Word of Muth

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

Word of Muth: Silver Lining

by Ben Muth

As a sports fan, there really aren't many things worse than your team getting shellacked on opening day/night. It takes so much wind out of your sails. You've spent all offseason waiting for the games to start. You know your free-agent acquisitions fit better into your coaches' scheme than they ever did anywhere else. This year's draft picks are all exciting and will add just what this team has been missing. The national media is definitely sleeping on you. This is your year.

Then you get housed by the Jets by 31 points at home. Not fun.

The good news: it was just one game, and as bad as it was, you have to assume Matt Stafford isn't going to throw five picks every game this year. The bad news is that even without the turnovers, there were some other issues that the Liosn really need to tighten up if they want to play in the postseason this year. One big issue is that they still don't look like they're going to be able to run the ball at all.

If you've read this column over the years, you know I like to pick plays from early in the game to highlight because often times they can be a harbinger of things to come. Detroit's first running play was definitely an early warning sign that it might be a long night in Motown.

via Gfycat

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That's a 7-yard loss where not a lot went right. Obviously Graham Glasgow (60) at center is the biggest culprit here. It's tough blocking back on a guy slanting across your face, but it's a lot easier if you're anticipating it. If Glasgow had seen that defensive back hanging around in the box, and particularly once he didn't follow the motion, he should have known there was a good chance that New York was bringing pressure off the edge, which means the defensive line would slant away from the pressure. I'm guessing Glasgow just didn't see the defensive back (he is a long way out and there's a lot of bodies in between), and a call never got relayed to him. As a result, he was caught by surprise by the movement and gave up a huge tackle for loss, putting the Lions in a hole.

Glasgow wasn't the only one caught off guard by the movement. Rookie left guard Frank Ragnow (77) also gets beat across the face, and then his feet get so screwed up trying to recover I can't tell if he falls down because he got stepped on or just knocked on his ass. It doesn't really matter which one, because either way Ragnow was in the wrong for not anticipating the movement.

This was just the start of what turned out be a very rocky debut for the 2018 Lions as a team and Frank Ragnow as a player.

via Gfycat

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If you're on twitter you've probably already seen this clip a thousand times, but here it is again because this was probably the biggest play of the game. This is a rookie just getting whooped by a veteran and getting the quarterback hit hard in the process.

There's a lot that goes bad quickly, but it starts with Ragnow's feet. His first step is fine, but his second step is too slow. It's stuck in the ground. So by the time he moves his inside foot he has to go inside with it, because that's where the defensive tackle jab steps. This is bad because after two steps Ragnow hasn't moved anywhere and now his stance is so wide that he has to step underneath himself just so he can gain any ground and finally start moving. Ragnow really doesn't move anywhere until his fourth step. By that point he's just lunging with his hands/body hoping to catch any piece of Henry Anderson (96), who swats his outside arm away and swims over on his way to the quarterback. The play was exactly as bad as it looked on Twitter.

That was as bad as it got for Ragnow and the Lions, but even the plays that weren't disasters weren't overly encouraging for the first-round pick.

via Gfycat

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This was a 5-yard run on first-and-10, so it was a successful play. It worked because of a great combination block between Glasgow at center and T.J. Lang (76) at right guard. Lang shows great quickness and technique to reach a head-up nose (Mike Pennel, 98). That's a big-boy play, and if you can get a block like that on the nose and then the center gets up to the linebacker (Darron Lee, 58), you're going to have a positive play.

But even though this was a good play for the Lions, it was mediocre for Ragnow. It may look OK, but it only looks that way because Detroit wins on the back side of the play. The reality of the situation is that Ragnow's lineman (Steve McLendon, 99) does exactly what he wants to do: he prevents a reach at the snap, stays in his gap without widening too much, bench-presses Ragnow off while still playing his gap, and finally sheds to make a tackle. It's a tackle that results in a 5-yard gain, but that has nothing to do with what's happening between Ragnow and McLendon. If Ragnow could have widened McClendon more or reached him, or even just stayed engaged better, this could have been a big run. Instead it's clinic tape for McClendon.

One thing that might make it tough to judge this offensive line is that I didn't think they got a lot of help from skill guys when it came to run blocking. I wasn't impressed with what Detroit's tight ends did in the ground game and the wide receivers could have been better as well.

via Gfycat

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This play is there if the wide receiver just doesn't get his ass kicked. The Lions have a great call against this stunt. They split the defense by running zone away from the stunt and locking the tight end to the backside. The wide receiver basically just has to get in Jamal Adams' (33) way enough for the back to be able to cut off his block in a huge hole. What can't happen is the wide receiver getting knocked onto his ass right in the middle of the hole. It takes a lot of moving parts to get a running game going, and it's not always all on the offensive line. Plays like this from your skill guys will kill you and make sure you never bust big runs.

It wasn't all bad for Detroit on Monday night, just mostly bad. I thought T.J. Lang played well and Rick Wagner is fine too. I thought both those guys might have played better than Taylor Decker (Lang definitely did) but Decker did some stuff that I really liked and has me excited to watch more of him.

via Gfycat

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I love this stuff. Decker (68) at left tackle looks like he plays with some power and meanness, and I appreciate it so much. You see a lot of guards clean up edge guys when they're engaged, but it's much tougher for a tackle to stop his kick slide and come back in to deliver a blow. This is why I love writing this column.

While we're here, take a look at Glasgow at center. He didn't play very well. I really think he over-sets the nose tackle here. I just don't get why he's in such a hurry to slide to his right. He knows he has T.J. Lang to the outside, unless there's a blitz and Lang has to get outside quick, but if there is a blitz the defensive tackle will probably slant inside anyways. So why not use Lang's body to help on the outside and make sure that you don't get beat across your face where you have no help? It wasn't a sack or even a hit, but considering how the play was set up, there was no reason for Glasgow to give up any pressure at all.

via Gfycat

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I love this play by Decker on the end-tackle stunt. Let me say again: I LOVE this play. Remember earlier how slow Ragnow was to get his inside foot to move on the pick-6? Now contrast that with what Decker does here. Decker moved both feet almost simultaneously. That allows him to move inside quickly when he has to stop the inside stunt. The set was great. Then look at how square Decker's shoulders are to the line of scrimmage as he slides back down inside. He's perfectly flat, and absolutely slams the inside door on the defensive end (Jordan Jenkins, 48). Ragnow didn't recognize the stunt because Anderson did a good job tying him up, but Decker does such a good job it doesn't matter. This is a really nice job on a difficult play. It's tough to pass off games when you're on the man side of a protection, but Decker was so good that Detroit didn't have to pass off anything.

I also like what Lang does here, and it's a good counter to what I was complaining about with Glasgow in the last play. Lang also over-sets the defensive tackle (Leonard Williams, 92) here, but it's smart for him to do it, because he knows the center is coming with him. If Williams makes an inside move, he's basically rushing himself into a double-team.

Playing offensive line in the NFL is very difficult. Knowing where your help is and where you want to drive a defensive lineman can it make it so much easier.

Comments

15 comments, Last at 19 Sep 2018, 11:05am

1 Re: Word of Muth: Silver Lining

by mehllageman56 // Sep 14, 2018 - 2:49pm

Thanks for this write-up Ben. By the way, the guy Decker shoves into the ground is Leonard Williams, former top ten draft pick. Have to say, watching these gifs, Anderson and McClendon look better than him right now.

I also wonder if the Jets knew what was coming in the play that Adams tackled the running back. He shoves Lee further inside, away from the play, so maybe not. Still it was good play by the safety, poor play by the receiver.

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2 Re: Word of Muth: Silver Lining

by andrew // Sep 14, 2018 - 3:12pm

"there were some other issues that the Liosn really need to tighten up"

The proper raiderjoe spelling is Loins.

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3 Re: Word of Muth: Silver Lining

by Guest789 // Sep 14, 2018 - 3:21pm

Great read. Good to see that Lang is still playing well, miss him in Green Bay.

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5 Re: Word of Muth: Silver Lining

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Sep 14, 2018 - 5:36pm

He was a very good signing, and one of the few reliable players on what was a disaster of an offensive line in 2017. Staying healthy has been an issue (lingering back injury that won't go away will make him miss week 2), unfortunately, and may end up shortening his career.

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4 Re: Word of Muth: Silver Lining

by ChrisS // Sep 14, 2018 - 4:06pm

That game was hard to watch in real time, but its easier in stop motion probably because the analytical side of the brain gets engaged. Hopefully if Ragnow figures it out then the OL play will get much better since in many plays the OL is only as good as the worst player. On the first gif it looks like Ragnow got tripped by Decker, probably because Ragnow's feet were in the wrong place.

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6 Re: Word of Muth: Silver Lining

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Sep 14, 2018 - 5:39pm

Enjoyed this write-up (complete opposite of the actual game). It was gratifying to see Taylor Decker being a baaad man. He doesn't do that great on FO charting stats, but every film study I see of him suggests he's really good when at full health.

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7 Re: Word of Muth: Silver Lining

by JoeyHarringtonsPiano // Sep 14, 2018 - 5:41pm

"there were some other issues that the Liosn really need to tighten up if they want to play in the postseason this year."

Cue the Jim Mora "PLAYOFFS??!!" YouTube clip. Before seeing them bumble around in the pre-season, I predicted they would hover around .500 this year, and even that appears to be overly generous so far.

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8 Re: Word of Muth: Silver Lining

by IAmJoe // Sep 14, 2018 - 8:26pm

Glad to see the Lions finally getting some attention in your column, Ben! Out of curiosity, did this look more like a "welcome to the NFL" sort of night for Ragnow, or do you think this type of game was indicative of something more concerning? Having poor footwork seems like the sort of technique issues that could be coached, but especially if you're already playing on the interior line and your feet aren't good enough for that position, that seems awfully worrisome to me. Did you have an opinion on Ragnow coming into the season?

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9 Re: Word of Muth: Silver Lining

by theslothook // Sep 15, 2018 - 12:19am

This article reinforced two theories I have regarding offensive line play.

1) In what is perpetually an overused cliche, I think it holds true here - "Only as strong as your weakest link."

2) A bad offensive line is not prohibitive provided you have good enough skill position talent. However, no amount of skill talent can overcome a horrendous offensive line.

The two statements above making valuing offensive line play very tricky.

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10 Re: Word of Muth: Silver Lining

by anotheroldguy // Sep 15, 2018 - 12:51am

Thanks, enjoyed the analysis as always; it adds so much to my enjoyment of the game to have some idea of what's going on where it really matters. This column is almost always one of the week's high points for me.

And once again, thank you, or whoever's responsible, for this Gyfycat formatting of the videos, allowing half-speed view and inline full-screen viewing. If I could ask for anything more, it would be to have them just a smidge less tightly edited - another half second or so before and after? So I can see the alignment before the snap, and a little after what you think is the end?

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11 Re: Word of Muth: Silver Lining

by Noah Arkadia // Sep 15, 2018 - 12:34pm

Actually, I was going to comment I was very happy the gifs could be paused and played. When you can't do that it can be tough to understand who's who. I did not see the option to watch at half speed, but I don't think it's need if you can stop and go at any time.

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12 Re: Word of Muth: Silver Lining

by anotheroldguy // Sep 15, 2018 - 2:55pm

For me (Latest Firefox on latest MacOS) if I right-click on the gif preview I get a menu that includes play speed and other controls.

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15 Re: Word of Muth: Silver Lining

by Noah Arkadia // Sep 19, 2018 - 11:05am

Firefox on Win10 here, and yeah, you're right. I do get play speed on the right click menu.

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13 Re: Word of Muth: Silver Lining

by alan frankel // Sep 15, 2018 - 11:05pm

Great read. Thanks for the insight.
It’s a bit hard to follow the players somtimes.
Glasgow and ragnow it’s soneasy to confuse those guys
Can’t they give us some different names

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14 Re: Word of Muth: Silver Lining

by garion333 // Sep 17, 2018 - 9:07am

Ragnow looks like he could use some more time in their system before starting. Clearly he's not quite ready for prime time. Should be interesting to see how he fared yesterday.

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