A Film Review Of Rick Wagner’s Performance Against The New Orleans Saints In Week Six.
Wagner Flashes In Pass Protection
Rick Wagner was brought to the city of Detroit largely because of his pass blocking prowess. The past couple weeks however have been up and down for the right tackle. Sacks and pressures have been piling up and this game was no exception going against the Saints elite defensive end Cameron Jordan.
To graded #Lions on offense yesterday:
It was rough.
— Brett Whitefield (@BGWhitefield) October 16, 2017
While Wagner struggled to play well consistently, there a several moments in this game that he flashes and shows why the Lions spent so much money to sign him this past off-season. He is great at using his length to get speed rushers off balance or ride them up the field and take them out of the play. He also has the strength to stop most bull-rushers in their tracks.
On this play you see a solid example of Wagner succeeding in pass protection. He does not get rushed initially, but does a good job picking up the more unique stunt the Saints called on this play. As the middle linebacker blitzes, Saints defensive end Alex Okafor begins a stunt that Wagner quickly recognizes and uses his length to get enough leverage to stop Okafor in his tracks.
This play helped spring Golden Tate for the Lions first score of the game. This was a common occurrence for Wagner when facing stunts in this game as well. The fact that Wagner was able to successfully stop stunts is a sign of marked improvement at the position from a year ago. In 2016, stunts wreaked havoc on the offensive line and was a major contributor to their sack totals last year. Wagner has not been perfect, but it is a good to notice the positional improvements from year to year.
Where Wagner Has Struggled
Typically when he gets beat it is in pass protection, it is because he does not have the lateral agility to keep up with speed rushers or because he made a mental error. This was again the case in New Orleans.
On this play, you see Wagner chip inside to help interim right guard Emmett Cleary take on Cameron Jordan. Now, it is unclear whether Theo Riddick or Rick Wagner missed the blocking call on the play. But if the mistake is on Wagner, he gave up an untouched sack that led to quarterback Matthew Stafford getting sack stripped. These plays are often the result when Wagner does make a mental error.
Reasons For Optimism At Right Tackle
However, Wagner’s main issues coming from speedier defensive ends and mental mistakes are correctable. His unfamiliarity with the new offense could be a factor in the mental errors. Even though he is a vet and understands the game well, each team has it’s own lingo for line calls, adjustments, and technique. Some of his mental errors are likely a result of this and should become fixed with experience in the offense. The issue with lateral quickness is a tough one that may not be solved by Wagner alone.
But right guard TJ Lang returning from injury could really help Wagner out in this area. The chemistry has not been there for the Lions offensive line yet this season. But this is another thing that should get corrected with time and experience working next to Lang. TJ is also known for be very proficient pass blocker and could help Wagner when speed rushers try to dip inside to beat the right tackle with lateral quickness.
One more reason for optimism at the right tackle spot is that Wagner has been one of the only lineman to find consistent success in the running game. The Lions love to run stretch runs, but had to basically stop running them to the left. Partially because the left side has struggled to get push on these runs, but also because Wagner is succeeding there.
Wagner does exactly this on this stretch run to his side. He is facing Cameron Jordan who shoots upfield quick. Wagner engages with very good positioning and uses his strength to completely remove the elite defender from the play. His play is good enough to spring Abdullah to the best run of the game for the Lions with this 34-yarder.