Word of Muth
Dive into the details of offensive line play with a former all-PAC-10 left tackle

Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

Since Detroit came up often in last week’s comment section, I decided to focus on them this week. I watched the Wild Card game against the Saints and my views on the Detroit offensive line are about what most Lions fans would expect. Simply put, Detroit’s line did not look very good.

I will say that I thought the Saints had a very good game plan. They had an understanding of Detroit’s protections and personnel, and they used that to give Matthew Stafford a lot of problems. The Lions seemed to run a lot of man protection schemes, and the Saints did a great job of coordinating a rush that exposed the individual weaknesses of the Lions offensive linemen.


Detroit’s problems started in the middle. Dominic Raiola got pushed around. The Saints used a head-up nose tackle for most of the game and it was clear New Orleans thought that they could knock the center straight back. In just about every passing situation, whoever would line up over Raiola simply bull rushed. No counter moves, very little slanting, mostly just bull rushes. It worked. Raiola was often 4-5 yards in the backfield before Stafford had even finished his drop. It was a really disappointing performance from a veteran. One time, Raiola was even knocked on his rear inches away from Stafford on a passing play. It’s rare that an NFL offensive lineman gets so overwhelmed by a straight bull rush. It was equally embarrassing when Raiola got knocked three yards behind the line of scrimmage on a quarterback sneak at the goal line -- another NFL rarity.

The Lions’ guards fared better, but they didn’t do much to distinguish themselves either. Of the two, I thought Stephen Peterman played better. He generated the most movement in the running game, and he was solid in pass protection. Peterman was forced to do one of the tougher things a guard is asked to do in pass protection, and I thought he handled it pretty well.

Figure 1: Outside Intercept

Some schemes call for a double read for the guard when he is uncovered against a three-man line. In this situation, if the defense is playing a straight 3-4, the center and tackles are responsible for the down linemen straight over them. The guards are responsible for both linebackers to their side, although if the back is on their side, it can be just one. The guard reads inside to outside, and if the outside guy comes, he has to kick out behind the tackle to intercept the rusher (Figure 1). I always hated this scheme, as there was just so much that could go wrong, but Peterman showed the ability to kick out on the double read. It’s something I always find impressive from a guard.

Rob Sims was not as good as Peterman, but he wasn’t a liability. I thought he struggled changing direction, particularly on inside moves. As a result, Will Smith beat him across his face on inside stunts a couple of times, including on a pressure that forced one of Stafford’s interceptions. He was also late off the ball on the aforementioned quarterback sneak, which was a big reason Raiola got blown up.

I think my biggest problem with both guards was how slow they were to help at times. Raiola was just along for the ride most of the game, and by the time help came, he was already deep in the backfield. I thought there were times when they could have offered much more help to the center or one of the tackles, even if it would just be a little body presence. They just weren’t as active as you would like guys to be when their assignments dropped into coverage.


Part one of the Saints plan was clear: Push the pocket by bull rushing Raiola. Part two was just as clear: Force Stafford to step up by running around Gosder Cherilus and Jeff Backus. Backus actually held up fairly well in this game. I had seen the veteran tackle early in the season, and at the time I thought he needed to move inside, or possibly to right tackle. After watching this game, I have changed my tune. He doesn't have a great pass set, but he plays with good hands and patience. He never extends his hands too soon, so the defender never gets a chance to knock them down. Instead, he keeps them close to his chest and uncoils an accurate punch right when the defender is in reach. He also remains an effective run blocker. I thought Backus probably had the best overall game up front for Detroit.

Cherilus did not fare as well. He was consistently beat around the edge at about eight yards behind the line of scrimmage. When you combine that with the fact that Raiola was often five yards behind the line, Stafford just didn’t have a lot of room. The worst thing about Cherilus' game was the fact that the wider a rusher was lined up, the worse his pass set got. If a defensive end lined up in a Wide Nine, Cherilus would take one kick step before opening his hips completely to the sideline and shuffling like an overmatched transition defender in basketball. Worse yet, when he went into this panic mode, he would carry his hands below his waist and just kind of clamp on to the defenders shoulder pads without delivering any sort of blow. He was called for one holding penalty with this technique and got away with two others. I also think the noise affected Cherilus more than other linemen, as he was late off the snap a couple of times.

Like I alluded to in the opening, the impressive thing for the Saints was how consistent they were with their rush. The scheme was clear: push Raiola, come underneath Sims, and run around the tackles. It was basic, but the stuck with it and generated consistent pressure. They didn’t have a lot of sacks, or even that many hits, but they were around Stafford all day and that was enough.

Once again, I’ll close out with a quote from a former offensive line coach. The quote is on the subject of splits in the offensive line. For the uninformed, a split is simply how far one lineman is lined up away from another. This particular year, our splits were to be eight inches -- it was a relatively small split, which probably meant our coaches did not think we were particularly athletic up front. Sometimes though, you will try to cheat your split, depending on the play, to give yourself an advantage. For instance, if you had to kick out to a Wide-9, you may widen your split to a full foot since that just puts you four inches further from the quarterback. I often would cut my split down on the backside when I knew I would have to cut off a three-technique on a zone away from me.

Anyway, we were watching film after practice and our coach paused the tape and gave me the laser pointer treatment. "How big was your split?" I saw that it couldn’t have been more than four inches, but I replied "About eight inches, Coach." Our coach peered over his glasses at me, looked at the screen, and then back at me, and said "Son, you may have your girlfriend convinced that’s about eight inches, but you ain’t fooling me."

The moral of this story? I was undisciplined on the field and undistinguished off it.


42 comments, Last at 26 Apr 2012, 10:57pm

1 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

Always really enjoy these articles! I'm surprised that with such an effective rush the game was still so high scoring, but I guess the line play is only one part of the match up.

2 splits

Would I be correct in assuming that coaches ask for consistent splits so that you don't give away any information about the play called?

8 Re: splits

In reply to by rusty (not verified)

I don't know jack about O-line play, but I would assume so. I mean, at high school level, you might get away with that some, but at NCAA-level, I doubt it. I'm sure you can't at the NFL level.

3 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

Thanks for doing this - it's very helpful to me. I didn't chart any of this game, but I think I'll go back and watch it now with these comments in mind.

Even with all the charting I've done of the Lions over the last few years, it's still like translation to me. John Ciardi may have done an excellent job with the Divine Comedy, but translating Italian isn't the same thing as understanding the work in Italian. (Or, well, creating Italian.) I like being able to compare the opinions I build from watching the games with analysis from people who understand more about what's generally supposed to be happening in them.

4 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

Raiola fancies himself a tough guy and yaps plenty in keeping with that persona. It must have been incredibly humiliating to get pushed around to such an extreme degree.

10 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

Really? You see Raiola out there week after week talking trash and getting into shoving matches after the whistle? Because I watched every Lions game last year and I didn't see any of that crap.

Sure, he talks a lot in the locker room, but that's because he's one of the visible team leaders. He was the one who called out Lions players for taking unnecessary penalties after the whistle. He's Italian, for Pete's sake, he has to talk! You think he's so full of himself that he doesn't recognize when he's gotten blown up by a defender? It's just a shame that his talent doesn't match his heart.

Please save your cheap shots for some other forum.

26 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

I think he's referring to the incident where he got into a pre-game fight with the Chargers and the incident where he flipped off a fan and supposedly asked him to come down on the field so he could kick his @%@^.

Not 100% sure, but that would be my assumption.

5 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

I'll risk being boringly repetitive and say NFL teams undervalue quality center play more than any other position, in my view. It seems to me that if you start each play with a weak link at that spot, and there are more than few ways to be weak at that spot, it really is hard to not end up with a play with a bad outcome.

6 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

As a Jets fan who watched our entire (typically solid) line collapse when Nick Mangold was out early last season, I'll heartily agree with your assessment. I think especially with the increasing number of 3-4 teams, having a center who can make the right calls and then prevent a one-man push up the middle is critical.

7 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

On the upside, if you get a center who is bright enough to get the line calls right nearly all the time, is physical enough to not be overpowered, AND is athletic enough to pull and seal or kick out on a running play, like Matt Birk was when he was young, THEN you have a hugely valuable asset to your offense, and create nightmares for opposing defensive coordinators.

Those guys are hard to find, however.

14 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

Faced with being able to only re-sign one of their starting center, right guard and right tackle, the Texans gave Chris Myers a $6m a year contract. I think most Texans fans feel that was definitely the right decision.

I don't think there's much doubt that the difference in value between a good center and an indifferent one is significant. The interesting question is whether a great center is worth much more than a good one.

17 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

What's the state of the Texans line at the moment? It was one of the better units in the game last year and has lost two starters, are there prospects in the paddock (texas style reference there) or will they have to restock through the draft?

36 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

The likely replacements are 2009 3rd rounder Antoine Caldwell at RG and former Panthers 3rd round pick Rashad Butler at RT. Both have starting experience in the system (although Butler's was at LT during Duane Brown's suspension) and have also seen significant time as primary back-ups/rotation players. Both are likely to be downgrades from the men they replace, due to inferior technique (both are actually probably better physical specimens) but neither is a liability (Butler's pass protection wasn't really up to starting at left tackle, but should be ok on the right).

The player to watch is 2011 7th rounder Derek Newton, who is likely to be the swing tackle but could challenge Butler for the starting gig with a good camp and is very likely to replace him in 2013. Newton has excellent athleticism and the coaching staff are clearly hugely impressed with him. He saw the field a few times as a 7th round rookie with an abbreviated off-season (including most of the second half against the Titans), and didn't embarrass himself at all. The primary interior back-up is likely to be 2010 6th rounder Shelley Smith, or former starter Kasey Studdard if he's re-signed. None of those guys is really a viable option at center, so I would expect the Texans to address that issue somewhere from round 3 onwards (Brisiel was the back-up center as well as the starting RG).

Really though, for as long as the Texans have Rick Dennison, they're unlikely to put a sub-par group of linemen on the field. Their OL talent evaluation and development is just really, really good.

39 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

I know that you're not a fanboy but that last paragraph is the sort of thing that you'll see on many SB Nation threads, it will be interesting to find out whether or not it's true. I do think that having a stable system where you know what you need from your players coupled with pretty outstanding personnel across most other areas would really help in finding replacement starters for the offensive line.

I asked the question because I thought it was a little strange that very few draft pundits seemed to be expecting the Texans to take an offensive lineman in the first round, which seemed odd when you lost your starting left tackle.

40 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

Do bear in mind that Dennison arguably did his best work - and certainly coached his most impressive line (2008) - back in Denver. Pre-Dennison Texans lines under Kubiak were pretty decent, but there was a quantum leap forward when he arrived. The man is very, very good with OL play - so good he gets to be called offensive co-ordinator, and paid like one.

And it's the right tackle they've lost, not the left. Duane Brown will get a big extension in a year's time, which is one reason they couldn't afford to keep Winston. There's no chance they'll use a first round pick on a guard or right tackle.

But I have my homerish moments, like anyone else . . .

9 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

This was simply one of the best in depth football articles I've read over the past year. Just brilliant.

One thing that amazes me is i think we probably need to elevate stafford's overall performance from this game. The fact that he was under duress and still played well is impressive.

The opposite though, seems to imply that the saints pass coverage must have been remarkably abysmal if they still got burned from constant pressure. This naturally leads to the myth that all you need is pass rush for pass defense. This is simply not the case. Go run regressions on sack rates of different teams against pass dvoa and you get almost nothing. I did this with pff's pressure numbers and still ended up with a poor correlation. The truth is, i suspect, pass defense is much more about coverage than pass rush though nothing is played in a vacuum and correlation probably runs both ways. Still, its a myth thats repeated by even knowledgeable experts.

13 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

Ha! Tim Tebow did not look like Johnny Unitas against the Lions, like he did against the Vikings, and the Vikings were at home!

Don't you try to imply that the Vikings are not the clear leaders in the NFC North, in trailing open receivers by 7 yards or more!

15 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

I love the article, and love the writing. But I disagree with the analysis.

The Lions ran the ball just 8 times - 10 if you include two goal-line QB sneaks. So it makes sense to focus on the pass protection instead.

In the pass game, the line allowed zero sacks and just a few QB hits. That's really, really good. So if they were bad in a way that mattered, it would have to be in allowing enough pressure that Stafford would be unusually inaccurate or forced to accept a low yards/pass result.

Neither of these happened. Stafford had a higher completion rate than throughout the regular season. He also had a higher yards/pass. He had three TD passes - all when the game was theoretically in doubt.

The Saints pass rush did contribute to the first interception (in the fourth quarter, down by 10), but only slightly, since Stafford needed to throw the ball then anyway. His receiver fell down, which allowed the under-thrown pass to become an interception rather than just an incomplete pass. The second interception was in junk time, and hardly reflects on anything except desperation.

Overall, the pass protection results were good: no sacks, few hits, enough time for Stafford to be accurate and effective in the passing game.

You seem to be focusing on how the line "looked" - in the sense of physical domination and technique. Sure, there were few picture-perfect pockets. But the results were actually quite good. The Lions didn't have a bad day on the OL. They had a bad day on defense, marked by blown coverages and general suckitude all around.

18 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

I hear you. They could have been leaking like a sieve, with the defensive linemen just whiffing on the QB again and again - but they weren't. Even Ben's process-based analysis doesn't say that. Instead, it documents the line doing a fine job preventing contact with the QB, but not such a good job preserving a large, well-defined pocket. Sure, but is that really important? How would we tell?

Without that large pocket, Stafford had a fine game, with a 97 QB rating and other stats indicating a solid passing performance. And this is consistent with - in fact better than - the Lion's performance all season. The pressure Ben describes did not cause Stafford to under-perform in almost any dimension. The one stat that he did under-perform on (interceptions) was primarily due to having to play from far behind in the fourth quarter - hardly the fault of the offensive line since they don't play defense.

Ben's not saying those results are bad - or at least not giving any compelling evidence about results. He's expressing his prejudice against how they got those results. But teams do in fact get great results by focusing on preventing mistakes rather than by beating up the defensive linemen. If you think otherwise, you should look again. OL mistakes are drive killers, and must be prevented at all costs. Pancaking a rusher looks great on film, but doesn't buy you much more than containing him, or even just forcing him to take the long route to the QB.

Maybe, just maybe, it's more important to prevent sacks all of the time than it is to hold a large pocket for five seconds much of the time. If that's true (hint, it is) then the Lions did a fine job, and the Saints' strategy did not pay off very well - not until the Saints offense had built a large fourth quarter lead, at least.

19 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

What is important is for the offensive line to provide enough comfort to the qb that he can identify the best place to throw the ball, and deliver it accurately. The ability to do this, of course, is also dependent on factors beside o-line performance; the performance of the qb, the receivers, and, very importantly, the opposing defensive backs and linebackers. The fact that Staffords numbers were good may indeed be proof that the Lions' offensive line performed well, or at least well enough. It also may indicate, among other things, that Stafford played much better than he normally does, or, perhaps more plausibly, that the Saints stunk in coverage.

It really is hard to evaluate football performance based upon the boxscore, or even by what is seen on television.

20 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

nat, it would be interesting to see the DVOA results for that game comparing the Lions O vs. the Saints D. In other words, Stafford and the pass O had an above-average game for them--but it also came against a below-average pass D (and I say that as a Saints fan). The fact that they only had 8 traditional runs + the sneaks means that the Lions OC thought that they could pass the ball against the Saints D--and they did. What concerns me about that # of few runs is that the Lions were never down big against the Saints except toward the end (as you mention, Stafford's first INT was when the Lions were down 10--not exactly insurmountable). In other words, the Saints don't exactly have a stout run D like the Vikes of years' past. Why so few runs?

22 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

Stafford's results were at or above his own average, above league average, and better than the average Saints' opponent. The one meaningful exception is the last interception - which hardly can be blamed on the offensive line since they weren't the ones to give up 45 points and force desperation tactics.

The Lions' offensive DVOA was better than their season average. That is, even when you consider the Saints' not-so-great defense, Stafford and company did better than expected. The Lion's offense did well. The Saints' defense did badly. Of course, the Lions' defense did even worse, but that's another topic.

As for the number of runs, Detroit had seven runs in the first half, which is low but not ridiculous. They had one run when down 3 in the third quarter. After that, they were down 10 or more whenever they had the ball, and only ran two sneaks from the 1 yard line. It's hard to fault them for abandoning the run when Brees was torching their defense. Regardless, the play calling isn't the fault of the offensive line, and was pretty effective most of the game anyway.

21 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

nat...i'm curious if you re-watched the game completely or are just going off box score stats which show few hits and and no sacks. Sacks maybe the only statistic we have thats available to measure pass rush(since we assume a team that gets sacks must also be applying a commensurate amount of pressure), but it really isn't complete. Hits might be a bit better, but really, hurries are what matters and no one provides those statistics for free. As the great qbs have shown, you can give up next to know sacks but that doesn't mean your offensive line is doing its job. Second, what type of pass plays you call also mitigate how often you're going to be sacked so play calling matters in it too.

I think the part that seems hard to understand is how a team's pass protection can be considered "really good" and simultaneously have its o line beaten to a man.

lastly, i think we don't really know how to define what a hurry is exactly. Is it when the pocket collapses? Is it when the qb starts to get jittery and scramble? Is it when he's not able to step into his throw? What does a hurry really even mean?

23 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

I'm taking Ben at his word. They didn’t have a lot of sacks, or even that many hits, ... (Okay, Ben fudged the numbers. Technically zero sacks is "not a lot", but really, Ben, really....)

The O-line was never, ever beaten in the sense of the QB being sacked. At best, they made contact with Stafford as he had released the ball - just a few times. That's a hurry - which matters only if it results in a lower completion percentage or a lower yards per play - neither of which happened in this game.

We can't define a hurry exactly - although people try. But we can know it by its effects. If there is evident pressure and the QB's effectiveness drops as a result, we can say he was hurried. If his effectiveness goes up or doesn't change, we can assume he wasn't hurried in any useful way.

The upshot is this: the Saints defensive line was very good at putting "pressure" on Stafford in a way that had no useful effect when compared to average. The Lions' offensive line was very bad at preserving large pockets that didn't matter when compared to average.

I'll take effective protection over ineffective "pressure" any day.

25 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

"We can't define a hurry exactly - although people try. But we can know it by its effects. If there is evident pressure and the QB's effectiveness drops as a result, we can say he was hurried. If his effectiveness goes up or doesn't change, we can assume he wasn't hurried in any useful way."

I disagree with this. If a pass rush forces a QB to run around in loops for 4 seconds, but every member of the secondary fell down due to tripping on their own untied shoelaces, you can't say that the pass rush wasn't successful, just that something else went wrong for a defense that let the QB be successful.

24 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

i cant understand this. Its a pressure if they made contact with stafford...as in, you only count hits as pressures or hurries? and furthermore, those only matter if it affects his nominal stats? See...there are a few things wrong with your logic imo. Firstly, getting hit is far too restrictive because qbs can be hurried without being hit. One example that instantly jumps to mind is that peyton manning last sec int against Ne in 2010 regular season game. Diem was essentially beaten instantly and pressure got to manning right as he hit his drop. He still released the ball and wasn't hit, but it affected his mechanics and the ball was underthrown and picked off. He wasn't hit, but that was hurry.

Your second definition-though, is also wrong. Yes it resulted in a pick or on average an incompletion, but that isn't always the case and had the play been a designed fullback run out or short swing pass-maybe it gets completed and then its up to defensive secondary to make the stop. The bottom line is, getting pressure is half of it, the coverage still has to do its job and if we assume that matt stafford was under pressure-then his above average metrics imply that the saints pass defense was inept-not that somehow the saints pressure was faux pressure. I think you have to judge pressure based on principle, not after the fact results. And also, better qbs handle pressure better than others so that again skews the results.

Bottom line, and again, i didn't rewatch the game so i can' definitely state one way or the other, but if i am to believe ben that the o line was being hammered- then stafford's performance is laudable and the saints secondary definitely played poorly.

The ultimate point im trying to make is...pressure isn't the be all and end all of pass defense. In fact, id argue pass defense is much more a function of good coverage than great pass rush. Yes pass rush affects qb plays more often than not, but how many attempts are qbs really under duress for? I suspect it couldn't be more than 30 percent and for some of the best qbs who have good receivers and great scheme designs, the pressure rates are probably even less. Thats why i bristle at the repeated myth people bring up.

The giants winning the sb only exacerbates this because people just point to the pass rush as the sole reason for them winning with defense. Nevermind in 2010 and 2009, it was their secondary that completely imploded. Nevermind that beyond their front four, webster and philips are both good players and while rolle may not be great, but provides flexible depth to cover tight ends and slot receivers while switching between safety and 3rd corner. So this argument that the giants were all pass rush and needed no coverage is complete bs.

27 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

Rushing the QB has four main purposes. (1) To sack him. (2) To interfere with his throw so that he throws worse. (3) To cause him to make worse choices about where, when and if to throw the ball. (4) To limit the play calls by limiting the amount of time the QB can safely hold the ball.

Purpose (1) was an utter failure for the Saints that day.
Purpose (2) was a failure, at least as far as actual pass effectiveness goes.
Purpose (3) was a failure, at least as far as actual pass effectiveness goes.
Purpose (4) was a success, but not in a way that altered pass effectiveness until desperation time in the fourth quarter.

We're left with "bothered" as a result. I think it is possible to "bother" a QB's pocket enough to fulfill purposes (2) or (3) without hitting him. But the Saints definitely did not succeed that day, at least not until they had a two score lead in the fourth quarter.

BTW, "hammered" is an interesting choice of words for "fewer than usual hits, no sacks, and pressure that had no useful impact on the QB's performance compared to average". "Bothered" is the most you could credit the Saints with. And even that requires a loose definition of bothered - as in "the French Army bothered the invading Germans in 1940".

30 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

Ok, so hammered wasn't accurate and i feel like you're now getting into semantics which is beside the point.

The main problem you and i seem to be having on this you seem to think that disrupting a passing play falls entirely to the pass rush. As in, a pass rush is successful solely if the pass itself was successful, somehow pretending that the the other 7 players in the secondary and at the linebacker level have absolutely no impact on those plays. I'm not a coach or coordinator so i doubt neither of us can say convincingly which is the case, but frankly, to act like the coverage does not have any impact on how successful a pass play is when the qb is duressed, hurried, or bothered, is just wrong.

As i want to make clear- there are so many factors that go into making a play successful and the same are true for when those plays are under duress. Better qbs handle are better at handling pressure, certain schemes that are short centric or west coast probably handle pressure better than deep drop schemes, and finally, certain skill position players exceed on dump offs, quick screens, and short slants to mitigate the effects of pressure than others. To basically ignore all of this and just make it black and white i think is largely ignoring the issue.

I'll ask you this: lets say the saints played the lions again and got the same exact pressure, but instead, they replaced their woeful secondary with great coverage players across the board and a better more complex scheme. Do you really believe that stafford- now under the same "bothered" conditions would've been just as effective? I doubt you would expect that.

31 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

No, I think you've missed it.
If the line failed to disrupt the play, they fail to disrupt the play. If the QB has time to make the correct choice and a good throw, and he gets good yardage, then he wasn't pressured enough to matter.
Sure, some schemes require less time, or a smaller pocket. But so what? If the result was a high completion rate and a decent yards per pass play, that's what the offense was trying to do, and the defensive line failed to stop it.
Your idea of replacing the Saints secondary with a set of all-pros is just silly. Of course he would get worse results. This would be true regardless of the pressure, so it enlightens us not a bit.
The situation was this. The Saints focused on keeping the Lions from sustaining a large pocket for Stafford. But the Lions weren't running an offense that needed a large sustained pocket to generate good results. They needed Stafford to not get sacked and to have enough time to make his first two reads and throw. That's exactly what he got. The Saints defense was unwilling or unable to change tactics, and were bailed out by Brees and the offense.

33 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

I thought the Lions o-line played poorly. They stayed in front of their men for the most part, but they gave up too much ground. I came away with three thoughts about non-offensive linemen and how they affect the views of the game.
1) The Saints secondary isn't very good. They weren't covering anybody really.
2) Matthew Stafford has a ridiculous arm. He was firing lasers despite the fact that he rarely was able to step into his throws.
3) The Saints defensive line is either incredibly disciplined or depressingly 1 dimensional. It was amazing how they all rushed the exact same way the entire game with little variation. The NT wasn't throwing swim moves, and the DEs weren't countering inside. They stuck w/the gameplan the entire game. And whether that was because they can't do anything else is impossible to say after one game.

37 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

Well, reasonable people can disagree. I definitely can see that if their goal was to sustain a large pocket by holding their ground for a long time, the Lions OL failed.

But I don't think that was their primary goal, nor should it be the main goal of a modern offensive line in front of a good QB. In today's game with a good QB, it's much more important to eliminate sacks and QB hits then it is to let the QB hold the ball for four seconds or more in a large pocket. A QB like Stafford doesn't need four seconds and he doesn't need to take two steps to throw, and can make many throws without stepping up at all. The protection needs to take that into account.

In pass protection for a good QB, the OL doesn't need to "often win"... it needs to "never lose". The QB will take it from there.

Doing both is best, naturally. But I'll take "never lose" if I have to choose. And "never lose" is pretty darned effective. That's mostly what the Lions line did that day.

41 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

No, nat, I think you've missed it. Ben is simply evaluating the line play, and I think he pretty much hits it spot on. If you're basing your evaluation on stats then you should look at the field day Jabbari Greer had against Stafford -- 2 INTs and 4 pass breakups. Staff was throwing at Greer way too much and it's probably because he was forced to do so.

I watched this team play all 17 games in 2011, and there wasn't a single game in which the O-line produced anything like a clean pocket -- and by far most of the time it was because the line sagged in the middle. Raiola is definitely the weak spot on the line, but he continues to stick around because the Lions haven't found a replacement at decent value yet. Peterman and Sims are better than some fans think, but aren't spectacular. Cherilus can be really awful to the point where it isn't worth considering starting Corey Hilliard in his place. Backus has his ups and downs but is still a capable but not spectacular LT, and he works well with Sims in the run game.

Let's face it -- none of these guys are great, but they work well enough together to keep the QB from getting killed like Cutler. As a unit, they're probably the best in the NFC North, but that's not saying much.

35 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

Nat...you're basically taking an entirely black and white approach. I can't help but think this is follows along the same lines of...well they didn't win the championship so they must not have been the best team argument. It basically ignores all of the moving parts that go into football and pretends like everything happens in a vacuum and the play of one component of a football team has no effect on the others. That is simply false and i don't think its really debatable.

As to your reply, you've essentially proved my point. By conceding that matt stafford would've played worse against a better secondary, you are acknowledging that the secondary has an effect even when a qb is hurried. That in effect, the same pass rush would produce two entirely different results signifies that you too believe its not about the quality of the pass rush as it is so much about the quality of the secondary.

Finally, from a football scheme point of view, if a qbs first read is open after he hits his drop, even when he's hurried, he should still be able to make the throw. Unless its super tight coverage, even good qbs can make servicable throws to their primary read right off their drop if the receiver is open. And they don't always need to step into the throw or have proper mechanics to do so.(How many cutler off his backfoot throws have we seen him complete?) That doesn't mean there wasn't pressure, but again, that the secondary didn't take advantage of it. I agree there are probably better hurries than others, but still, i don't think you or I can definitely state one way or the other without coaching tape to see if the primary read was open or not.

38 Re: Word of Muth: Scouting the Lions

Great article as always. That was also the funniest quote I've ever heard from a coach.

Fire Jeff Ireland.