenth sack: Second-and-10 at Minnesota 11 (1:55 left fourth quarter)

The Vikings got their fourth red-zone sack of the game, this one in about 3.7 seconds, as Hunter and Johnson ran another effective stunt from the left side of the defensive line. Johnson crashed outside to occupy Wiggins at right guard, and Hunter, rushing from a nine technique outside the tight end, looped inside his teammate without so much as engaging with Wagner.

Riddick also whiffed on a chip block on the play, and with four Lions receivers – three of them in the end zone – covered well by seven Vikings defenders, Stafford had to step up in the pocket, around Johnson, where Hunter was waiting for his final sack of a career game.

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