A few years ago, Rob Sims was the best offensive lineman on the Detroit Lions. After being acquired via trade from the Seahawks, Sims would go on to improve the left side of the line which helped lead to a career year for Jeff Backus who was able to go retire on a high note after years of mediocre play. Rob Sims has also been a source of veteran leadership for a younger Lions squad. Off the field I have nothing but praise for Rob Sims. On the field? We’ve come to the point in his career where he absolutely must be benched for the team to have any chance at success moving forward.
Matthew Stafford was sacked a career high six times in a loss to the Buffalo Bills. Not every sack was the fault of Sims, and the majority of Stafford’s sacks this season have come from the right tackle turnstile crew, but Sims has allowed nearly constant pressure since mid-season 2013 and it has only accelerated lately. Never much of a run blocker, running behind Rob Sims is hardly an option that makes up for his poor pass protection.
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The once promising pass blocker has seemingly fallen off a cliff with both his technique and natural talent. When asked if he was injured, Rob Sims responded that he was not, which does little to explain the sudden, violent decline for a once powerful line presence. The problem with benching Sims is that depth is a concern along the interior. It’s time that Sims becomes depth, however, and I struggle to see how any learning curve associated with playing an alternative player could be worse than allowing Rob Sims to embarrass himself further.
The alternatives, of course, are alternatives and not starters for a reason. Former Atlanta OG Garrett Reynolds spent most of his time at offensive tackle for the Lions where he was an unmitigated disaster. He wasn’t better at guard for the Falcons, but would likely be the first call up when Sims is benched. Reynolds wouldn’t be an improvement over Sims, but it’s possible the time off the field could let Sims fix whatever is making him play as bad as he has in 2014.
Fans would likely clamor for the second option, starting 2014 3rd round pick Travis Swanson. Swanson was drafted to be the eventual successor to Dominic Raiola, but may be pressed into service early to fill in at LG. It’s something I hinted at prior to the season, as every single one of Martin Mayhew’s 3rd round picks have started games as rookies. Swanson needs a lot of work to take over at center, but he was serviceable at guard in the preseason. He might take a few weeks to get going, but I’d consider him an improvement over Sims fairly quickly.
Rodney Austin, 2012 UDFA out of Elon, has been groomed for the past three seasons to take over for Sims eventually and was coming along quite well until he crashed headlong into the 2014 season. I’ve long been a fan of Austin, but I was shocked when he was brought back for a third time to the practice squad. Calling him up would be a strange move right now, especially if he was asked to start immediately, but it is still a possibility. Despite how badly Austin played in the preseason, I think he’d come in like Swanson and work out some kinks for a few weeks before settling in.
None of those three options are great for a team still hoping to make a playoff push. The Lions just cannot afford to continue to hope that Rob Sims will return to his previously excellent form. We’re no longer looking at a game or two where he was streaky. Rob Sims has been consistently poor at guard for nearing a full season if we go back to 2013, and hasn’t looked like a quality starter in a long time. Good teams make hard choices, and Caldwell’s decision on how to handle Rob Sims could set the tone for the rest of the 2014 season.