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

Word of Muth: Throwing in the Towel

Word of Muth: Throwing in the Towel
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

In between last Sunday’s game and today, the Lions traded their leading receiver Golden Tate for a third-round draft pick. At 3-4 they are just a game behind the first-place Chicago Bears in the NFC North, so they are right in the thick of a playoff race. I know it was unlikely Tate would re-sign this offseason, but trading your most productive receiver (at least in terms of catches and yards) halfway through the season doesn’t do a lot to boost confidence in your playoff hopes.

After watching last Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks, I can’t say I disagree with the front office’s decision that 2018 may not be Detroit’s year. I only watched Detroit’s offense this week, so I can’t give a thorough breakdown of what happened to their defense, but I do know it’s a bad sign when your offense only gets three possessions in the first half. That would be a tough situation for any offense to put a lot of points up.

But we’re not going to focus on the defense, we’re going to focus on the offensive line. If I had to describe their performance in one word, it would probably be "meh." It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t good, and it wasn’t quite fine. It was just a shade below fine. They weren’t getting dominated or anything, but the Seahawks clearly came in with a plan to rush four and cover behind it. The Seahawks' pass rush wasn’t great, but they made Matthew Stafford more uncomfortable than he would’ve liked to be.

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Because the performance was so meh, it was actually really hard to pick plays to highlight. This was a big play in the game (it was a turnover) and it epitomizes Detroit’s pass-blocking as a whole. This isn’t terrible like the blocking on most sack/fumbles is, but it wasn’t good enough.

At right tackle Ricky Wagner (71) loses this play. He’s a little high and he can’t stop the end’s (Dion Jordan, 95) transition from speed to power. Wagner ends up in Stafford’s lap, but he does anchor enough to give the quarterback a chance. If Stafford would’ve slid to his left, instead of drifting to his right where his eyes were taking him, I think Wagner’s block might have been just enough. In fact, even with Stafford drifting, Wagner was on the end enough to help force a missed lunging tackle.

The rest of Detroit’s offensive line is fine here. It ranges from really good (T.J. Lang, 76, redirecting and shutting down an inside spin) to good enough (Taylor Decker, 68, playing too high and also getting pushed too far back but not as far as Wagner). This was how most of Sunday was for Detroit’s offensive line -- OK against Seattle’s front four, but when a team is dropping seven every play, your job isn’t to be OK against the four rushers, it’s to block long enough for your receivers to beat the coverage. The Lions offensive line couldn’t do that Sunday.

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This was probably the worst play of the game for Detroit’s offensive line. When they did give up pressure Sunday, it was usually a twist that was causing the disruption. Here, Seattle has a tackle/nose game and it wrecks Detroit’s interior. As with most twists, the breakdown came from failing to blunt the penetrator.

All twists have a penetrator and a looper. Above, Jarran Reed (90) is the penetrator and his job is to either split the left guard and center, or if he can’t do that, pick the center. It’s left guard Frank Ragnow’s (77) job to blunt or flatten the defensive tackle so he can’t get to the center’s hip which is where Reed is trying to get to split the line.

Not only does Ragnow give up too much penetration, he tries to overcompensate late by turning it into a drive block. By doing so, he succeeds in pushing the defensive tackle wide enough so center Graham Glasgow (60) can recover after getting rocked a bit, but he leaves himself in an impossible position to come back on the looper. A rough rep for the rookie.

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Just like in the passing game, it wasn’t that Detroit was awful in the run game, they just weren’t good enough to sustain consistent offense. They get a proverbial hat on a hat here, no one is getting their ass kicked, but they just aren’t generating any movement. You’d like the movement to come from Lang and Wagner’s double-team on the play-side, but they really don’t get much of a push. The play-side tight end (Michael Roberts, 80) is in a stalemate, which is all you ask from him on this single-back power play. I have no idea why the hipped tight end (Luke Willson, 82) is arc-blocking to the corner instead of blocking the safety (there are very few times when blocking corners is necessary; this didn’t seem like one of them), but other than that, this is what the play is supposed to look like. The Lions just didn’t get enough movement anywhere.

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This was one of Detroit’s worst running plays, and once again Ragnow was the primary culprit. I do not know why he’s so heavy on the down guy with the linebacker playing where he was. It’s like he thinks the plays is supposed to hit outside the left tackle. Maybe he thought the jet motion fake would hold the linebacker more, or maybe he thought he was working to K.J. Wright (50) and not Bobby Wagner (54). Whatever the case, he seemed to realize he had made a horrible mistake halfway through the play when it was too late.


8 comments, Last at 02 Nov 2018, 5:39pm

1 Re: Word of Muth: Throwing in the Towel

Good to see that Lang is still a good player. GB could've used him against the Rams last week. Worried about him with all those concussions though.

2 Re: Word of Muth: Throwing in the Towel

On that first play, Taylor Decker could easily have been beaten that play if not for some baffling technique from Frank Clark. Clark shoves Decker all the way back to the QB, then for some reason flips around and pushes his back into Decker. That's a startlingly dumb move to come from a fourth-year guy with real pass-rush chops.

7 Re: Word of Muth: Throwing in the Towel

I don't see that. IF he could have kept going wide he would have done OK, but he couldn't as the RB was there to chip him, so he went inside to avoid the chip and Decker was there and had a strong base and slowed him down, so to get some more momentum and get out of the congestion he tries to spin away from the blocker but was unsuccessful, but he did get the recovery.

5 Re: Word of Muth: Throwing in the Towel

On the first running play, what is the pulling guard (Ragnow?) doing? It looks like he just runs himself into the pile, but because there's no depth perception in video I can't actually see. Why didn't he keep pulling and block the safety? It looks like they'd have had every defender blocked, then.

8 Re: Word of Muth: Throwing in the Towel

In the first running play, Willson actually is blocking the safety(#30, Bradley McDougald). It's just that McDougald is playing outside, and the corner (#26, Shaquille Griffin) is playing inside.