I AM BACK!!!!!

In the past, I tried to do too much with this site with way too little time. Yet, I have been feeling a need to write about the Lions lately. So I have decided to change the Detroit Lions Observer to a few basic things. Writing articles when I feel a need to, keeping track of their wins and losses, and I am still deciding if I will go through and update Ndamukong Suh's Sack List.
Ndamukong Suh's Sack List
Keep track of which quarterbacks Suh has faced and which ones he has taken down.

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3/27/11

Lions Review 2010 - Defensive Line

The Detroit Defensive Line was expected to be much improved going into the 2010 season and it did not disappoint. In fact it was arguably the best Defensive Line in the NFL.

Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz had enough foresight to find two veterans who were playing out of their comfort zone in previous years in DT-Corey Williams and DE-Kyle Vanden Bosch, and bring them to Detroit where they would play how they were meant to play. Then they went out and drafted Ndamukong Suh.

Corey Williams was a Defensive Tackle who had seven sacks in consecutive years for the Packers before being traded to the Browns, where he was moved to a 3-4 defensive scheme. Being used as more of a run stopper while the linebackers got the glory of sacks, Williams numbers dropped considerably. The Lions believed he would return to form in their 4-3 scheme and brought him to Detroit.

If you look solely at his numbers, Williams did not do so great as a Lion in 2010. However, he was still a very important key to the Lions defensive line improvements. Opposing offensive lines were sort of forced to double up against Williams rather than Suh much of the time. To double team Suh, it would leave a powerful DT and Vanden Bosch in single combat on the same side of the line. Then to make things even more difficult, the Lions moved Suh around so the offensive lines could not double him up so easily and were forced to double up on Williams even more.

Having only 2 sacks on the year, Williams also had 4 passes defended and an interception as well as one of his better years for tackles. This was because even though he had many double teams, he often still pushed the middle of the line of scrimmage back towards the quarterbacks.

Kyle Vanden Bosch was an even more impressive move by the Detroit Lions brass. Coach Jim Schwartz parked his car in the drive-way of Kyles home and just sat there waiting; counting the minutes as the clock ticked them away. As soon as free agency opened up, he was at the door to make sure he got to the defensive end first. It was a great move.

In 2005 and 2007 Vanden Bosch had 12 sacks. After that he was plagued by injury and then the loss of Albert Haynesworth as a teammate. A teammate leaving to go to another team is usually not a very good excuse for ones stats to drop, but in this case it was. With no true powerhouse at defensive tackle, opposing defenses were free to double up on Vanden Bosch, and that can seriously hamper a defensive ends performance.

As a Detroit Lion in 2010, Kyles numbers did not improve considerably. He only had one more tackle, and one more sack than the previous year in Tennessee. Then again, he also missed 5 games in Detroit due to an injury. Not to mention that sometimes he simply just did not get to the quarterback quite as quickly as Suh and others did.

In watching the games, when he was healthy, Vanden Bosch seemed to be everywhere. If the quarterback was hit, Kyle was the one hitting him or chasing him towards the player who did hit him. When the running back was tackled, Kyle was in the pile somewhere, even if it was ten yards down field. The man had a motor that did not stop until the drive shaft came loose when his season ended with a bulging disc in his neck.

Cliff Avril was a player the Lions kept believing would step it up soon. Fans weren't so sure but the coaches saw something in practices the fans did not. With the likes of Suh, Williams and Vanden Bosch on the line, Avril finally showed what he can do as he had 8.5 sacks of his own in 13 games.

Avril's tackles actually dropped a bit in 2010, leading me to believe he has more upside as a pass rusher but may not be too good in run support. If he continues to improve, he may yet become a complete defensive end, but until that happens he is a specialist. But if you are going to have a specialist on the defensive line, a good pass rusher is something that is good to have.

The Rest of the Best were the likes of Lawrence Jackson, Turk McBride and Sammie Lee Hill who all played well in limited duty.

2011 Outlook:
If the Lions did nothing to this unit, they would enter 2011 with a good unit still. Of course that would be counting on injuries clearing up. The Detroit Lions defensive line is not a unit that needs immediate attention, but if the opportunity arises to add a top defensive end, it would only make them that much more dangerous. At the 13th spot in the draft, if all of the players they want (and need) are taken and the top defensive end on their boards is still there, they will take him, but other than that scenario, don't expect one to be taken until after the third round.

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.