So what's in a name?
Should we consider the Lions offensive line to merely be offensive to watch or can we believe they will truly be on the offensive this year?
If you're in the "cover your eyes, here comes the entire defensive line again" camp I'm with you, kind of. I watched all of those games too and probably spent as much time whining about the OL as anyone.
How could you not, from the times of "Look out, Barry" (usually followed by "how did he get out of that one?") to "Ouch, there goes another QB" (usually followed by "Good, ________ stinks anyways. might as well take a look at ________ ) the OL has been a sore spot with all Lion fans.
As bad as the OL was it seemed to reach, maybe stoop to is more accurate, critical mass over the last few years of the Millen era. While Millen drafted Backus and Raiola with his first two picks as the Lions GM in the 2001 draft, Millen never used a pick higher then Manny Ramirez at #117 overall before taking Gosder Cherilous in the first round of the 2008 draft.
By 2006 not only was it evident that the Lions couldn't find any good guards or a RT, it appeared that Backus and Raiola were going down hill. This was shown in the stats when sacks given up jumped from 31 in 2005 to 63 in 2006.
We were told it was a function of a new system, it was Martz's first year, and the OL would improve in 2007 now that the former OL coach of the 2000 champion Ravens was the Lions OL coach.
Okay, they were coming off of some pretty good years including a low of 11 sacks given up a just few years before that. Still, the sacks were going up since then but than again, to jump to 63 was a pretty big jump. Maybe we should calm down a little and see what happens.
Guess what, 54 sacks happened and that was followed by 52 sacks in 2008. Maybe they weren't 63 sacks bad but 50+ ain't good enough either. One had to wonder if the low sack totals of the early Millen era wasn't only because of Check Down Joey.
So in comes a new regime with Mayhew and Schwartz and they are talking about getting bigger and it starts with the lines and, well everything we hoped for. It was sweet nothings for Lion fans.
I guess we should have noticed that Schwartz mentioned Backus and Raiola as some of the pieces in place during his first press conference. Probably hadn't watched enough tape yet, give him a couple of months and he'll be screaming for a franchise LT just like the rest of us.
Resigning Peterman at 5 mil per year was a little scary but that's alright, they've been watching the tape and he must have shown something. Give it more time, the Lions are just waiting for the right opportunity.
Well time passed and we watched as all kinds of free agent offensive linemen became available and the Lions showed no interest. They only signed some back-up tackle from Schwartz' old team to play left guard, hope he has some inside information on him.
Must be waiting for the draft, after all they said they wanted to get bigger and has anyone weighed Raiola lately? We're not going to fault them for taking Stafford, you have to have a franchise QB and besides, the OTs that high didn't really stand out.
And then it happened, the entire Lion fan base was blindsided. Right there at pick #20 was Micheal Oher, you had to know champagne corks were popping all over Lion draft parties when the Eagles traded up to get Maclin.
Well, maybe it was tabs pulled and tops unscrewed over champagne corks, we're a working class fan base. I'll bet the cheering was so loud that a lot of fans never heard Goddell say "with the 20th pick in the 2009 NFL draft the Detroit Lions select .... Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State."
How could this happen?
Was Mayhew truly a Millen clone?
Are we really cursed?
When the Lions don't draft an offensive lineman until the 7th round the pundits had a field day. It was F's all around and who was DeAndre Levy anyways? The headlines were "Same Old Lions" and even the believers had to wonder a little bit. I know I did and Schwartz had me at "we need to get bigger"
So what was the Lions take on the offensive line?
Well they said they loved Backus, Raiola and Peterman. They believed Cherilous would improve and they liked the competition they had at left guard. They believed most of the problems were scheme related and a more downhill blocking approach along with more 2 TE sets would do the trick.
Oh oh, hadn't we heard that one before?
Wasn't that how we got to 0 - 16?
Yep, the players are fine, we just need to change our scheme a little and run the ball more. By the way, we are going to be playing a rookie QB so don't be surprised if he struggles a little reading defenses. Cover your eyes boys and girls, this won't be for the squeamish.
So what happened?
Well they did run the ball around an average of 3 more times a game and even brought the yards per attempt up from 3.8 to 4.0, still not good but at least it's trending the right way.
Did that help the pass protection?
Well sacks given up went down some to 43, still worse then the league average of 34 but again, at least it's trending the right way.
So we could stop right there and say the OL improved but if you thought that was going to happen you don't know me. By now I'm sure you noticed I'm a little long winded but I also like to dig deep so for those with the stomach to continue let's keep digging.
The first thing that stands out is the Lions attempted 76 more passes in 2009 then they did in 2008. So that means they gave up less sacks on more attempts and if we compare sacks per 100 attempts we see that it went down from 9.3 to 6.8, that's a pretty significant improvement. The league average was 6.1 last year so we could say we are approaching average.
Let me repeat that, the Lions are approaching average.
I know, I was stunned too.
I'll bet all that extra pass protection and running the ball improved our offensive output right?
Well, in maybe the worst year in football history the 0-16 2008 Lions scored 268 points or 16.8 points per game. Last year after all those improving OL numbers the Lions scored 262 points or 16.4 points per game.
Wait, we scored 6 less points?
How did this happen?
I'll bet it was that rookie QB!
Okay, let's break it down by QB.
Stafford started and played most of 10 games last year while Culpepper and Stanton started the other 6 games. In those six games that the rookie didn't play the Lions scored an average of 12.7 points a game.
I know, could have fooled me too. I watched those games and I would have bet the under if they set the line at 12 TOTAL points for those six games.
What about Stafford with his 10 games? How about an average of 18.6 per game or nearly 6 points a game better then the veterans.
So do I have anything on why it broke down like that? Of course I do.
First the Lions ran the ball a little better without Stafford in there. Actually a lot better. With Culpepper or Stanton starting they averaged 111 yards per game or just 5 yards under the league average of 116 per game. With Stafford starting they averaged 95 yards per game.
So if it wasn't the running game it must have been the passing game right?
Right, but maybe not how you think. Let's leave Stanton out of it because his sampling is pretty small and worse yet his stats are ridiculously bad.
(note: Why does Stanton still have a job? I've got nothing against MSU, well except for that guy running the clock that one year and whomever paid the officials to look the other way on that 2 point conversion and ....... Okay, maybe I do have some unresolved issues with State but still, Stanton? Really, you guys give us Stanton? Have you guys looked at his stats?)
Stafford did attempt around 5 more passes a game then Culpepper so there is some of it but Culpepper actually had a higher completion percentage and QB rating while the average yards per attempt was even. Stafford had a higher TD ratio then Culppper but it was offset by his higher INT ratio.
I know what you're thinking, at least the readers who haven't fallen asleep by now.
You're thinking that I'm saying those 5 extra passes a game with that average of 6 yards per attempt that both QBs had for a total of around 30 yards per game equalled to 6 extra points a game?
But that doesn't compute, teams go over 400 yards a game all the time but they're not scoring at that ratio and besides, didn't I say that the Lions averaged 21 rushing yards a game better without Stafford? So the difference is 10 stinking yards?
You're right ........ as usual.
Got to be more to it and there was. Anybody remember what this article was about?
Just a minute, let me scroll up because I forgot myself.
Okay, it's the OL.
So how did we get on QBs?
Because it's all leading to this.
On 401 times Stafford dropped back to pass he was sacked 24 times, that gives you a sack rate of 6.0 while Culpepper was sacked at a rate of 8.2. Remember when I said the league average sack rate was 6.1? That means when Stafford was the QB the Lions were slightly better then average protecting the QB.
Roll that one around the noggin a minute, the Lions pass protection was better then average.
Want a little more Kool-Aid?
Well drinks are on me because what if we consider those two games where Stafford was clearly not healthy. It's probably fair to consider that Thanksgiving game and even the Cinci game after it as throw away games for Stafford, he get extra credit for just playing. What if we take those two games out of the equation?
Guess what? The numbers start to look like NFL ready. Check this out, in the eight healthy Stafford games he and the Lions averaged;
237 passing yards per game, league average was 218
99.5 rushing yards per game, league average was 116.7
329 net yards per game, league average was 335
20.1 points per game, league average was 21.5
By the way, that was the first 8 games of his career. Plus don't forget 6 of his INTs came in those 2 playing while injured games against 2 TDs and even his sack rate was down for the 8 good games.
Here, have another glass of Kool-Aid.
Remember how this team started last year?
The top 4 receiving threats, Calvin Johnson, Bryant Johnson, Northcutt and Pettigrew missed major parts of the pre-season so Stafford had little opportunity to build a chemistry. (yes, I used the term receiving threat loosely, in some cases very loosely)
Oh yeah, the top RBs, Kevin Smith and Morris struggled with injuries during those games. (top RBs might be a stretch too) Plus the two healthy RBs Felton and Brown were terrible in pass protection.
That back-up tackle they signed to play LG failed and so did plan B (Man Ram) and plan C (Janson).
Cherilous continued to struggle at RT. Maybe it was injuries, maybe he just can't hang with the big boys, either way he struggled.
Basically there were plenty of reasons to fail yet they didn't. They actually seemed (gulp) average.
Want the whole pitcher of Kool-Aid?
Go ahead, I'll make more, promise.
So what does it mean for the 2010 season?
Well, they traded for what is apparently a legitimate starting LG and a very good pass catching TE. They signed the WR they wanted for that #2 WR spot. They drafted what looks like a top RB in the first round, supposed to be a real play making threat.
So far they are relativly healthy, Stafford, K Smith, Peterman and Cherilous seem at least 90% and Pettigrew doesn't seem to be far behind. Not too worried about the Scheffler injury yet.
Stafford has been working out with the WRs this off season and seems to have a total grasp of the offense, this offense seems ready to explode. If we can point to those 8 healthy Stafford games and say we were average how far can a top 10 offense be away if the preseason moves they made even workout halfway?
The question will probably be answered by the play of the offensive line and I presented some reasons why we should believe they can be alright. I have more on the OL but I'll save that for another article at another time, I'm sure your eyes are glazing over by now.
I'll just leave it at this;
I expect our offense to be much less "offensive" this year.
Some of you may have found this article vaguely familiar but for those who don't know me I'm revising some old stuff I did at M-Live to give any new to me readers an idea of what I am.
I hope for those who have seen this before I have updated enough to keep you entertained.