The new additions to the offensive line in the offseason should help with the running game, and can lead the Detroit Lions back to the playoffs.
As a lifelong Detroit Lions fan, I, along with every other diehard fanatic, know how badly we want this team to succeed. That’s kind of an arbitrary thing to say as every fan of every franchise wants his or her team to do well. But no fanbase wants it more than the fans of these Cardiac Cats, because we know how badly losing feels.
We do it more than anyone, as Detroit’s the only team to finish a season 0-16, have not won any sort of championship in 61 years, posted only one playoff win in the last fifty, with too many heartbreaking losses to count. So after a surprise appearance in last year’s playoffs, there’s nothing more that we fanatics want more than a trip back to the postseason. Maybe even winning a game in the playoffs for the first time since 1991.
The Lions need to improve many things in order to reach the playoffs, including what some believed was the worst offensive line in the league last season. But with the new acquisitions of guard T.J. Lang and offensive tackle Ricky Wagner and improved chemistry amongst the big men, this new and improved line can be the ticket for playoff return for this tortured franchise.
There’s no doubt that offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter has done a great job in improving the Lion’s offense in his tenure, as the major offensive improvements helped push the 2016 Lions into the playoffs, even without Calvin Johnson.
For all the work Cooter did, he never really improved the run game, as they only averaged 81.9 yards per game, which is ranked third to last in the league. The last Lion to rush for a hundred yards in one day was former running back Reggie Bush on Thanksgiving Day four long years ago.
Improving upon the running game could do wonders for an offense that was good enough to sneak into the playoffs last year, as it will open up the field for Stafford, providing a balance that will give more opportunities for all the explosive weapons in the offense, especially the Lions’ pass catching running backs.
A better offensive line that can pound the ball on first and second down will open up the passing game, both on deep routes to wide receivers Marvin Jones or Kenny Golladay, and on short routes to running backs Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah, “both capable pass catchers” who thrive in Stafford’s “quick pass offense” from last year. The quickest way to improve the Lions’ offense is to improve the weak running game, and this new and improved offensive line is the best way to do that
This Lions offensive line added some experienced players in Lang and Wagner, two veterans who should greatly improve the right side of the line.
Lang is a 2016 Pro Bowler who Lions fans should know well from many epic NFC North duels, who is continuing to master the playbook despite recovering from hip surgery in January.
"“[Lang’s] so knowledgeable, and he already has got the offense down” said Wagner to Detroit Free Press, who sits next to Lang in the film room as they are constantly memorizing plays and taking mental reps."
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Although this duo has not gotten much of a chance to practice plays on the field due to minor, nagging injuries, it’s obvious how well they are preparing themselves for future big plays, while also helping out the rest of the line and creating chemistry amongst the hogs, as Wagner told DetroitLions.com’s Tim Twentyman that “we have it clicking a bit here, I’m definitely excited about it.”
Despite the lack of practice time, head coach Jim Caldwell has confidence in his new veterans, saying that both guys have “been around a while” and “know the line game” and has faith that “they’ll be fine”. It’s hard to see how these two don’t instantly improve the running game once the season starts
In adding these new linemen, the Lions not only jump start their running game but also improve their passing game by keeping quarterback Matthew Stafford upright in the pocket. Both Lang and Wagner specialize in pass blocking, as according to Pro Football Focus they were rated as the second best guard and the ninth best tackle, as far as pass blocking goes.
In addition to this, the Lions appear to running more two tight end offensive sets, which should improve pass blocking as well, allowing Stafford more time to focus on medium and deep routes. Newly acquired tight end Darren Fells appears in most of these packages, which should contribute to the running game as well, as he was ranked as the 15th best run blocking tight end in football by Pro Football Focus.
Focusing Fells on the blocking and pass protection in these sets allows the athletic Eric Ebron more flexibility in the passing game, as Cooter should be able to send him on passing routes more frequently, which is what he is much better at anyway.
All these new players should help improve drastically on an offense that was already considered above average. These new additions in the offensive line, along with the newfound chemistry and the improved play of the other starters such as Travis Swanson (who is entering a contract year), should put less pressure on Stafford and the passing game. These improvements in the line can be exactly what the Detroit Lions need to return to playoffs in 2017.