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The Lions Offensive Line: An On-Going Debate

I know a lot of people hate the Lions offensive line. They saw the horrible running game and blamed the line. They saw Stafford get hurt and blamed the offensive line. It has almost become a sort of fad here in Detroit to hate the offensive line. But I also believe that people have begun to hate the line for no other reason than to simply hate the unit. I used to hate the line myself. Very likely, I was complaining about the line well before most of you have.

When Barry Sanders ran for 2000 yards, many fans thought the Lions line was good. I hated it. They argued that the line must be pretty good for Barry to get 2000 yards. I argued that Barry was the reason he got 2000 yards. The line was the reason he had so many one yard losses and did not get 3000 yards.

When Scott Mitchell was ran out of town, I argued on his behalf. I tried to explain to people that Mitchell was not the problem, but it was the ridiculously bad offensive line that was the problem. In a play-off game against the Eagles (yes that was a long time ago), Mitchell got up out of his stance, took two steps over to his right, pointed at a linebacker who was showing blitz and yelled a message to his linemen. He seriously could not have helped them more in that situation. When the ball was snapped, that linebacker came blitzing through. The only player to even make any contact with that linebacker was Scott Mitchell while he was driven into the turf. But fans expected him to look great with that kind of protection.

When Harrington was hated so much and pointed out by Dre Bly in the locker-room, I stood up for him. I was sick of watching Joey pick himself up off the turf because he had less than two seconds to get rid of the ball. His wide receivers were lazy, did not practice, ran bad routes and never hustled. His offensive line made defenses look like they were made of water the way they poured through them. He did not even have a talented running back to help him. While everyone hated Harrington, I hated the offensive line.

Finally with Stafford getting hurt two years ago, more people started to see how bad the line was. They began to blame Backus. I was one of those. I hated Backus and Raiola as much as anyone. One day I read something in a post on a forum, about how the left guard position was like a revolving door and was the reason Backus looked so bad. A light bulb clicked on and suddenly something made sense. It would explain why both Backus and Raiola looked so bad and yet seemed to impress coach after coach enough to keep their starting jobs. Last off-season I began to argue that maybe that really was the case. The Lions had signed Rob Sims, the Left Guard and I argued that with Sims there, Backus could look a lot better.... and he did!

Still I hear people saying the Lions offensive line is horrible. I have had a couple comments left stating that very thing. I have heard guys at work say it. I have heard callers on the radio saying it. I just don't believe that people who say this are looking at the whole picture.

Backus missed a block against Peppers, one of the best sack artists in the NFL. So many fans want to say that Backus sucks because of that play and Stafford getting hurt was his fault. They don't want to admit that there is not a lineman in the history of the NFL who will never get beat by the best defensive ends. Let me make this statement very clear. "THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A SHUTDOWN LEFT TACKLE!"

Every quarterback in the NFL is expected to take some hits. The linemen are not going to ever keep him unscathed. They are not expected to keep him from ever getting hit. Their job is to limit those hits to as few as possible. So when Stafford got hurt on the first time he was hit in 2010, I am not going to say the offensive line sucks. When he comes back and gets hurt in only one more game, but he was not hit a lot, I don't blame the line! Most of the QBs in the NFL take a lot of hits in the season and don't get hurt.

In 633 pass attempts, the Lions quarterbacks were sacked a total of 27 times. That is a rate of one sack every 23.44 passes. Only the Colts, Giants, Saints, and Falcons had a better rating. All four of them had much better running games to help keep the QB safe. With virtually no running game in 2010, defenses were able to pin back their ears and come after the Lions quarterbacks with a vengeance. Yet they still had the 5th best protection in the NFL. The Lions offensive line did their job of limiting the amount of times the quarterback is hit, better than 27 other teams in the NFL. When you get hit that few times, if you get hurt, that is either dumb bad luck, or you are injury prone. It is not the fault of the offensive line.

Now consider this. On the right side of the line, both Gosder Cherilus and Stephen Peterman were playing hurt much of the year. Peterman had his worst season in 2010 because he was playing on am injured foot. Because of that injury, he was not moving as well and ended up holding too much.

When the Lions fans see Stafford get hurt, many automatically blame the line. They want to believe in a world where your quarterback never gets touched. Its unrealistic. When they saw how bad the running games was they tend to believe it is either the RBs fault or the offensive line's fault. They do not however, want to believe that there could be more to it. The average fan does not see the fact that for a running game to be good, it depends on so much more. It needs the QB to pass down field to keep the safeties honest. It needs the play calling to be imaginative. It needs the Offensive line to be healthy and good. It needs the running backs to be decent. The Lions Offensive line was NOT healthy. Their quarterback would NOT throw more than seven yards in the air. The running backs were NOT healthy. Quite frankly, the play calling was NOT very good for most of the season. It was not that the offensive line was terrible that the running game was so bad. It was bad because it had NONE of those factions going well for it.

If you know football, you have to know that a QB just has to be able to take some hits. If he gets hurt two or three times and is only hit a few times, then it is not the fault of the protection. If he gets hurt every third time he is hit, it is simply ridiculous to blame the line. If the running backs are hurt, their is no down field passing game, and the play calling is horrendous, then you cannot blame the line for the running game being bad. Not with any common sense at least!

As to whoever left the comment that 3 QBs getting destroyed is the line's fault..... When Hill was hurt, it was because of an illegal play when a defensive player hit him low at the knees. If your feet are grounded and someone hits you below the knees, your leg very well might go "snap!" He was not hit a lot that game. He was hit wrong! Stanton got hurt but it was minor. He took a pain killing injection and finished the game. As I have already pointed out, Stafford got hurt twice on only a small handful of hits. One of those he was chased and he fell forward. Not even hit!

With all that being said, I am not in any way saying the line does not need some improvement. There is a question as to whether Cherilus will be healthy after micro-fracture knee surgery. Raiola is definitely undersized and more importantly, under-powered. Backus is getting older and a replacement needs to be considered. But even with these problems, the Detroit Lions offensive line is far, far from being a bad line.

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