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Lions Review 2010 - Offensive Line

My sincerest apologies for such an amateurish mistake. I did not realize that my last post on the offensive line was using the "wide receivers" title. In the even there may be some who saw the title and thought they had already read the article, I am re-posting the article with the correct title and deleting the old one. The next article will be coming very soon.

On with the article....

There is a myth in Detroit. A myth that is believed by so many. A myth that the Lions offensive line is terrible and needs to be addressed badly. As with most myths in this world, they are often based upon a small bit of truth, but that truth is far different than what the people believes is the truth.

For instance, there is the belief that Jeff Backus is a terrible offensive tackle. This simply is not true. Backus got that reputation undeservedly so, while he played most of his career with an undersized center and a terrible left guard next to him. In a sense, Jeff Backus was left on an island at the left tackle position and without help he was forced to try and do far more than one tackle can do. Fans called for Backus to be cut, traded or shot. They didn't care so long as he was not playing for the Detroit Lions.

Last off season, before the 2010 season, there was a new debate. There were some who believed that Backus was not the problem but was the scape goat for the debacle at left guard where the Lions continuously changed players. In came Rob Sims to play Left Guard and as hoped for, Sims had a solid season. Rob Sims was easily the Lions best offensive lineman and so Backus had no excuse to have a bad season. Then came the first game against the Bears. Julius Peppers, one of the NFL's premier sack artists, beat Backus clean, sped across the backfield and sacked Matthew Stafford, dislocating his shoulder. Immediately the cries came out. Backus sucks! Backus should be shot! Etc...

The truth is however, that there is a reason Peppers is considered one of the best sack artists in the NFL. That is because he beats even the best tackles with some regularity. No NFL lineman can be counted on to consistently shut down a player the likes of Peppers. It was Backus' misfortune that he was beat by Peppers in his first game of the season. It was made even worse that Stafford was injured on the play. The truth is that Backus only allowed 4 sacks in 2010. He was one of the Lions most consistent linemen and with him and Sims on the left side, they did a terrific job. Along with only giving up 4 sacks, Backus also only had 3 penalties on the year. However you want to believe it, those numbers are very solid for a left tackle in the NFL.

There is also a myth that the Lions offensive line could not run block. I understand most will not agree with me, but in this case, I would beg to differ. You can look at the Lions pitiful run stats and say it is proof that the Line could not open holes. I see it a different way. There were many cases in which I saw the line open a hole, only to have it filled by a linebacker or safety. The problem with the Lions running game was not the lack of execution by the line, but a combination of other things. For most of the season, Hill only threw the ball within a seven yard range. This kept the defense in tight, allowing the safeties and linebackers to get to the holes and fill them quicker. There was also the fact that the Lions went with a two tight end set often and did not use a lead blocking fullback. So when the line did open a hole, the extra TE was off to the outside of the line and useless where a fullback might have cleared that safety out of the way and sprung the running back free. No fullback means the Lions running back ran into a hole and met a safety or linebacker and was stopped early. There was also the fact that the Lions biggest running threat was with speed and that was taken away due to Jahvid Best having two turf toe injuries. Without a true bruising running back, the smaller speed RBs were taken down when they met up with the safeties and linebackers.

Notice that when Stanton played quarterback, the Lions running game came alive, but when Hill was the quarterback, the running game was non existent. It was not that Stanton was so much better of a QB, but simply that his willingness to throw down field and his ability to scramble forced the defense to hesitate, giving the running backs more time to get through the holes the offensive line opened.

The Detroit Lions offensive line was tied for the 6th fewest sacks allowed in the NFL, but they were the 5th best when you account for the amount of pass attempts they had. The Lions allowed a sack on only 4.2% of their pass plays, bested by only the Colts, Giants, Saints and Falcons. The Lions offensive line did indeed open holes, but due to the lack of a good fullback, down field passing and their running backs speed taken away, the running game was non existent.

Yet there is some truth to the myth that the Lions offensive line is so bad. Though they were actually pretty good, they could have been better. Backus and Sims were very good for the year. Gosder Cherilus broke out with a very solid year and may be maturing finally. The worst of the problems can be laid down at the feet of Stephen Peterman and Dominic Raiola.

Peterman has always been a solid guard in the past, but in 2010 he had 11 penalties that really put the Lions in the hole too often. I have heard however, that Peterman was playing hurt. If that is the truth and he returns healthy, he should be much better. Before his 2010, eleven penalty season, he had one season of 5 fouls and never another with more than 2.

Raiola is another situation all together. He did not have an off year for him. His problem is that he is undersized and under powered as a Center. It is rare that he gets a strong push up the middle. In fact he is most often pushed backwards. Even in short yardage downs, and that is where he hurts the Lions the most. If an NFL team wants to sustain drives, they absolutely need to be able to convert short yardage downs. If they simply do not have the strength to get a push up the middle, they will fail far more often than they will convert. Too often the Lions drives fall short simply because the middle of the trench is shoved back at the running backs or quarterback.

The Detroit Lions offensive line is far from being horrible. However, that does not mean they cannot improve. If Peterman can pick things up to how he has performed in the past, and the Lions can get a Center with some punch to his run blocking, they will have a very strong starting unit. Then they will only need to add depth.

There is still a good reason to replace Jeff Backus. Not because he sucks, because he doesn't. He is actually a very solid left tackle. But he is getting to the twilight of his career. He could retire, or his play can decline any year now. The Lions do not want to be caught without a good left tackle to replace him once he is gone.

2011 Outlook:
The Lions offensive line will be better than in 2010 simply by default. Stafford, if he can stay healthy for once, should make their jobs easier. If Best is healthy, his speed will help. If Peterman is back to form they will be better. They do need to address the center position however and as much as I wish they would, I don't think they will yet.


  1. I totally agree with you on Backus, he is better than his reputation; was named the best LT in the NFCN last season.
    Not so sure about Cherilus though, he's coming back from microfracture surgery.
    I'm almost sure they draft an interior lineman who can play both center and guard – obviously not at #13 but later on. Keep up the good work, Ken!

  2. There's one reason and one reason alone why Backus looked good last year. The deep ball on that team was completely out of the question once Stafford went down(not once, but twice). It's really not hard to protect the QB when he's holding the ball for a second or 2 then throwing the ball 5 yards down the field. That was the offense last year.

    We need a left tackle who can actually hold a block for a few seconds and allow Stafford and Johnson the time to set up the deep ball. No excuse for an offense to average less than 10 yards a completion.

    And sorry, any argument claiming that an offensive line on a team that averaged less than 4 yards per carry by their running backs was good is null and void to me. Center is a huge need, and if they can take one of the top left tackles in the draft without reaching then they need to do that as well.

  3. 3 destroyed QBs doesn't make me very confident about how good our offensive line is.

  4. This is BS. I watched the games and that line is not good.