Lions' offensive line buckles down, keeps heat off Matthew Stafford
Allen Park — It was a step in the right direction. A sizable step. But the Detroit Lions offensive line still understands it has a way to go to get to where they want to be, particularly when it comes to run blocking.
The unit, which was down its starting left tackle, played an integral role in keeping the Los Angeles Chargers' pass rush at bay during Sunday's 13-10 victory, particularly when it came to shutting out the talented edge-rushing tandem of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
Sure, Bosa and Ingram got some pressure. That's inevitable, but they didn't register a sack on quarterback Matthew Stafford. They didn't even hit him. He absorbed a single hit behind the line of scrimmage, by blitzing cornerback Desmond King on a designed bootleg.
The low damage count is significant, given the 10 combined sacks and hits Stafford took in Detroit's season-opening tie against the Arizona Cardinals.
"That's our main concern," right tackle Rick Wagner said. "We take a lot of pride in keeping him upright. When we have games like that, we're definitely proud, but it takes everybody. It takes Stafford getting the ball out quick, it takes the receivers getting open. It's really a whole-offense effort.
"I thought it was a great game," Wagner said. "The first game didn't go the way we wanted to, so we wanted to learn from that and come out and have a better performance yesterday. I thought we all worked together as a group really well."
Wagner's correct, Stafford and the receivers did play their part, as did the tight ends and running backs when asked to contribute to the protection, or simply by getting open. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell also deserves some credit for scheming up a game plan that helped get the ball out quickly.
According to data tracked by Pro Football Focus, Stafford trimmed nearly a quarter-second off the average time in took him to get rid of the ball between the first and second game. Against the Cardinals, the ball was out in under 2.5 seconds 46.9 percent of his dropbacks, compared to 62.5 percent against the Chargers.
And the team accomplished this without starting left tackle Taylor Decker, who was sidelined by a back injury. Tyrell Crosby stepped into the spot and shook off his preseason struggles to deliver a solid performance, particularly in pass protection.
"Big Cros, that was huge," center Frank Ragnow said. "He stepped up big time and filled a role and we kept it going."
But for as good as Detroit's offensive line was as keeping defenders off Stafford, there's still work to do with the run blocking. For the second consecutive week, the Lions were held under 4.0 yards per carry, and the team's 3.5 yards per carry on the year is tied for 24th in the league.
Like pass protection, where credit is shared beyond the offensive line, blame is also spread for the rushing struggles. But there were at least some signs the Lions are close to a breakout performance.
"I think there’s some yardage we left out there," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "I think there’s some reads and some cuts that we could have done that would have generated some bigger plays. Maybe on a lot of it, it was just one block away from maybe something being a really positive play for us in the run game. As that goes, just like everything else in this league, things will change and things will move.
"I thought there was some good surge in the front, in the middle. I thought there were some good plays up in there."
Up next for the Lions are the Philadelphia Eagles, a preseason favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The team's defense, led by former Lions coach Jim Schwartz, has thus far struggled to get to opposing passers, tallying two sacks through the first two games, while generating pressure on just 18.2 percent of dropbacks, according to Football Outsiders.
The Lions will look to keep the Eagles' struggles going in the department. Solving the woes on the ground might prove the taller task. Philadelphia has held its first two opponents — Washington and Atlanta — to 85 total rushing yards and 2.8 yards per carry, both of which rank in the top-5 in the league.
Lions at Eagles
Kickoff: 1 Sunday, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
Records: Lions 1-0-1, Eagles 1-1
Line: Eagles by 6