American Football

3 game ball candidates from the Lions’ loss to the Panthers


NFL: Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Identifying the top candidates for the Detroit Lions game ball vs. the Carolina Panthers in Week 16.

The Detroit Lions‘ hot streak came to an end in Carolina as they lost to the Carolina Panthers by two touchdowns in a game that was never really close.

Collectively, the Lions found themselves in a vicious circle of mistakes. On defense, the defensive line was getting moved off their spots, the edge rushers failed to hold the edge, the linebackers lost their run fits, and the secondary failed to wrap up and secure tackles. On offense, the push in the running game wasn’t present, and a string of three-and-outs put them in a deep hole they couldn’t climb out of. As a result, we saw players trying to do too much and putting themselves out of position. Coaches were calling plays hoping for big results as the game was slipping away.

“We weren’t physically, mentally, or emotionally ready for today,” coach Dan Campbell said in his post-game press conference.

While there will be plenty of negative written about this game, it’s also important to recognize the effort from players who stood out in a positive way. So with that, here are this week’s game ball candidates.

Shane Zylstra

Stat line: 5 receptions on 6 targets, 26 yards, 3 touchdowns — ALL career-highs

The Lions scored three touchdowns in this game, all of them coming from a Jared Goff to Shane Zylstra connection.

On the first touchdown, the opening possession, the play design was a smart one from offensive coordinator Ben Johnson. Zylstra lines up inline on the end of the right side of the line. At the snap he runs straight past the outside contain, and with the movement flowing to the offense’s left, Zylstra manipulates the safety and rolls right to the wide-open gap of the end zone. Good design, nice pitch and catch, and an easy six points.

The second touchdown took some creativity from Zylstra, time in the pocket provided by the offensive line, and patience from Goff to allow the tight end to uncover. Zylstra started the play inline on the left side of the formation, worked his way to the back of the end zone, and then all the way across the field and into the right back gap. A tougher throw from Goff and Zylstra needed to adjust to the ball in the air, altering his body 180 degrees and backward to secure the score.

For the third touchdown, the Lions came out with trips left and Zylstra the furthest inside. With Wright running a button-hook-out, Zylstra worked from inside to the outside of him—using Wright as an obstacle for the defender to work around—and then leaked into the end zone. This was a tougher throw for Goff than he’ll get credit for, but with Zylstra creating an open target, the play ended up looking easier than it appeared.

The NFL is about production and Zylstra showed three different ways to win, and when his number was called, he stepped up three times for touchdowns.

Amon-Ra St. Brown

Stat line: 7 catches on 13 targets, 76 receiving yards

St. Brown’s stat line was average—and arguably even lower than his standards—but he was a huge catalyst for any offensive movement. His 13 targets were more than double any other Lions player, and while he caught just over half of them, most of the incompletions were not his fault. Several times the ball landed short or wide, or he was asked to hold on through contact—which he did several times, including making more than one grab with just his fingertips.

It’s also worth recognizing that St. Brown accomplished a few season-long achievements, including catching his 90th reception and breaking the 1,000-yard receiving threshold.

Per the Lions PR department, only three players in NFL history have ever had 90 or more receptions in each of their first two seasons, St. Brown joins Michael Thomas (Saints) and Odell Beckham Jr. (with the Giants).

This is St. Brown’s first 1,000-yard season (he had 912 receiving yards as a rookie) and he is the youngest Lions player to achieve this benchmark, breaking Calvin Johnson’s mark. Per the Lions PR, he is just the seventh Lions player to achieve this within his first two NFL seasons.

John Cominsky

Stat line: 6 tackles, a career-high

On a day when the defense was outmuscled and outplayed, Cominsky’s down-to-down effort stood out. Cominsky’s motor was constantly churning and he was pushing the pocket from the interior or chasing down receivers who broke tackles. Look no further than the fourth-quarter reception from Panthers’ Laviska Shenault, who broke five tackles, and Cominksy—who had pursued from the far side edge—had to run him down to save a touchdown. At 275 pounds and with a right hand heavily wrapped in a club, he motored down the sideline to catch and tackle the athletic receiver.

Alright, time to vote. Happy holidays!

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