Detroit Lions: Stat Guru Says OT Jeff Backus Had a 'Very Good Year' in 2009

Michael Schottey@SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterMarch 20, 2010

DETROIT - SEPTEMBER 24:  Jeff Backcus #76 of the Detroit Lions waits in the smokey tunnel to be introduced before the game against the Green Bay Packers on September 24, 2006 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. The Packers defeated the Lions 31-24. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Detroit Lions fans hate offensive tackle Jeff Backus.

It is a deep-seeded hatred forged over years of inept line play and losing seasons—many of that falling squarely on the shoulders of one of Michigan's one-time favorite sons.

In 2001, Jeff Backus and teammate Steve Hutchinson were part of an extremely deep offensive line class that produced Pro Bowlers like Hutchinson, Leonard Davis, and Matt Light along with other talented offensive linemen like Ryan Diem, Mike Gandy, and Floyd Womack.

Rumor has it that Matt Millen, in his first draft as Detroit's general manager, was salivating at the prospect of drafting Hutchinson, a four-time All-Big Ten performer. When the Seattle Seahawks drafted Hutch, Matt Millen reached for Backus with the next pick.

At the time, the pick was received with lukewarm enthusiasm. In hindsight? The next 20 picks produced 10 Pro Bowl-caliber players like Drew Brees, Reggie Wayne, Chad Johnson, and Kyle Vanden Bosch.

Jeff Backus has never sniffed the Pro Bowl.

For Lions fans, that pick began and defines the Matt Millen era—barely missing out on top talent and reaching over Pro Bowlers for less talented players.

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So those fans, who have endured so much in the past, oh...eternity, have plenty to be mad about. In 2009, that anger may have been greatly displaced.

According to Lions head coach, Jim Schwartz, Backus deserved to be in the discussion for the Pro Bowl last year. At least, unlike Bryant McKinnie, he would have shown up.

Now, when Schwartz made that proclamation, fans around the country wanted a large supply of the peyote that Schwartz and company had been partaking.

But, Schwartz isn't alone. This year, some Lions fans saw a different Jeff Backus—not a great Jeff Backus, but a different one. In fact, amid disturbingly bad play by the Lions offensive line, Backus may have been the bright spot.

Seriously, stop laughing.

On the raw numbers, Backus allowed eight sacks in his 16 games—tied for seventh worst in the league. Fans point to that and immediately sign Schwartz and any of Backus' supporters up for Alcoholics Anonymous.

Yet, Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus doesn't think the supporters are that far off. Then again, Monson is from Ireland and they don't have alcoholics over there—just lots of drunk people.

Recently, on my podcast, DraftCast , Sam Monson called 2009 a "very good year" for Backus. No, it wasn't due to large amounts of Jameson—he also called it a very surprising year.

"Aside from one very bad day last year at Chicago (one sack, five QB pressures), he was extremely good in both run protection and pass protection."

Sam explained that fans remember linemen in a unique way—creating a mental highlight reel of all the very good plays and very bad plays. Whereas his site (and coaching staffs) charts every play. So while Backus did allow eight sacks, he was very solid in the plays fans don't remember.

About those eight sacks...sacks allowed is one of the hardest stats to account for. People watching don't know if the quarterback was supposed to get rid of the ball quickly, if the running back missed his protection assignment, or if some other lineman forgot to pull—fans and stat geeks guess.

The coaching staff knows, and the staff knows Backus had a more-than-decent year. The coaching staff also knows that the power-run scheme is a nice fit for Backus.

So, it seems there may be light at the end of the 33-year-old left tackle. Talk has been thrown around about moving him to left guard if Russell Okung is selected No. 2 overall.

As it stands right now, if Jeff Backus plays 2010 like he played 2009, Okung might not be the wisest pick.

If Jeff Backus reverts back to 2008—not a good year by any standards—hindsight will be 20/20 once again, and Mayhew will be "Millenesque" or "little Millen", while Jim Schwartz is just another failed coach.

In all seriousness, Jeff Backus could have played the 2009 season like the next coming of Anthony Munoz. In the end, most fans wouldn't have believed it, even if they saw it.

He didn't play like Munoz, but he may have been the best offensive tackle in the NFC North. Orlando Pace almost single-handedly ruined the Bears' offense. Bryant McKinnie was one of the most overrated players in the league (that happens when you play next to Steve Hutchinson). The Packers? For their sake, the matter will be left silent.

Backus was above average. Believe it.

And believe that the Detroit Lions don't feel the same sense of urgency to upgrade that position as many of their fans do.

The next DraftCast is Sunday night and our guests are Wes Bunting (head scout of the National Football Post ), Jamar Chaney (ILB Mississippi State) and Kyle Wilson (CB Boise State), who missed last week thanks to daylight savings time.

Michael Schottey is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report covering the Detroit Lions and the NFL Draft. He is also a team correspondent for DraftTek.com , as well as a guest writer for MLive.com . Check out his podcasts at BlogTalkRadio and follow him on Twitter .


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