Top Play in Trenches Shows Great Potential for the Lion’s Offensive Line

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Film Room Shows Stout Lineman Play Key For Stafford and Co. To Earn a Victory vs Washington

Young Detroit Offensive Line Playing Above Experience Level

The Detroit Lions have one of the youngest starting offensive lines in the NFL. After the Lions selected Taylor Decker in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, many expected him to play right tackle as left tackle is the hardest offensive line position. However, the Lions selected Decker to play left tackle and shifted Riley Reiff to right tackle. They believed in their rookie who has now exceeded most analyst’s expectations.

This move is paying off big for the Lions. Not only is their rookie holding down the left tackle spot, but Riley Reiff has gone from being an average to below average left tackle and turned into a mauler at the right tackle position.

Decker is not the only rookie lineman to make an impact on the offensive line. Third round selection Graham Glasgow looked like a future center for the Lions coming into this season given center Travis Swanson had an abysmal 2015 campaign. Swanson has demolished any thoughts of Glasgow taking over the center position with his top five center play so far this year. With left guard Laken Tomlinson being identified as the weak link of this line, the Lions elected to make a change at the position and tried out Graham Glasgow at left guard against the Rams and as a starter against the Redskins.

This move was also incredibly rewarding for the Lions. While Glasgow lacks the same power Tomlinson has, Glasgow has much better quickness and has a mean streak to him. These two factors, combined with a great motor, is why the Lions have made the switch and they have been reaping the rewards of this great offensive line play.

This is a great all around play by the Lions offensive line. The play starts with right guard Larry Warford pulling to the B gap. Travis Swanson handles his man perfectly one on one, maintaining his inside leverage. Glasgow and Decker double team the defensive end who lined up in the B gap, driving him backwards several yards before Decker breaks off the block and blocks inside linebacker Mason Foster in the 2nd level. Warford arrives to the gap to clear #51 Will Compton of the Redskins out of the hole. Detroit tight end Lee seals the edge by maintaining his inside position. Riley Reiff removes outside linebacker Trent Murphy from the play with a quick jab and almost gets to the 2nd level to turn this 8 yard run into a huge play.

This play perfectly illustrates how well the Lions young offensive line works together to create plays for their offense. If Detroit can see this offensive line create these plays consistently, they should be a greatly improved running game by the end of the year.

 Athletic Line Powers the “YAC Attack”

A big reason for the Lions offensive success has been attributed to the “yards after catch” generated by their very talented wide receivers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones. These two most definitely do not do it alone. One of the biggest reasons the Lions are so able to successfully run screens and underneath pass plays is thanks to their lineman’s athleticism in space.

Blocking in open space is one of the hardest assignments for offensive lineman. Defensive players are so fast and agile, it can be incredibly difficult for 6’5″ 310 lbs lineman to block them. However, this is a strength of this Lions offense. Immediately after Tate receives the screen pass he turns up field to see Riley Reiff one on one with safety Will Blackmon. Blackman nearly makes the tackle, but with Reiff’s length and athleticism, he’s able to blow Blackman out of the play. This in turn provides a cutback lane for Golden Tate to take advantage of.

This very cutback lane did not occur by accident. It was due in large part to Swanson and Warford getting in front of both inside linebackers in pursuit of the play. Even though Graham Glasgow did not register a block on the play, he was still running downfield with Tate as the play developed. It may not have made an impact on this play, but this hustle could easily lead to a big downfield play later in the season.

While not all of these blocks are bone crushing hits, the subtle play of getting out in front of the defense is essential to making these “YAC” plays work.

 Graham Glasgow’s Motor a Big Reason for Newly Earned Starting Position

Not many analysts had Glasgow listed as a potential NFL left guard. Glasgow has struggled at times with some of the mental aspects of the game like missed blocking assignments. Which can be fixed with good coaching and experience. But, you do see a very strong aspect of Glasgow’s mental game that cannot be coached as well and that is his motor.

On the game winning play against Washington, Stafford has a beautiful pocket to a deliver a strike to Boldin. While Glasgow may not have made a huge impact of the play, what he does on this play is very impactful to how he earned his starting position.

Before the snap, defensive end Ziggy Hood is lined up directly over Glasgow. As Stafford snaps the ball, Hood drops back into coverage leaving Glasgow without a man to block, but not for long. Glasgow seeing this, immediately turns to his left to help Decker in case he gave up his inside position. Once Glasgow realizes that Decker is forcing his man up the field, Glasgow turns around completely, running to aid his fellow Lion and delivers a two handed push to fully remove the defender from the play.

This plays a big part into why he is starting. Glasgow looks for work when there is no one in front of him. Consistently he is playing physical, tough, and is always looking for someone to hit. This is in stark contrast to Laken Tomlinson who prefers to stick his feet into the ground and hold his position. Glasgow is playing the position offensively while Tomlinson is playing it defensively. Glasgow earned his starting role with his motor and toughness, making up for his lack of experience.

Film Room Mentionable Players

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin continues to improve, building on the previous two games. This was the best the defense has look all year, especially the defensive line. Switching up from running soft zone, Austin utilized safety blitzes several times and drew up multiple stunts on the defensive line, allowing Ziggy Ansah to create pressure and force bad plays by the Washington offense.

Defensive tackle Khyri Thornton made the most of his opportunity in rotation, with Haloti Ngata out. Multiple times he flashed as he blew through the line. He made consistent penetration and was in position to keep the ball away from the Redskins following the Kirk Cousins fumble.

Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter kept the offense firing on all cylinders in the pass game. While the offense did not have the same explosive play all game like in previous weeks, they still got the big plays when they needed them. Cooter continues to utilize Tate in the running game very effectively. While the running game continues to sputter, it should not be attributed to Cooter. Any team’s running game is going to be tough going when their top 3 running backs go down. As their running back committee gets healthier, expect the running game to grow as well.

What Cooter has done well is utilizing the running backs strengths. Zenner has had trouble finding yards this year in large part due to his lack of patience and vision. But Cooter understand Zenner has ability to make plays with his combination of speed and power. So, multiple times in the past two games, Cooter has called draw plays that have worked very well for Zenner. This playcall removes his impatience by design and allows for his speed and strength to make the play.

Speaking of the running game, both running backs Zach Zenner and Justin Forsett had a rough game. On multiple occasions the offensive line made great plays only to be stopped for a minimal gain because the running back missed the hole.

Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Anquan Boldin continue to make plays for this team. Whether it’s blocking, attacking the ball, running crisp routes, or making plays after the catch, this wide receiver unit has been doing it all at a high level. This has built confidence in quarterback Matthew Stafford and has carried this team to three straight game winning drives.

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