Digging Deeper: Quarterback Play Killing Detroit Lions' Offensive Line

Shawn HaleContributor IJune 7, 2009

DETROIT - OCTOBER 05:  Alex Brown #96 of the Chicago Bears causes a fumble on a sack of Jon Kitna #8 of the Detroit Lions while defended by Jeff Backus #76 during the first quarter at Ford Field on October 5, 2008 in Detroit, Michigan.  The Bears won 34-7.   (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Coming off the first ever 0-16 season the Detroit Lions were facing a challenge not meant for the soft hearted.  Every player in the locker room knew the axe would swing and swing often.

Martin Mayhew, Tom Lewand and Jim Schwartz started immediately disassembling the entire team searching for ways to create competition at every position.  They brought in 3 hot shot rookies, and numerous veterans to compete. The roster was practically being turned over.

However, the fans were extremely surprised when it seemed as though Martin Mayhew and company were ignoring the offensive line. 

With the exception of a few aging veterans and a career back-up the starting offensive line will likely return four of five starters. 

This caused me start wondering if Martin Mayhew was blind or perhaps just found it hilarious watching his quarterbacks run for their cat like lives.

Or it could be he knew something we did not. 

I decided to break down the number of sacks per passing attempt and then compare it to the highest rated quarterbacks of 2008.

During the 2006 season Jon Kitna was sacked one time per nine attempts and in 2007 he was sacked one time per 11 attempts.

During the 2008 season the Detroit Lions gave up a whopping 52 sacks, or three to four a game.  Talk about a drive killer.

In his final season with the Lions, Jon Kitna was sacked one time per eight attempts which is the exact same ratio as Daunte Culpepper in 2008. 

However, Dan Orlovsky was only sacked one time per 18 pass attempts which is just below the average of some of the leagues best quarterbacks.  Also, considering it was Orlovsky's first starting action of his career it's a fairly acceptable ratio. 

Had Dan Orlovsky started the entire season the offensive line would have likely given up 28 sacks as opposed to 52.

Mike Martz does not deserve all the blame for this either because in 2003, Jon Kitna's last full time starting job before coming to Detroit, he was sacked 1 time per 14 attempts.  

That decrease in sacks could easily be contributed to having younger legs.

The top three rated quarterbacks from 2008 were Rivers (one per 19), Pennington (one per 19), and Warner (one per 23).  Tom Brady's record setting season in 2007 had a ratio one sack per 27 attempts. 

To go a step further, look at Kevin Smiths rushing numbers from 2008 (4.1 ypc, 8 tds) and see if they resemble that of a line that gives up 50 sacks a season.

Jim Schwartz stated at the beginning of the off season that a good quarterback can hide a lot of weaknesses on a football team.  It is obviously true a quarterback can have a drastic (negative or positive) impact on the offensive line.

A quarterbacks ability to read defenses, make quick decisions, and deliver the ball on time takes a ton of unnecessary pressure off of the o-line in any offense.

Rather it be Stafford or Culpepper, the Lions front office is banking on their improved play to drastically improve the slightly ignored offensive line. It remains to be seen if Culpepper or Stafford will be ready to play at a much higher level than previous Detroit quarterbacks.

Regardless of the numbers, I'm thinking it's a huge risk when you have a 78 million dollar right arm looking like it will be ready sooner than later.