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Detroit Lions in Review - Offensive Line

The Lions have had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL through two decades now. There are those who believe the line was good when Barry Sanders was running the ball because they see how many yards Sanders gained each year. Those are fans that did not watch him run and if they did they did not watch what happened.

As well as being considered one of the greatest running backs to ever play the game of football, Sanders also had another reputation while he was playing. The one to three yard loss. Barry Sanders very well could hold a record for the most times being tackled behind the line of scrimmage. I wholeheartedly believe he holds the record for the most distance running if you include the scrambles from one sideline to the other while evading defensive players. The reason he was tackled behind the line of scrimmage so often was because the Lions offensive line could not even slow defensive lines down on many plays. Sanders often was hit as he was taking the hand-off. If there was ever one man who truly depended on his own feet rather than the offensive line opening holes, it was Barry Sanders.

From 2006 to 2008, the Lions offensive line was arguably the worst in NFL history as the gave up over 50 sacks in each season. In 2006 they allowed 63 sacks. In 2009, the Lions finally kept their quarterback from being sacked over 50 times. They allowed 43! Their pass blocking has been horrendous and there simply is no other way to put it.

Last year however, the offensive line showed improvement not only in the slight drop in sacks but in the running game as well. There were several plays where they actually opened up holes for the running backs. Unfortunately the Lions starting running backs did not have the speed to take real advantage of the openings.

Jeff Backus - I will admit that I have been as much of a Backus hater as any fan out there. I have a slight change to my opinion now. Throughout his career, Jeff Backus has been responsible for far too many sacks and penalties, and therefore he deserved the bashing he took. With that said however, 2009 was different. His penalties were not so many, he did not give up as many sacks and he looked halfway decent in the run blocking. What is the most important thing to remember when grading his 2009 season is that most of his penalties and sacks came early in the year. Throughout the second half of the season Backus was actually a pretty good left tackle. I am a believer that Backus has finally reached his potential and that is a slightly above average left tackle. If the Lions can get a good left guard to accommodate him he may be even better.
Grade = ( B- )

Dominic Raiola - I have always been against Raiola as the starting center as much as I have hated Backus starting at left guard. The difference is that I have not changed my opinion on Raiola. The guy is intelligent. Yes! He is athletic. Definitely. If Raiola had another twenty pounds of muscle, he might just be a great center in the NFL. He doesn't have that extra 20 pounds however, and he certainly doesn't have the extra 20 pounds in muscle! One of the most important things a team needs to do to win games is sustain drives. To sustain drives, you need to win the battle at the line of scrimmage in the short yardage game. It is a very rare thing to see Raiola win that battle. Far more often, he is pushed backwards and that is the recipe to disaster. I have often wondered how he would do as a tackle with his mobility to stay with quicker defensive ends but as a center he is not big enough or strong enough.
Grade = ( C+ )

The only other two offensive linemen worth grading is Jon Jansen and Gosder Cherilus. Jansen is getting old and will not be a starter and Cherilus is too inconsistent. Maybe if Gosder could ever get his head screwed on right he could turn into a good lineman, but for now he is barely worth being a starter on a bad line. The rest of the line can be completely wiped out and replaced without worry about losing any ground.

Overall Grade = ( D+ )

The offensive line is one area that desperately needs to be addressed either through free agency or the draft.

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