Where Did the Offensive Line for the Lions Go Wrong in Week 5?

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Where Did the Offensive Line for the Lions Go Wrong in Week 5?
Harry How/Getty Images

A litany of issues reared their ugly heads in the 22-9 loss in Green Bay, but one of the most disturbing was the steep decline in the play of the Detroit Lions’ offensive line. 

The Packers recorded five sacks in the game. Detroit had allowed just three over the first four games, the fewest in the league. 

In addition, the run blocking was largely ineffective. Detroit rushed for just 64 yards on 18 carries. Twenty of those yards came on a reverse to Reggie Bush, leaving just 44 yards in the remaining 17 carries. That’s 2.6 yards per carry.  The running offense has been an ongoing problem, but that putrid level of production is bad, even for the Lions.

Assigning all the blame to the line isn’t fair. The Packers front seven played very well, notably their interior linebackers slow-playing the runs. Detroit’s wide receivers consistently struggled to get any separation or to present themselves as viable targets.

Still, the line did not play well at all.

It starts in the center, where Dominic Raiola had a bad day on many levels. The veteran ignited a social media maelstrom with his interaction with the University of Wisconsin band before the game. Raiola issued an apology for that unfortunate incident on Tuesday.

Perhaps he should apologize to Matthew Stafford and the running backs too. Raiola really struggled to handle squaring off against the beefy Packers tackles, Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji. He just doesn’t have the strength to anchor against them, as this following play illustrates.

Raiola’s task on this play is to seal off Raji (No. 90) on the backside of the run. This is an option read for Reggie Bush; he can bounce the run off right tackle, but Bush can also pop it back to the left if Raiola gets a seal on Raji. 

As you can see, Raji plants Raiola into the turf. Bush has nowhere to go. Note the other Lions blockers also on the ground. This picture could have come from several other run plays as well. The Packers defensive front consistently outmuscled Detroit’s front-line run blocking. 

Left tackle Riley Reiff had an even worse day than Raiola. This third-quarter play is a microcosm of Reiff's problematic day. 

Reiff has a clear-cut assignment on this play. With the Packers in a four-man front and no tight end help, he has one-on-one coverage on Nick Perry (No. 53). 

Reiff's footwork on this play is alarming. Offensive line coaches can use this picture to demonstrate what not to do with your feet as a tackle. Perry easily takes advantage and sacks Stafford, while Reiff ends up on the ground. 

But perhaps the worst day belonged to veteran left guard Rob Sims. The game-charters at Pro Football Focus (subscription required for premium content) agree. Sims earned a minus-3.7 grade on the game. It was his worst score since playing the Packers last year. 

Sims has consistently struggled when facing three-man fronts. Raiola has as well, but not to the extent which Sims' play declines. 

In 2012, Sims had three negative games according to Pro Football Focus. Those came against San Francisco, Houston and Green Bay. All those teams play predominantly three-man defensive fronts. 

The pattern has continued this season. Both his negative games from PFF have come against blitz-happy 3-4 schemes in Green Bay and Washington.

Sims and Raiola both struggle with the splits involved in defending the 30 front. Sims doesn't fare well when he has to range outside—something he must do initially to pick up the 3-4 end playing a 5-technique. 

This was a major problem against Green Bay, and it doesn't portend well for this week's game against Cleveland. The Browns also deploy a three-man front as a base defense. Cleveland's rotation of Phil Taylor, Billy Winn, Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant is one of the best in the league. 

The Browns rank seventh in the league in sack percentage. By way of comparison, the Packers rank 14th, and that's after the five-sack outing against Detroit. 

Detroit's offensive line played very well in four of the first five games. It's important to remember that. Players have bad days. It happens. It's a little bizarre that so many would on the same day, but I'm actually reassured by that. 

Keep a close eye on the offensive line as they face the Browns this Sunday. This is a prideful unit, and I expect them to rebound in a big way in Cleveland. They need to if the Lions hope to remain the first-place Detroit Lions. 

 

All stats are from NFL.com unless otherwise indicated.

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