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Looking at the Detroit Lions offensive line: Week 1

Screen shot of the week: Happy Happy Ref

Screen shot of the week: Happy Happy Ref

This was supposed to come out two days ago, but some internet troubles — mainly, that mine sucks — prevented me from seeing the game.

A new year and a new winner of the James Mungro Memorial Award presented by (sponsor pending) merited a new obsession for 2013. After years of complaining about the cornerbacks, we’re moving to the other side of the ball: the offensive line.

Like the cornerbacks, the line has constantly been a problem. Unlike the cornerbacks, the line has seen a commitment from the Lions to actually improve it. And sort of like the changes at cornerback, the changes on the line have been hit or miss. Riley Reiff? Maybe. Larry Warford? It’s looking good after one game. Gosder Cherilus? Not so much.

So as we delve into the minutia of the offensive line for these 16 games, let me explain how this all will work. Each week, I’ll watch the offensive line in detail, and combined with some other views around the internet and some help from the analytical people, I’ll drop some atomic knowledge bombs on you.

OK, hopefully they’re not atomic. You get the idea. Knowledge.

I’m doing this for two purposes. 1.) To make you a better-informed American. And 2.) To gauge the chances of JMMA winner Rodney Austin being added to the roster.

There’s good news and bad news, and it’s the same news: The Lions offensive line played well. Austin doesn’t have an opening after Week 1. The Lions didn’t allow a sack, gave up three QB hits (tied for fourth best in the NFL after Week 1), and allowed eight hurries to the Vikings, with most of the hurries came from the outside, not on the interior where Austin plays. The line also freed a lot of field for Reggie Bush and Joique Bell to run to. The Lions ran for only 112 yards, but they it was their sixth highest total since the beginning of last year.

A suggestion for next week: watch RG Larry Warford.

The dude can run block. He’s 340 pounds moves like a man who weighs no more than 320 and gobbles up people when he’s asked to go downhill. His pass blocking wasn’t bad either, making for and overall performance that earned him the adoration of Mel Kiper, a copious amount of groupies, and Pro Football Focus, which gave him a +2.9 rating on the day.

The state of the position to Warford’s right in much more delicate, Corey Hilliard replaced Jason Fox at right tackle after Fox injured his groin. Hilliard played 66 snaps. Fox 15.

Fox played well when he was in. Hilliard didn’t. He gave up five of the Lions’ eight QB pressures and graded out as the sixth-worst tackle in Week 1. Pass protection was the main issue, and considering the Lions throw 132 times a game, it’s exaggerated on this team.

The good news for Hilliard is that, on a purely objective basis, I had Riley Reiff at a worse ratio of good plays to bad plays, but there are a couple of factors to consider. 1.) Reiff faced Jared Allen. 2.) Reiff played 14 more snaps than Hilliard.

Reiff almost got Matt Stafford’s rib cage shattered on one play after Allen beat him untouched to the outside. He also gave up two of the three QB hits, but it was still a pretty good day, considering the circumstances. Reiff run blocked well and only let Allen become a factor on a handful of plays. MLive’s Justin Rogers has a mini breakdown of Reiff’s performance.

There isn’t much to say about Reiff’s side-of-the-linemate, left guard Rob Sims, and that’s a good thing. He didn’t have any hits that hurt a Vikings’ player soul, but he also didn’t any mistakes either that hurt Stafford’s either. The Lions will take a no-glaring-mistake game. They can work with that.

Center Dominic Raiola spent a lot of time on the turf on Sunday, but the situation in how Raiola went down varied through out the game. He had moments when he was thrown to the ground and moments when he was using the defensive lineman as a landing pad. The latter was much prominent than the former , and overall, he ended up being the Lions’ best offensive lineman.  

Run game breakdown

The only way metric to see how much confidence the coaches have the linemen, might be by looking at the distribution of rushes. You don’t run behind a lineman you don’t trust.

The Lions had 34 rushing attempts on Sunday, but two of those were kneel downs, one of those was a fumbled snap, and another was Sam Martin dropping the ball on a field goal attempt. Removing those four plays, here is the breakdown of the Lions’ rushing attack, complete with bright colors.

Lions line: LT Reiff, LG Sims, C Raiola, RG Warford, RT Hilliard/Fox

Lions line: LT Reiff, LG Sims, C Raiola, RG Warford, RT Hilliard/Fox

It’s easy to see why the Lions slightly favored the left side: they had a rookie and a backup tackle on the right. But the success was largely the same and with Warford showing a preference for flattening defensive linemen, the numbers should be similar for the foreseeable future.

The lack of success up the middle gives a little bit of hope for Austin, since he is a better run blocker than pass blocker, but a portion of those runs came at the goalline, where the maximum amount of yards the Lions could gain was one or two yards. I wouldn’t take too much stock in that, especially since Raiola had a good day.

The Week 1 offensive lineman rankings:

  1. Dominic Raiola
  2. Rob Sims
  3. Larry Warford
  4. Riley Reiff
  5. Jason Fox
  6. Corey Hilliard
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