Detroit Lions Review and Offseason Plan: Offensive Tackles

Nov 18, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions tackle Gosder Cherilus (77) sits on the bench with his teammates during the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field. Packers beat the Lions 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Today we take a look at how the Detroit Lions’ offensive tackles performed during the 2012 season with a little help from the fine folks at Pro Football Focus.

The radar chart below shows the Pro Football Focus grades for the Lions’ offensive tackles that played at least 25% of team snaps and compares them to the best, worst and league average ratings. PFF grades each player on each play to produce a massively useful tool for evaluating the totality of a player’s season compared to others at his position.

2012 Season Review
Jeff Backus – 2012 was a tough season for Jeff Backus. He missed a game for the first time in his career and he finished below average in PFF’s overall rating. He posted a good +8.4 rating in pass blocking but his -12.1 run blocking grade was the third worst among the 80 offensive tackles who played at least 25% of his team’s snaps. For the first time in his career, Backus missed a game due to injury.

Gosder Cherilus – Rob Sims won the team’s vote for offensive line MVP but it was Gosder Cherilus who posted the highest PFF grade. In fact, his +23.5 overall rating was tied for seventh best among all offensive tackles and second only to Andre Smith among right tackles. Cherilus did in mostly on the strength of a +21.1 pass block rating, fifth best in the NFL. He has now been rated as solidly positive every year excluding his rookie season – a fact overshadowed by some puzzling and boneheaded decisions that often draw penalties. Cherilus got dinged by PFF for penalties again this year, but his fine season still needs to be recognized.

Riley Reiff – The Lions offense had issues overall but offensive coordinator Scott Linehan did a great job of getting Riley Reiff involved as a useful part of the offense even though he didn’t win a starting spot on the offensive line. He was an important part of getting something out of the running game, and it shows up in his +6.4 run blocking grade from PFF. Of some concern may be that his lowest individual game rating game in his only start at left tackle, a -2.1 against the Houston Texans. Stepping into a spot start in a matchup with J.J. Watt is a tall order. Reiff graded out as a +0.6 in pass blocking that game but was dragged down by a -2.9 in run blocking, his only solidly negative run block rating of the year.

Offseason Plan
Oh how I would love the draft to come before the start of free agency. Since it doesn’t, the Lions should make retaining Gosder Cherilus a priority. He’s still on the right side of 30-years old and coming off his best season as a pro. The Lions have some issues that need to be improved on the offensive line but Gosder Cherilus isn’t one of them. Keep Cherilus and right tackle is taken care of for at least the next few years.

I have defended Jeff Backus as the victim of overly harsh criticism from Lions fans over the years. He wasn’t a Pro Bowl left tackle but he wasn’t terrible outside of Mike Martz’s madness that leads to all his quarterbacks getting sacked a bunch of times. Backus has been solid and dependable but he took a step back in both regards this year. At this point in his career, Backus won’t get better, he’ll only get worse. It’s time for the Lions to move on and use the cap space elsewhere.

That makes Riley Reiff the team’s left tackle pending what happens in the draft. If the Lions find themselves without the option of taking a blue chip pass rusher, I’m all for them taking either Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher (why I wish the draft was before the free agency period). Doing so would put Reiff in limbo but it gives the Lions the choice of trading Cherilus (assuming he is retained as I have suggested) or to take advantage of Reiff’s versatility and play him at guard or as an extra tackle as he was used in 2012.

Previously: Wide Receivers

*Those that have been around the Detroit Lions blogosphere for a while may recognize the approach presented as similar to Ty Schalter’s ‘Old Mother Hubbard’ series on The Lions in Winter. Don’t worry, he’s cool with what I’m doing here and has assured me that he’ll be back with Old Mother Hubbard later in the offseason.

Topics: Detroit Lions, Gosder Cherilus, Jeff Backus, Riley Reiff

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