In 2013, Dominica Riaola put on some weight and became a force at center for one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. It seems like a decade ago, as his on field play has been pitiful in 2014. Further complicating matters for what has to be the last season for Raiola with the Detroit Lions has been his insistence on trying to embarrass the team.
He managed that goal against the Chicago Bears, where he jumped on the ankle of Bears rookie defensive tackle Ego Ferguson. Now Raiola is suspended coming into the team’s week 17 match up against Green Bay, which will decide the division. Replacing him, presumably, is rookie center Travis Swanson. Could it possibly be a blessing in disguise?
It would be one thing if Raiola was playing well, or even okay. As it is, he has been going out of his way to prove that his strong 2013 season was an anomaly. Raiola has consistently been the worst offensive lineman on the team, and indeed one of the worst players on the team. His position at center and veteran status has likely been the only reason the team hasn’t tried to move on from him before now.
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Matthew Stafford has never started a game where Raiola was not the starting center. It’s a difficult transition at a tough position. Stepping into that spot is rookie 3rd round pick Travis Swanson. Swanson has already started games as a rookie due to injuries to Larry Warford, and results were mixed.
Despite that, he wasn’t terrible, and was even good at times. It isn’t very comforting to be putting the biggest game of the season into the hands of a rookie player who hasn’t taken a single regular season snap at the position he’ll be starting. In this case, though, it isn’t as big of a gamble if it were someone else.
Travis Swanson has been up and down, but the man he’s replacing has been almost entirely down this season. In addition, Dominic Raiola has always had his worst games against nose tackles in 3-4 defenses, which is what the Packers run. That isn’t to say Travis Swanson is a guaranteed improvement.
The rookie out of Arkansas has his own issues with functional strength and playing too upright (He’s 6’5″, tied for tallest center in the NFL) which can cause problems when playing against stronger interior linemen, like those that he’ll be lining up against this week. It may be up to the Lions Free Hurt Defense to bail them out of another one this coming weekend, but I have a feeling Travis Swanson won’t be as much of a downgrade as some think.
Do you think Swanson will be an upgrade to this defense, or a hindrance? Let us know in the comments below!