Allen Park — Matthew Stafford was battered and bloodied after the Week 2 loss at Minnesota.
After he was hit eight times, it was clear the offensive line’s woes played a key role in the 26-16 defeat. The score would have been worse had the Lions not scored with 1 minute, 48 seconds left in the game. The Lions finished with 323 yards of offense, 82 on the final drive, and 38 rushing.
With the Vikings visiting Ford Field on Sunday, the Lions have renewed confidence in their offensive line after the group played well last weekend against the Bears. The line gave Stafford time to create, which led to eight pass plays of 20-plus yards. The Lions had none the first game against the Vikings.
“We definitely took it to heart,” offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas said of seeing Stafford constantly hit. “When your job is to protect someone and obviously they go unprotected like that, you kind of beat yourself up about it.
“Hopefully, this go-around we’ll do a lot better.”
Besides giving Stafford time to make deep passes, the offensive line created enough holes to double its season high in rushing yards — 69 in Week 1 — with 155 against the Bears.
Part of the improvement was the return of right guard Larry Warford, the top offensive lineman the past two years. He played against the Vikings in Week 2, but struggled as he continued to deal with an ankle injury.
Rookie Laken Tomlinson, the 28th overall pick, replaced veteran Manny Ramirez at left guard and played well.
Still, the Lions recognize the Vikings — with pass rushers Anthony Barr and Everson Griffen on the edge — present a different challenge than the Bears.
“We have to build upon what we were able to do well (last Sunday), I think, and I’m not naïve enough to think that it’s going to be exactly the same in terms of what they’ll face,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “Because that’s what teams do, they look at it and see what you have problems with, and they try to give you whatever that was a few more times.”
As much as playing good pass-rush teams made things difficult for the line, a carousel of players contributed to a lack of chemistry and communication problems. Left tackle Riley Reiff and center Travis Swanson are the only players to start every game, but the Lions should have the same starting group Sunday as they did in Week 6.
“The more that we keep the same five guys playing, the better off we’re going to be,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. “Larry, obviously when he’s healthy, has been a really good guard for us, so hopefully he can keep his health.”
“Guys just fall in a rhythm when they play next to each other for a while. They’re able to do that more effectively and more quickly and more certainly.”
Although the Vikings rank 19th against the run and pass, and 13th overall, they’re second in points allowed.
Stafford said the key will be execution. And for Lucas, that means executing the right calls, communicating well and winning individual matchups.
“We’ve got to be smarter as coaches to try to stay out of those situations which allow Minnesota to tee off on you because … it’s a tough nickel pressure package that they have,” Lombardi said. “And you can’t watch a game where they’re not getting someone free on the quarterback.
“We’ve got to be smart with our game plan.”