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Hog Study: The Lions Defensive Line- With a Twist!

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A closer look at what gave the Redskins OL trouble against the Lions.

NFL: Washington Redskins at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

After a strong showing up to this point this season, the Redskins offensive line had their most humbling game on Sunday against the Lions. They really hadn’t faced this much of a challenge before. They’ve surely faced much more talented defensive fronts this season but this Lions front was different. Why was that? Good question! I’ll show you exactly why.

What really made the difference is that this Lions defensive line was really well coached and schemed up. They were aggressive and threw all kinds of exotic looks at the Redskins offensive line that I believe caught them off guard. Every team blitzes and that isn’t what caught them off guard. It was the exotic twists that really made things difficult for them.

What is this “twist” that you speak of? I didn’t see any of the Lions DL dancing out there....

No, no, no not the dance. A twist (a.k.a. stunt) is when the defensive line changes gap responsibilities with the intentions of opening up a free rushing lane for one of the other defensive linemen. Most twists typically are only executed between two players, usually the DT and DE on the same side. A basic twist looks like this:

As you see above, the DT slants into the DE’s C gap and the DE loops around into the DT’s A/B gap. The plan with this type of move is the RG, like in the picture, follows the DT and is unable to pick up the DE due to sticking with the DT too long. The DE then has a wide open rush lane to get to the QB. Twists can be hard to pick up especially when you don’t know it’s coming. It takes a lot of practice and discipline to pick these up. If the OL is in a full slide protection then they’re pretty easy to handle; everyone is moving towards it. The twist is most difficult when blocking man on man. The basics of picking up a twist when in man is this:

1) the lineman who has the “looper” makes the “switch” call

2) the lineman with the “spiker” stays on his man until he hears the switch call

3) he then picks up the looper after passing off his man to the lineman who made the switch call

So based on the picture above, the RT would yell switch telling the RG to pass off the DT to him and for the RG to pick up the DE looping around to him. Easy enough right?

Now that you know the basics of what a twist is, let’s look at what the Lions did with the twist concept to create problems for the Redskins offensive line.

On this first play the Lions bring a more exotic style of twist. In this one the RE and RDT both slant inside and the LDT loops around. The Redskins OL is in a basic half-man/half-slide protection with the right side of the line being the slide side with Center sliding with them. What makes this twist so effective is you can see they ran this stunt to the man side. Based on the DL’s alignment, Spencer Long’s responsibility is the DT lined up directly on his right. Once he sees his man start to loop around, he turns to pick up the spiking (or slanting) DT. The problem is, he gets no help from Shawn Lauvao. Lauvao sets to his man but doesn’t even touch him to offer help for Spencer Long to pick him up. Based on the rules I described earlier, Lauvao is not supposed to leave his man until he hears the switch call, instead he abandons his man and leaves Spencer Long out to dry leading to the serious pressure on the QB. You have to stay disciplined and stick to the rules. You can see the end result if you don’t.

One way to know that the defensive line is going to run a stunt of some kind is by looking at their alignment. Look at the alignment the defensive line is in on the play above. One of the biggest tells that a twist is coming is when a DT lines up in a wide 3 technique (outside shoulder of the Guard) paired with a DE in a wide 5 technique (outside shoulder of the Tackle). The Lions give the Redskins offensive line that easy tell and they failed to pick it up. It’s the small things that you have to pick up, once you do you have to communicate it and make sure everyone else is on the same page.

On this next play the Lions throw an even more exotic look at the Redskins OL:

On this play the Lions bring a blitz with a LB (#59) lined up as a standing DE and the End (#94) lines up as a standing 3 technique. They bring five guys at the offensive line which means each is in man. The Lions run an interior twist with both DT’s spiking to the right as 94 loops around to get the hit on Kirk Cousins. The problem for the OL on this play is that it’s not quite as easy to tell that the Lions were going to run the twist. Shawn Lauvao recognized the twist immediately and picks up the DT spiking his way. What goes wrong is Spencer Long saw the twist too late and stays with his man too long before he attempts to block the twist. And lastly, Arie Kouandjio stays on his man the whole play completely unaware that the Lions ran a twist. One of the biggest things I’d say to Spencer Long to help him sort these twists out better would be to get more depth in his set. It will help him to see more and know what’s coming. As good as he’s been so far, there is still stuff that he’s learning.

On the next play, the Lions rush five guys again with another twist ran in the interior:

This time the twist is run between #61 and #94. 61 spikes right and 94 loops around to Spencer Long. Shawn recognizes it quickly and looks to make the switch call but Spencer Long gets too caught up with the spiker that he can’t pick up the looper in time. Big pressure given up on Kirk because of this, luckily he makes a big time throw to Vernon Davis to bail Long out.

Later in the second half the offensive line finally made the necessary adjustments and did better at picking up the stunts.

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right? This the same look the Lions ran earlier that I showed that they got a lot of pressure on, naturally the Lions go back to it later in the game. This time, the OL picked it up perfectly. Brandon Scherff stays with his man until he hears the switch call and picks up 94 as loops around, which makes it much easier for Spencer Long to pick up his man at the same time. Goes to show how much easier it is to pick up these things when guys stick to their rules. They pick up the twist in a domino effect. It’s a beautiful pickup.

The Lions threw anything and everything they could at the Redskins OL on Sunday. When you’re facing one of the best lines in the league that’s pretty much what you have to do. Was it a bad game overall by them? Sure, but in the long run I think this game taught them a lot and they’ll grow from it. They’ll be more prepared for teams to bring these looks in the future, especially with Bill Callahan as their coach. Just have to continue to practice and focus on the fundamentals.