The Lions are 6-3. They’re remaining schedule has just one team currently over .500 and that team, Green Bay, is without it’s franchise quarterback for at least two more weeks. Barring a colossal choke job, the Lions are going to the playoffs.
The Lions’ offensive line is a major reason.
Coming into the season the Lions had two prodigious weak points: the secondary and the offensive line. Sunday’s game kind of summed up the whole season for both units. The secondary couldn’t handle the top receivers, allowing both to go over 100 yards and it probably would’ve been worse if not for a gimpy opposing quarterback. The offensive line gave Matt Stafford all the day to throw and let the running backs average 5.6 yards per carry as they racked up 145 rushing yards, the second highest total of the season.
After nine games this isn’t a fluke. The offensive line is good. Fittingly its best player is the one that had the least expected of it this season.
I don’t think right tackle LaAdrian Waddle is as good as Pro Football Focus’ +4.5 ranking, but he was the best Lions’ best lineman on Sunday. Waddle was matched up against rookie seventh-round pick David Bass and he didn’t allow Bass to get close to Stafford on passing downs. Run plays were more up-and-down, especially when he had to cover some ground, but there were more positives than negatives. That’s back-to-back weeks of solid performances. The Lions aren’t removing him from the spot.
Guard Larry Warford combined with Waddle to make a dominant right side on passing downs, as Warford also didn’t allow a quarterback pressure. He was missing his dominance in the run game, though. Instead of the down-field toboggan ride we’ve come to expect, it was an inconsistent day. Warford got beat a couple of times and made a couple of impact blocks but spent most of the day just kind of being there there. His best block came in tandem with Waddle as they stuck to their men as Reggie Bush cut back from the left side to the right for an 11-yard gain.
For as good as those two were, it digressed as you move to the left.
Center Dominic Raiola had a Rob Sims type of day, not making much noise in the extreme positive or the extreme negative. He joined the ranks of the solid pass protectors, as the little pressure the Bears had didn’t come up the middle.
The same can’t be said for left guard Rob Sims, who’s biggest mistake allowing a Bear to right by him and pressure Stafford. Fortunately it didn’t matter. Stafford saw the rush and completed a pass for a 23-yard gain. It was that type of day for Sims. He made a few mistakes but the negatives didn’t end up costing the Lions as much as they probably should’ve and his positive plays had a huge impact. He sealed off the hole that allowed Bush to scoot through the middle for a 39-yard gain, the Lions’ biggest of the day.
Just about all the other mistakes can be traced back to left tackle Riley Reiff. He didn’t have a horrible day. It was just worse than all of his counterparts. When the Loins and Bears played in Week 4, Reiff struggled with Julius Peppers. It wasn’t any different on Sunday as Refif actually earned the exact same grade as he did in Week four. Three QB pressures and a few mistakes in the run game made Reiff the Lions’ worst offensive lineman in the toughest matchup.
Run game breakdown
Removing Stafford’s kneel down at the end of the game and a fumbled exchange that ended up going for 0 yards anyway, the Lions rushed 24 times for 146 yards.
The distribution of success is a little misleading. A lot of the yards gained to the left and up the middle came after Bush ran there then cutback to the right as Waddle and Warford opened holes.
I’m not sure whether it was just coincidence, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan trusting the veterans more or knowledge that the cutback lanes had been there all day, but the Lions ran exclusively to the middle and the left side when there were less than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Make your own conclusions.
Rodney Austin’s chances of making the lineup: Maybe next year.
Week 10 offensive lineman power rankings:
1. LaAdrian Waddle
2. Larry Warford
3. Dominic Raiola
4. Rob Sims
5. Riley Reiff
Week 9: BYE