Film Study: How Jarrad Davis is finding success in his new role

Detroit Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis was demoted from his starting job three weeks ago, but he has settled into a new role and is thriving.

Three weeks ago, Detroit Lions linebacker Jarrad Davis was demoted from his starting job, and while it took a week to adjust to his new role, he has settled in over the last two weeks and has been playing some terrific football.

Davis was a four-year starter as an off-the-ball MIKE linebacker but he has always struggled with the staples in coach Matt Patricia’s scheme. Over the last two seasons, he was often guilty of misreading gaps, overpursuing plays, and his missteps would often put him out of position.

There is no doubting Davis’ athleticism, and his leadership has earned him love from the coaching staff — he is a team captain once again in 2020 — but after the first two weeks of the season, it was clear there were other linebackers on the roster who were performing better and he was benched.

Davis has been relegated to a fifth linebacker role and has only been on the field a handful of snaps — 15 in Week 3, 19 in Week 4, and 11 in Week 6 — but he is making those snaps count.

Over the last two weeks, Davis has been Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded Lions player, earning a 94.5 grade in Week 4 and a 95.2 grade in Week 6 — both in the elite range. Currently, Davis’ season grade of 81.1 is the 7th best among NFL linebackers with at least 85 snaps (He has 126 on the season).

So what has changed?

I took a look at all 11 plays from Davis game against the Jacksonville Jaguars and will break them down in this film study.

Setting the table

Davis didn’t enter the game on defense until the eight Jaguars drive and when the Lions were up 24-3 with 7:39 remaining in the third quarter. He played on five snaps on the eighth drive, one snap on the ninth drive, zero snaps on the tenth drive, and five more on the final drive of the game.

Snap 1

Drive Down and Distance Davis Position LB Support Coverage Scheme Assignment
8 1st and 10 WILL Tavai – MIKE Cover 3 Man coverage versus Tight End

Play result: Davis covers the tight end well, Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew takes a shot downfield for an incomplete pass.

Snap 2

Drive Down and Distance Davis Position Support Coverage Scheme Assignment
8 2nd and 10 MIKE Tavai – WILL Cover 3 5-yard drop Zone coverage

Play result: Davis drops 5-yards deep in the middle of the field and Minshew finds the running back in the right flat. Tracy Walker gets outside contain on the back and Davis shows his range, pursues hard, properly breaks down, and squares himself for the tackle. The Jaguars gain just 3-yards.

Snap 3

Drive Down and Distance Davis Position Support Coverage Scheme Assignment
8 1st and 10 WILL Tavai – MIKE Cover 2 man Man coverage versus Fullback

Play result: Davis shadows the fullback during his route and when Minshew hits the running back underneath, Davis breaks off his coverage, squares the back, and sticks the tackle, forcing a fumble that lands out of bounds. Jaguars gain just 2-yards.

Snap 4

Drive Down and Distance Davis Position Support Coverage Scheme Assignment
8 2nd and 8 MIKE Jones – JACK Cover 1 Man A-Gaps

Play result: Davis takes on the block from the center and holds his ground but he is not involved in the play as it goes to his left. Jaguars gain 0-yards.

Snap 5

Drive Down and Distance Davis Position Support Coverage Scheme Assignment
8 1st and 10 WILL Tavai – MIKE Cover 3 Backside A/B Gap

Play result: Davis takes on the left guard, shows his burst with a quick lateral shift to his left, all the way over to the frontside A-gap, and makes the tackle on the running back. Davis’ stop is wiped out after Romeo Okwara was ruled offsides and the Jaguars accepted the penalty.

Snap 6

Drive Down and Distance Davis Position Support Coverage Scheme Assignment
9 3rd and 10 JACK Collins – MIKE Cover 2 Zone Pass Rush

Play result: Collins bluffs the left guard leaving him blocking air and everyone else in one-on-one matchups. Davis is locked up on the right tackle, uses a bull rush to walk him back into Minshew, who has to escape a collapsing pocket. When Michshew scrambles, Davis disengages the tackle with a stiff arm, dives for the sack attempt, but just misses. He was awarded a QB hurry.

Snap 7

Drive Down and Distance Davis Position Support Coverage Scheme Assignment
11 2nd and 2 JACK Collins – MIKE Ragland – WILL 2-3-6 Shell Pass Rush

Up 34-16 with just 4:32 remaining, the Lions are in a 2-3-6 shell the rest of the way, with Davis asked to only rush the passer.

Play result: Davis is stalled by left tackle and Minshew throws an incomplete pass.

Snap 8

Drive Down and Distance Davis Position Support Coverage Scheme Assignment
11 3rd and 2 JACK Collins – MIKE Ragland – WILL 2-3-6 Shell Pass Rush

Play result: Davis begins his rush upfield, stab-steps and drops inside the left tackle’s inside shoulder. Davis gets past him but the tackle gives him a shove in the back and it throws Davis off just enough to push him off his pursuit line. Minshew escapes the pocket and scrambles for the first down, but once again, Davis should get credit for a QB hurry.

Snap 9

Drive Down/Distance Davis Position Support Coverage Scheme Assignment
11 1st and 10 WILL Collins – Mike Ragland – JACK 2-3-6 Shell Delayed  pass rush

Play result: Davis drops back off-the-ball to the WILL, delays his pass rush, and is easily picked up by the right tackle.

Snap 10

Drive Down/Distance Davis Position Support Coverage Scheme Assignment
11 2nd and 10 JACK Collins – MIKE Ragland – WILL 2-3-6 Shell Pass Rush

Play result: Davis rushes the right tackle but instead of making a pass rush move, he disengages and plays contain. Minshew throws an incomplete pass, but Davis didn’t have an impact on the play.

Snap 11

Drive Down/Distance Davis Position Support Coverage Scheme Assignment
11 4th and 10 JACK Collins – MIKE Ragland – WILL 2-3-6 Shell Pass Rush

Play result: On the Jaguars’ final offensive play of the game, Davis lines up outside the right tackle and stunts inside through the frontside A-gap. Davis once again will get credit for a QB hurry but he misses his clean shot for a sack and Minshew escapes the pocket. The play is not over for Davis though, as he illustrates his relentlessness by getting up after his miss, pursuing Minshew with aggression, and forcing him to throw an incomplete pass.


Davis’ 11 snaps were split between the WILL (4), MIKE (2), and JACK (5) and he found success at each spot. Both of Davis’ tackles came from an off-the-ball position, one at the WILL and one at the MIKE, while he also managed to get credit for three QB hurries on five rushes from the JACK and one from the WILL.

Of course, some of his production can be attributed to the situations in which he is taking the field, but production is production. The Lions had 21 pressures on the day, Okwara had the most with four but he rushed the passer 35 times. Davis was second on the team and got his three on just six pass-rush opportunities.

Davis has shown more patience in coverage, has done a nice job squaring up for tackles, and discovered a couple of pass rushing moves for his toolbelt. He is still earning back his playing time, and while the Lions waited until they were up three scores before deploying him on the field, he is proving he deserves more playing time.

2019 Lions rewatch project: Week 14 notebook from Minnesota

One of the weakest efforts by a Lions team in the post-Millen era

After a bit of extended rest following the Thanksgiving loss to the Chicago Bears, the Lions packed up their game and headed out west to Minnesota. The 3-8-1 Lions limp into the beautiful new home of the Vikings in a rematch of Detroit’s most lopsided loss of the season.

The 8-4 Vikings enter the game coming off a tough loss to Seattle. They’re chasing the 9-3 Packers in the NFC North while also trying to stay above the 7-5 Rams in the race for the final NFC Wild Card spot. Detroit was officially eliminated in Week 13.

Pregame notes

The Lions still have Matthew Stafford on the active roster but placed Jeff Driskel on IR. He’s replaced as David Blough’s backup by Kelly Sloter. CB/RS Jamal Agnew and DE Da’Shawn Hand are the only regulars who are inactive, though CB Rashaan Melvin is sitting out despite being active.

Minnesota is still without WR Adam Thielen, who injured himself catching a TD in the Week 7 matchup in Detroit.

Walt Anderson is the referee for the indoor game. The Lions are clad in their road white jerseys with blue pants, while the Vikings are in the purple tops and white pants.

Because this game was (spoiler alert!) never really competitive, I’m cutting back more on the play-to-play analysis and offering a more general vibe of who is playing well and what is/not working for Detroit.

First quarter

David Blough’s first two passes are batted down at the line of scrimmage. He’s sacked quickly on 3rd-and-10 when Jesse James flat-out fails in trying to block Danielle Hunter. Sam Martin’s booming punt is poorly covered, allowing a 17-yard return by Mike Hughes as both Tavon Wilson and Steve Longa got caught out of their lanes. The “uh-oh” feeling is already creeping up.

At least the Lions defense comes out sharp. Christian Jones nicely blows up a screen pass. A’Shawn Robinson smothers a stretch run where Jarrad Davis nicely sealed off the cutback lane. Darius Slay breaks up the final pass, a back-foot heave by Kirk Cousins who was under heavy pressure from a sweet A-gap blitz by Davis.

We see a bit of creativity on 2nd-and-10 during this drive. The Lions have all three DTs in the game–Damon Harrison, A’Shawn Robinson, John Atkins–all aligned right of the center and inside the tackle box. Devon Kennard is the lone EDGE on the left. Cousins simply rolls gently to his left and easily completes a short pass to TE Kyle Rudolph.

Another poor 3-and-out from the Lions offense. James again loses badly on a block, Blough misfires behind Marvin Jones.

The next Vikings drive is aided by Lions penalties. Slay gets flagged for holding (valid call) and later Tavai gets called for lowering the head to initiate contact as he ran into a scrum late. It’s a letter-of-the-law penalty and it sets up the Vikings TD.

The touchdown is a pass from Cousins to Bisi Johnson, who beat Amani Oruwariye in man coverage on a crosser in the back of the end zone. It’s not a great throw and the rookie CB gets a contest on it but Johnson hangs on and scores. Cousins had enough time to order a tea set in the pocket. The conversion makes it 7-0 Vikings.

The Lions finally get a first down on offense! A nice catch by Marvin Jones on a contested throw gains 18. Minnesota follows that up with a penalty to keep the chains moving but the Lions cannot capitalize. Receivers are not open and Blough has no time to throw, and it’s that way every snap.

Second quarter

I will not question effort, but I’ll just say this: the Vikings offensive line is not nearly as dominant as what the Lions defensive line is making them out to be. Watching Harrison, Mike Daniels and Robinson get pushed around and staying blocked in the run game is very frustrating. It’s especially notable on the first Vikings drive of the second quarter.

Robinson does make a nice TFL but it’s almost entirely RB Dalvin Cook’s own fault for ignoring the hole and bouncing the cut directly into big No. 91, with Wilson there to finish him. A similar thing happens on his next run; Cook tries to cut back inside and that gives a lining Harrison enough time to catch up and drop him at the line. If Cook keeps his line outside and follows his blocking he’s got a first down. That is where this game is at already–the only real Lions positives are when Vikings players screw up.

Scarbrough continues to be a bright spot. He gets nine yards on three carries on the Lions’ next 3-and-out. While that doesn’t seem successful, he’s maximizing yards. Isaac Nauta is in at fullback and on second down he throws a very nice cut block. The 3rd-and-1 is an uncreative nightmare. With 10 (10!) Vikings in the box and the Lions in a 3TE set, Scarbrough plows headlong into a scrum of bodies. Ragnow and Decker get push but the other OL-men are knocked backward. Easy stop on a bad offensive call.

Spotlight play on Jahlani Tavai: 2nd-and-8, 8:19 on the clock. Tavai is lined up as a JACK over left tackle but feigns (poorly I might add) a rush. He drops 3-4 yards deep and his assignment on the play is the RB Mattison, who holds in initially as a potential pass blocker and then released when Tavai doesn’t rush. Tavai is on top of it, flows well as Mattison starts to circle out to the left. But the rookie LB can’t take his eye off Cousins, who would have a wide open lane to run through between C and LG as the DL has been pushed aside. Tavai takes a full step inside to quell that notion, but it gives Mattison enough room to get free for the outlet pass. A diving Tavai cannot reach him to make the tackle, and Mattison rumbles for a first down, leaping over a terrible Wilson tackle attempt in the process. To make matters worse, Robinson gets injured while showing great hustle to chase the play down.

Cousins was never going to run. He wasn’t even thinking about it. When Tavai hedged inside, Cousins was looking for his TE down the middle (good bracket coverage by Jones and Will Harris here). If Tavai just stays on task with Mattison, this play almost certainly goes nowhere. Based on Cousins’ inside throw, Tavai might have even had a shot at an INT. Alas, none of that happened.

A nice red zone stand, aided by a Vikings penalty, keeps the damage to a field goal and it’s 10-0.

Detroit’s next drive is Minnesota’s chance to prove they can screw things up. Three separate defensive penalties, a great contested catch by Kenny Golladay and two nice Scarbrough runs behind Ragnow and Glasgow set the Lions up nicely in the red zone.

That’s where Blough shows his inexperience. On 3rd-and-2 from the MIN 15, Blough looks around from the shotgun. And looks. And looks. Nobody is even close to being open. After 4.4 seconds (I timed it twice) he gets sacked back at the 27. He has to throw the ball away. The lost yards prove critical when Prater slices the kick wide right. It would have been good from 33 yards but wasn’t at 45.

The Vikings pounce. Cousins finds Stefon Diggs deep against Slay. It’s been a pretty even battle on the day between these two but Diggs wins this one. It appears Slay played inside technique instead of outside, which nullified Harris’ over-the-top coverage help. The outside shoulder throw is where Slay should have been based on the help.

The 44-yard gain sets up a too-easy Cook TD off right tackle and it’s 17-0 hitting the half.

Third quarter

Both teams come out in the second half with the energy of a game that is already decided. The Vikings harmlessly and unaggressively run 3-and-out, and the Lions follow suit with a Jones drop on a low throw on third down. Then another 3-and-out for both teams, the Lions losing a conversion due to a (legit) Golladay illegal block penalty. The gnawing feeling that I should be doing something more constructive than watching these two teams go through the motions creeps in heavily.

We get some real action with a Blough interception. The rookie QB rolls to his left despite being under no real pressure and throws an off-balance wobbler over Golladay’s head. Easy pickings for Harrison Smith, who somehow injured CB Xavier Rhodes with a ninja kick while making the catch.

The Lions A-gap run defense continues to be a problem. The RB is getting to the second level too cleanly. Walker and Wilson are making first contact well past the line of scrimmage. The defense eventually holds when Harrison blows up a draw, forcing a 50-yard FG attempt. It’s good and it’s 20-0 at the end of the third, technically on the first play of the fourth quarter. This was Tavai’s best drive in weeks, including a devastating TFL where he perfectly shot the gap at the snap.

Fourth quarter

Blough and the Lions continue to try the quick-hit pass plays. He’s very accurate with his feet set on the short throws to the outside. THe drive stalls when Everson Griffen screams around Decker from a Wide-9 stance and sacks Blough untouched. Tyrell Crosby, in at right tackle, also got beaten badly on the play. After the play Decker and Ragnow discuss the protection like there was a miscommunication. At least Sam Martin’s punt is fantastic and pins the Vikings at their own 5.

Will Harris has generally had a strong game to this point, but he’s on the wrong end of the highlight reel on the ensuing drive. In Cover-3 zone, Harris closes too late on Laquon Treadwell, who makes the catch. Harris’ tackle attempt winds up with him being thrown to the ground after clinging to the big WR for 3-4 yards. Slay was within reach to help but just watched it happen.

Trey Flowers bags the Lions’ first sack by bulling right through ex-Lion Riley Reiff, now the Vikings’ LT. Really nice tight press coverage by Oruwariye forced Cousins to eat the sack instead of trying a throw.

It’s now the peak of garbage time and the Vikings defensive effort reflects that. With about five minutes to go, it’s clear the Lions want to avoid being shutout more than the Vikings care about shutting them out. Blough to Amendola on 1-2 read throws continues to move the chains. Decker and Joe Dahl at LT/LG make a couple of nice switch adjustments on rushes.

The Lions find the end zone when Blough zips a pass to a well-covered Golladay in the back of the end zone. CB Trae Waynes stumbled (Golladay got away with some pushing here) and it allowed Golladay to reach around him and catch it. Prater banks the extra point in off the left upright and it’s 20-7.

The onside kick–a good try by Prater–fails. So does the Vikings offense, inexplicably going for it on 4th-and-2 from near midfield. Robinson absolutely devours 4th-string RB Mike Boone in the backfield. The Lions get another shot.

Once again the first-read throws by Blough are very effective. The up-tempo offense finds first downs with completions to Golladay, Logan Thomas and Jones. Decker’s pass protection in obvious passing situations here deserves respect, he’s great on Griffen this entire drive. Blough gets greedy looking for Thomas up the seam and safety Andrew Sendejo picks it off in the end zone. Game over, thank goodness.

Good games

Tracy Walker, Bo Scarbrough, Danny Amendola (except for one drop), Taylor Decker (outside the miscue sack), Ty Johnson, Frank Ragnow, John Atkins, Amani Oruwariye in coverage, Jahlani Tavai vs. the run, Sam Martin

Bad games

David Blough, Marvin Jones, Matt Prater, Rick Wagner, Jesse James, Jahlani Tavai in coverage, Damon Harrison (mostly), Romeo Okwara, A’Shawn Robinson outside of two great plays, Kenny Golladay aside from his TD catch

If you’re down on Blough as the potential Lions backup QB, this is probably the game that you point to in validation. The rookie was very rough in his second start, taking coverage sacks instead of throwing the ball away and leaving some opportunities on the field. The line was a lot better than Blough made it appear in this one, too.

Lions 2019 Rewatch: Lions vs. Cardinals Week 1 notes

Lions 2019 Rewatch: Lions vs. Cardinals Week 1 notes as Jeff Risdon reviews the All-22 and broadcast feeds

Lions coach Matt Patricia is a big believer in the process of self-scouting. Like many NFL coaches, he’ll go back after the season and pore over every detail of game film, looking for nuances or things that he might have missed on the first go-through.

I’ve decided to do the same. I’m rewatching every play of every Lions game, using both the broadcast and coach’s tape feeds from NFL Game Pass. I’ll chronicle my reactions in real-time on the rewatch, focusing on specific plays or players in big moments as well as an overall postgame summary of my notes.

First up: Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals.

First quarter

T.J. Hockenson started out impressively. On the first two offensive possessions, Hockenson had a great seal block on an interior run, a catch with good YAC on a well-designed out route and another hot route where he was open but Matthew Stafford’s throw was behind him.

Nick Bawden missed two blocks on the opening drive, both of which resulted in the RB getting whacked right near the line of scrimmage. He missed an assignment on a 3rd down on the Lions 3rd drive too, a play where Stafford scrambled to his right for a huge first down. Jesse James also missed two run blocks in the opening quarter.

Frank Ragnow dominated up front. The Cardinals didn’t use a nose much but Ragnow consistently found work and made Arizona pay.

Stafford started slow, missing open throws to Hockenson and Amendola. Other than a delayed blitz (on the missed throw to Amendola) the pass protection was very good.

Tracy Walker’s INT, coming off a very well-designed rush scheme designed to force rookie Kyler Murray into a short field situation. This is a fantastic defensive call as well as a great catch by Walker.

Jamal Agnew had one of the worst punt return attempts I’ve ever seen. Sam Martin and the Lions own special teams were otherwise phenomenal.

Second quarter

Matt Prater nailed a 55-yard FG to get the Lions on the board. Kickoff coverage was exceptional.

First really good lead block from Nick Bawden but Kerryon Johnson instead runs smack into Taylor Decker while he’s engaged with a solid block. Next play is the Danny Amendola TD reception.

The touchdown is a product of good fortune as much as a great play. T.J. Hockenson lines up over right tackle but it’s his responsibility to peel across the formation and block the EDGE on the other side while LT Decker down blocks on play action. Hockenson gets just enough to give Stafford room to step up. Amendola sneaks behind a very confused Cardinals secondary and doesn’t have a defender within 20 yards of him as he catches it. The safety (Budda Baker) bit up on the play fake and then got in the way of the CB when he figured it out. Cardinals dropped top rusher, Chandler Jones, into the short flat in coverage instead of rushing. This play works maybe one time out of 25, but it did here. 10-0 Lions.

First instance of prevent defense on 3rd-and-18 on the Cards’ ensuing drive. Rushing three and the rest of the defense is at least 12 yards off the line of scrimmage at the snap. Murray takes the checkdown and it’s easily stopped short (the best tackle Jamal Agnew has ever made), but the broadcast notes that Murray needed an easy completion to settle himself down. That comment later proves prophetic.

Stafford to Hockenson on a circle route out of the backfield is gorgeous. Next play is a read-option keeper for Stafford. The rookie TE is the featured receiver so far and the offense really has the Cardinals defense flummoxed. Drive caps with a Stafford-to-Golladay TD on a simple shallow cross that is very poorly defended. It’s 17-0 and the Lions are in control in all three phases of the game.

And then Jamal Agnew muffs a punt deep in his own territory, Cardinals recover. A spirited red zone defense — keyed by fantastic coverage from Christian Jones on a rollout where Murray only looked at that receiver on 2nd down — keeps the damage to a field goal.

The Lions blew an opportunity to add more just before the half. Stafford and Amendola couldn’t connect on two separate throws, one of which the QB was under heavy pressure. The plays were there, the execution was not.

Impressive half of football from Detroit, up 17-3 at the break.