Week 9 O-Line Spotlight
A quick trip to Outdoor World took care of everything they would need. A few nice and sturdy tents, cabin-style with a power port for an electrical power cord inside the tent. A two-burner propane stove, complete with handle for easy portability—we all know Sheldon likes his beans warmed thoroughly. And of course, they folded after fifteen minutes of the sniffles from Everson, splurging on the hand-crafted Brazilian cappuccino-colored 100 percent cotton hammock. The Vikings were prepared to spend Sunday camped out in the Lions’ backfield, and I’m here with the Week 9 O-line Spotlight to examine Detroit’s wilderness survival skills in the trenches.
Matthew Stafford should have gone to fetch fire wood. Instead, he was sacked more times than he’s ever been sacked in 133 career games. En route to setting a franchise record with those 10 sacks, the Vikings disrupted the flow of Detroit’s offense for a full 60 minutes (well, 36:45, but who’s counting). The only thing that had changed in Detroit’s offense was losing Golden Tate, but Theo Riddick, T.J. Jones, and even Kenny Golladay filled in as Stafford’s third-down safety valves well enough. The onus of this disaster is on the Lions’ offensive line.
Center Graham Glasgow admitted embarrassment, and left tackle Taylor Decker agreed while speaking to reporters after the game. It wasn’t just in pass protection they were being beaten. The Vikings’ 10 tackles for loss go a long way toward explaining how Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount combined for 45 yards on 17 carries.
In the gif below, Danielle Hunter begins what will be a long exorcism on Ricky Wagner near the end of the first quarter. This play ended up called off because of a hands to the face penalty on Linval Joseph, but nonetheless, you can see #99 matador the right tackle and join his buddies in the backfield before Kerryon gets his second foot down.
After a false start, the Lions continued that same drive and wound up in a 3rd & Goal from the eight-yard line. Detroit only converted four of their 13 third-down attempts and (spoiler alert) this isn’t one of them.
If you watch the right guard Kenny Wiggins (#79) above, you’ll see that, instead of attempting to pass off Johnson, he follows the block and crashes into the center (Glasgow). This leaves a huge gap for Sheldon Richardson to charge unimpeded into Stafford. Unable to step into his throw, Stafford had to eat the play and crumple. Wiggins was in and out of Sunday’s game as Detroit eased T.J. Lang back onto the field (Lang had missed multiple weeks with a concussion). After the game, Lang was placed back in concussion protocol, which begs the question of why they were playing him in the first place. That’s another discussion entirely, so let’s move on.
Following a Big-Play Darius Slay interception, Stafford and the boys had the ball back in their opponent’s territory. Faced with a 3rd & 1, just barely inside field goal range, Detroit lined up in I-formation and looked to jam it into the gut of Minnesota’s eight-man box. Everyone got a good initial push, but the left-side matchup of Danielle Hunter versus Michael Roberts went poorly for the second-year tight end. Hunter took Roberts (#80) for a ride, shoving him into the middle of the field before clamping down on the running back for no gain.
The Lions would bootleg Stafford out to pick up the first down on the next play, but this is a good example of how the Vikings used Hunter all over the formation as a disrupter. Detroit would end up getting into the red zone again, earning themselves a 1st & 10 from the 12-yard line. Two sacks in the following three-play span turned another touchdown opportunity into a field goal. The second of the sacks was the fault of a broken screen play so let’s focus on the first sack.
Hunter is matched up with right tackle Rick Wagner (#71). Respecting Hunter’s speed, Wagner overcompensated, got too deep, and allowed #99 an easy inside swim move. This forced Stafford to move up into the waiting arms of Everson Griffen, who produced a pretty nifty spin move of his own to fight off Decker’s (#68) block. Taylor would be victimized on two more plays before the half ended. In one, he got away with a false start and a hold before Stafford bailed him out with a scramble for a first down. The other is depicted below.
Decker wasn’t able to get his footing as Stephen Weatherly (#91) used a bull-rush to plow the tackle into the backfield, effectively sacking the quarterback with the offensive lineman’s feet. Detroit’s hopes for a score before halftime were thereby dashed, and they would receive the second half kickoff down 17-6.
In the Lions’ three second quarter drives, they allowed four sacks for -21 yards. In the first half, Blount and Johnson combined for 25 rushing yards on 11 carries. Minnesota defenders had no problems hunting down ball-carriers on the frontline. If not for the Slay interception, this game could have already been out of hand.
Detroit O-Line Efficiency Stats
Before I continue my bombardment of the Lions, it’s important to look at what sort of unit they were before their Week 9 game. According to Football Outsiders, Detroit had been a middle-of-the-road run blocking team in terms of Adjusted Line Yards, FO’s metric which assigns responsibility to the offensive line based on yardage adjusted by down, distance, situation, and other factors. The Lions ranked smack dab in the middle at 16th in the NFL. They’ve looked like an average NFL rushing team for the first time in years, piling up 150+ yards on the ground twice the season. They hadn’t done that since 2015.
In pass protection, Detroit was a top-10 team coming in to Minnesota. Their 5.5% Adjusted Sack Rate allowed ranked ahead of 22 other teams. Matthew Stafford’s 13 sacks had him tied for 26th-most prior to this game. He nearly doubled that total in four quarters against the Vikings.
Detroit’s first possession in the third quarter came to an end with a coverage sack. Stafford simply had nowhere to throw the ball. Riddick was supposed to be the play’s safety valve but effectively knocked himself out of the play before going on his route because he tried to chip Richardson.
Their second third-quarter possession began on their own three-yard line. Kerryon’s longest rush of the day (6 yards) bought a little bit of breathing room, but it wasn’t long before the snare was tightened. Another coverage sack allotted Hunter enough time to get around Wagner and deflate this Lions offense that had just earned its tenth first down of the day.
You just couldn’t expect anyone to keep Hunter at bay for more than a few seconds in this game. His performance shot him up to the top of the sacks leaderboard, and his eventual fumble-return touchdown would lock in victory for his team.
For their final third-quarter possession, Detroit was without their starting left tackle (Decker), who the broadcast presumed was taking a bathroom break. My best guess is Decker wanted to go re-tape his ankles and lay down for a couple minutes, but what do I know? Backup tackle Tyrell Crosby took Decker’s place and didn’t allow a single pressure, but that didn’t save Stafford from taking two more sacks. Mackensie Alexander and Eric Kendricks blitzed from the same spot on the field, forcing a pass-protecting Riddick to choose which of the two would get to the quarterback unimpeded. Turns out it was Alexander’s lucky day.
You can see a moment of hesitation from Theo, likely wondering how the hell he was supposed to take care of both of these much larger gentlemen. Left guard Wiggins had to try to switch off Jaleel Johnson (#94) and take on Kendricks himself, but it still might have been for naught, as Riddick was likely beat by Alexander already. For good measure, the Vikings notched another sack to doom another drive, and then it was time for the 4th quarter.
I love a good fake punt. Or a bad fake punt. They’re all fun. Since all the way back when I was booting up Madden ’94 and ’95 (B-A-C-A-C, anyone?), I’ve been enthralled with faking out my opponent and getting to the edge with some plodding third-string tight end. Nothing tickled tiny Red’s fancy quite like running in slow motion to pick up four yards and keep a drive going. The 2018 Minnesota Vikings’ defensive line though? They didn’t giggle quite as much as I did 20-some years ago. Instead, they responded to the Lions’ successful fake punt by stuffing a subsequent Flea Flicker for a loss of four yards, then returning an ill-advised Stafford pitch for a 32-yard touchdown the other way.
Hell, we might as well gif that play too, mostly because of Hunter’s great effort to track down the ball, but also because the scrolling text at the bottom of the broadcast done lost its mind.
Stafford at this point was sitting at eight sacks taken, already a career high. By the time he got the ball back, his team was down 24-6 with under 7:00 to play. There was no longer any need to run the ball, and the Vikings felt no need to blitz. No matter, though, as Minnesota’s four down-linemen took it from there.
This is a great view from the broadcast, albeit a bit dizzying. You can see Tom Johnson (#96) get into the body of Wiggins (#79) before the defensive lineman is able to push off and keep Wiggins at bay. Johnson gets him backpedaling hard, moves around outside, and Wiggins is left grabbing for jersey.
Looking on the bright side, the Lions do not face Danielle Hunter and the Vikings again next week. They do however, play the Chicago Bears, who are likely to have Khalil Mack returning. Much like Hunter, Mack lines up on both sides of the line, both as a linebacker and a defensive end. Expect the Bears to put him wherever they smell blood, which could be almost anywhere on the line if Detroit’s Week 9 game was any indication.
While T.J. Lang did allow a sack, he played much better than back-up guard Kenny Wiggins. Lang is in a precarious spot with seemingly continuous flare-ups of concussion symptoms. It goes without saying that these injuries should be taken more seriously than a typical physical ailment. But as we move forward, if Wiggins is forced into a starting role, the Lions’ offensive line will be at a disadvantage.
It remains to be seen if the removal of short-to-intermediate all star Golden Tate had anything to do with Detroit’s poor performance or if this was all a coincidence. Would he have got open during those coverage sacks? Are we grasping for straws to explain how a mediocre offensive line could look downright pitiful? Even if Tate would have alleviated two sacks, Stafford still would have been punished throughout the day. On top of that, the play of a wide receiver wouldn’t have gone very far in figuring out why Detroit running backs averaged only 2.65 yards per carry.
The Lions face a murderers’ row of defenses for the remainder of the season, and their matchups in the fantasy playoffs are especially brutal. Here are their next seven opponents:
- Week 10: at Chicago
- Week 11: vs. Carolina
- Week 12: vs. Chicago
- Week 13: vs. L.A. Rams
- Week 14: at Arizona
- Week 15: at Buffalo
- Week 16: vs. Minnesota
They get Mack twice, Aaron Donald, a surprisingly tough Bills defense, and then the Vikings again for the fantasy championship. Each of these opponents rank 16th or better in PFF’s Pass Rushing grade. That sound you just heard was a collective “gulp” from all of us who have Matthew Stafford in two-quarterback leagues. The extra loud one you heard was from me. I own Stafford in three leagues. Thank jeebus for DFS.