Friday, March 24 2023

December is here and the NFC North air is filled with great tidings and joy — not because of the holiday season, but because multiple teams are still playing meaningful football and it’s fun to watch. You’ve got Justin Jefferson and Kirk Cousins going off in Minnesota. Justin Fields running all over ChicagoChristian Watson catapulting Green Bay’s offense into relevance again.

But nothing, and I mean nothing, is more fun than what we saw this past Sunday in Detroit. The Vikings were attempting to mount a comeback, down just one score to the Lions after a K.J. Osborn touchdown with just under three minutes to play. Then Lions right tackle Penei Sewell iced the game for Detroit by leaking out in a route and catching a pass for a first down right at the two-minute warning to get Detroit to the Minnesota 32.

The Lions would kick a field goal from the 30 with 22 seconds left, opening up a two-score lead and effectively ending the game. But it wouldn’t have happened without the incredible athleticism of one Penei Sewell.

Sewell has already been playing at a high level in his natural position of right tackle in just his second season in the league. He’s allowed just one sack on true pass sets and two quarterback hits. He’s got an above-80 run-block score, according to PFF. And now he’s really doing it all by catching passes, because why not? 

What makes Sewell’s catch even more entertaining is that his own coach says he didn’t know it was coming. Apparently, Dan Campbell was so distracted by fans doing the wave at Ford Field that he absentmindedly signed off on the play on the headset. Next thing he knew, Sewell was doing this:

Yes, I’d guess it was in jest and Campbell knew it was coming — it was in the offensive game plan, after all (bless him for that) but let’s give the big guys some shine this holiday season and break down this brilliant play call by offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, shall we?

Detroit had been deploying ‘jumbo’ personnel, adding an extra blocker/offensive lineman under the guise of an eligible receiver at various points throughout the game. In fact, the Lions use jumbo personnel at one of the highest rates in the league to help out their blocking scheme in various ways. 

On this series alone, they had already done it on first down, with Sewell reporting as eligible, but ran Jamaal Williams to the opposite side on the play. Third-and-7 rolled around two plays later, Sewell again reported as eligible and this was it. They were going to pull the trigger.

You’ve got a 2×2 set in a tight split, with receivers stacked and attached to the formation. Sewell is opposite his normal spot, all the way on the left side instead and is sent in motion absolutely hauling you-know-what to get to the other side.

By this point, the defense might think it’s some sort of fancy and/or dramatic pull and Sewell is going to pick up a defender on the opposite side. But instead of stopping in any of the gaps or on the outside of the formation, he continues and leaks out to the flat, where Goff hits him wide open and uncovered.

Just take a look at the textbook (though, probably beginner’s version) way that Sewell gets both his hands up, forming a perfect diamond for the ball to hit square in the center. He makes contact with the ball, secures it and then turns upfield to get to the line of gain just as you’re taught. He dives over it after his feet get a bit tangled up but just look at the athletic prowess. Never mind his footwork could use some help, along with his actual route. It was called, it was thrown and it worked.

Lions football has become synonymous with fun. We’ll see if they can continue to ride that wave into the postseason. They face the Jets this Sunday, followed by the PanthersBears and Packers. The playoffs aren’t out of the question and the postseason will be a lot more exciting if the Lions are in it.

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Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

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