Lions Offensive Line Finds Composure Late to Win in Minnesota

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Lions tape shows improving offensive line in OT versus Vikings

Offensive Line Steadily Improving

One of the big question marks for this Lions team heading into 2016 was “how will this offensive line look following an abysmal 2015 performance?” As mentioned previously, they have surpassed many analysts expectations heading into this season. At every position on the offensive line, there has been improvement.

Taylor Decker is improving in his ability to handle speed rushers coming off the edge. Decker is doing a much better job running speed rushers up the field and letting the defensive player take himself out of the play instead of trying to stonewall them. Subbing in for sick right tackle Riley Reiff was Corey Robinson who looked good in the running game and reliable in pass protection. This depth should give the Lions confidence going forward if the injury bug strikes again. Left guard Graham Glasgow is starting to pick up his blocking assignments better as his understanding of his role in the playbook increases. Glasgow is better able to diagnose more complex fronts shown by defenses than he was just a few weeks ago.

This was evident across the whole line as the Minnesota Vikings who hardly ever show their base 4-3 front. More often than not you will see the linebackers showing blitz only to drop back into coverage. Free safety Harrison Smith also got into the mix at the line of scrimmage with more exotic blitzes and fronts. This can be very confusing for an offensive line that is as young as this Detroit line.

However, the Lions were able to consistently diagnose these exotic fronts and kept Stafford upright for most of this game and only improved as the game went on. The last drive in the 4th quarter and on the game winning drive, the offensive line was perfect apart from one sack that was due in large part to great coverage down the field by Minnesota.

If this offensive line continues to improve the way they have, the Lions will be in a great position headed down the stretch. Matthew Stafford has already proven that when he is given time, he can lead this team to victory. How this team fares the next seven games will ride heavily on this unit’s continued growth.

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Bynes Is A Much Need Improvement to Linebacking Corps

It has been no secret that the Lions have had issues with their linebacking corps this season as tight ends have feasted on this unit week in and week out. However, this unit has gotten significantly better by the signing of Josh Bynes following the trade of Kyle Van Noy. Bynes brings a veteran presence and an understanding of this defensive scheme that was definitely missing previously.

Against Minnesota, Bynes as able to diagnose run plays noticeably faster than any other linebacker on the field for Detroit. This is in contrast to Van Noy who would look lost against the run and get washed down consistently. Bynes improvement was evident as he helped this unit hold a Viking’s team to 3.1 yards per carry. While this Vikings unit has had issues running the ball this season, the Lions have been one of the worst defenses in the league and are looking to improve this unit as they make a push for the playoffs.

Bynes was better able to cover than Van Noy as well. While tight ends have found great success against the linebackers in the previous eight weeks, the Lions only allowed two receptions and five yards to tight ends. Unfortunately, one of those receptions was to Kyle Rudolph for a touchdown due to middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead blowing the coverage. However, Bynes was a big reason for the limited success by the tight ends. His improvement in coverage versus Van Noy was big in the Lions close win over the Vikings.

As this team gets healthier following the bye, the Lions might be wise to move Whitehead off the field in passing situations. While his return is only speculated at this point, if Deandre Levy is able to return in two weeks against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Lions may look to Levy and Bynes to be the coverage linebackers in their nickle packages.

Film Room Mentionable Players

Wide receiver Marvin Jones was rarely able to get open as the physical play of cornerback Xavier Rhodes prevented Jones from running the crisp routes that allow him to get separation and make plays. This was a criticism of Jones coming to Detroit and was highlighted against Minnesota in week nine.

This may have been Teryl Austin’s best coached game of the season. This game was going to be an uphill battle for this defense with defensive end Ziggy Ansah still dealing with his ankle injury and number one cornerback Darius Slay out. He consistently mixed up the front looks for the defensive line with stunts and moving players up to the line of scrimmage. The goal of any defense is to hold a team under 17 points. The Lions allowed 16. Teryl Austin’s play-call deserves some credit this week.

On the other side of the ball, Jim Bob Cooter had another poor week calling plays. The offense had shown some life in the first half by being creative. Cooter came out of the 2nd half with an incredibly vanilla offense that could not move the ball until late in the 4th quarter. He called the same sweep to the weak side of the formation five times, usually resulting in losses. This play call is really questionable considering the Vikings defense has been built with the athleticism and speed to stop sweeps and tosses. Even though the screen game was not working, Cooter kept calling them. Sometimes even back to back.

However, Cooter does deserve some credit for the play call on the final drive in overtime. Twice this game the Lions had long drives that kept them in this game. But, you would like to see more consistent play-calling throughout the game to not have to win in overtime.

Tight end Eric Ebron had a great game. He ran crisp routes and continued to show some improvement in his blocking performance. He had one focus drop, but was a reliable target and was able to make when Stafford needed him to.

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