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The Lions’ Trick Plays Spelled Defeat for the Packers

I’m an unabashed proponent of “trick plays,” and I say so proudly. I’ve always found them to be fun to watch, but also a great way to alter the whole complexion of a game. In fact – as we saw on Sunday – they often enable inferior teams to come out on top against superior teams.

I’ve written in full support of trick plays about a half dozen times on this site, but almost never have gotten a thumbs-up from commenters. Instead I’ve been laughed at, ridiculed, dismissed out of hand, accused of proposing something dirty, or told such plays should be left for use on the playgrounds.

I’ve been advised that good teams need not resort to such gimmicks, that professionals should rely on talent and effort rather than on gimmicks, or even that such trickery is unsportsmanlike.

Who’s laughing now? The Lions are, that’s who. Detroit owes 14 of their points (more than the margin of victory) and 111 yards gained, to successful trick plays. Really, it was like taking candy from a very ill baby, as two big bits of trickery left Detroit receivers wide open by 10 to 15 yards. I should also mention that the risks in attempting such plays are minimal. If the receiver is not wide open, the passer can simply throw the ball away, losing one down but nothing more.

Detroit wasted little time in indicating to Green Bay this was going to be a trick-or-treat game. When the Lions’ first offensive drive stalled, and facing no less than a 4th and 13, Detroit snapped the ball to punter Jack Fox, who passed it to Godwin Igwebuike. While the ball was very well thrown, I thought the Pack’s defensive end, Tipa Galeai, very alertly and quickly shielded the receiver’s vision, and also avoided a pass interference call.

Not long after Detroit’s fake punt, midway through the second quarter the Lions found themselves on Green Bay’s 2-yard line. Amon-Ra St. Brown lined up wide right and went in motion to the left. Instead of proceeding to the left side of the formation, however, the snap was made just before St. Brown reached the right tackle, at which time he veered across the line of scrimmage and was alone to catch Goff’s short toss. I don’t recall ever seeing a play quite like that – the Packers were misdirected to think that St. Brown was on his way to the left side of the formation. You can bet this bit of deception will be picked up and used by a bunch of other NFL teams.

Jan 9, 2022; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions running back D’Andre Swift (32) scores a touchdown in front of Green Bay Packers cornerback Isaac Yiadom (24) during the second half at Ford Field. David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

As fans could tell by watching how the Lions celebrated after each of their trick touchdowns on Sunday, there is something special about making an opponent look silly. Some of you might think the Lions display of subterfuge was dishonorable or dirty, but I sure didn’t see any Lions’ players looking ashamed.

The whole concept of a trick play is to misdirect a defender’s attention. Hey, I thought that strategy was a big reason that Matt LaFleur was chosen to direct this team.

Think about it, every fake handoff is an attempt at misdirection. So is every reverse – how come we applaud a guy who picks up good yardage on a reverse, but belittle the guy who does the same on a double reverse? When Aaron Rodgers looks in one direction but then throws in another direction, that’s another effective way to fool defenders. Do you remember when people wanted to change the rules to hinder Aaron Rodgers from luring defenders with his cadence into jumping off-sides? Same idea.

One of my favorite “misdirection” plays ever came in last season’s playoffs, when the featured matchup was Davante Adams versus Rams’ cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Near the Rams’ end zone, Davante went in motion from the right side of the formation to past the left side, then quickly reversed himself and streaked back to the right. Ramsey got caught up trying to get through his own players, leaving Adams all alone for the uncontested catch – the All-Pro cornerback reacted in an embarrassed rage. That play, early in the second quarter, put Green Bay up by a touchdown, and they never looked back in the 32 to 18 win.

Postgame, coach LaFleur was seething over how badly fooled were the Packers two starting safeties. As picked up by Howard, on the first TD it was Darnell Savage who abandoned his post, and on the second TD Adrian Amos did the same. These are good players with ten years of pro experience, and yet they were utterly duped. Regardless of whether the coaching staff properly prepped Packers’ defensive backs to be watchful of trick plays, at least Amos, after that first touchdown, should have been fully aware that the Lions had all kinds of tricks up their sleeves.

Three years into the LaFleur era, you can count the number of truly creative play calls made by Matt on one hand. I luv ya Matt, but you and your staff got outcoached on Sunday.

Perhaps what these plays need is a simple name change. Maybe if we call them “directional fakery” or “deception plays,” it would take some of the stigma away from resorting to “tricks.”

If nothing else maybe the Packers will be better prepared to defend against such plays – which many teams store away until the playoffs – during the upcoming postseason.

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Rob Born

Smart drafters don’t select the best available players, they fill a team’s positions of greatest need.

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5 Comments

  1. Tom M January 12, 2022

    It’s all about risk vs reward. Come playoff time the stakes are too high to rely on trick plays. As for the Lions, why not? They had nothing to lose. Still, that first trick play blew up in their face. Had MVP Erin been able to capitalize on great field position, the outcome may have been different. It was a perfect opportunity to pad his stats which was the real reason he played. Congratulations to Campbell and his staff. Knowing they were out manned they pulled out all the stops. His team played hard right until the end. Trick plays seldom work. But in a game where your vastly out numbered, it maybe your only chance. You’ll face more evenly balanced teams in the playoffs. While not out of the question, it’s less likely you’ll see them. Teams have a tendency to stick with what got them there. But they are fun to watch.

  2. PF4L January 12, 2022

    Translation…..
    1) It’s Rodgers fault
    ********************
    Lesson of the Day, courtesy of our resident football genius.
    .
    “You’ll face more evenly balanced teams in the playoffs” – Ragnar
    .
    More balanced than the Lions? Is that possible?

  3. INPKRBKR January 12, 2022

    Ahhhh, Tommi Da Twat has words of wisdom…..SKOL

  4. Howard January 12, 2022

    Rob, I look at those so called trick plays as un-scouted looks. The lions and other teams put in the un-scouted looks to take advantage of missteps they think they see on film from their opponent. Some un-scouted looks are just more exotic than others. The Packers defense has put the film out there for other teams to see. As we all know teams put up film that other teams try and take advantage. The Packers have been lacking in run support, the Cleveland game being a good example. In the Vikings game you could see the Packers DBs among others going all out to stop the run. The Lions used that in part against the Packers.
    .
    As you saw what I wrote about the safeties, you must have noticed my concern about the Packer’s ILBs not jamming receivers crossing their face within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. The short TD catch by St.Brown was one of the three times I referenced. Barnes was in a perfect position to jam or chuck St. Brown on that pass. St. Brown was right next to Barnes, within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, and the pass had not been released. Barnes was more interested in getting to the RB leaking out, but Tipa had jammed the RB while going to the QB, like he should. Tipa must have learned from not jamming Jefferson, when Jefferson lined up in the backfield and ran right by Tipa without a jam in the first Vikings game, for a short TD pass from Cousins. Back to Barnes. It was not the only time he let St. Brown cross his face without jamming him. I would think Barnes would know this by now, unless Barry does not want his ILB’s protecting their territory from shallow crossing receivers?

  5. Deepsky January 13, 2022

    The Lions ran roughshod over the Packers. I expect that either the Bucs or the Cowboys (top scoring offense in the league for all you McCarthy haters), will embarrass the Packers at home in the playoffs.