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Grading every snap of the Detroit Lions first-string offensive line

We take a look at each individual performance among the offensive line to see what’s going on.

Cincinnati Bengals v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

The offensive line is a problem; that much we’re sure of. The Detroit Lions running game appears to be stuck in neutral, Matthew Stafford continues to take unnecessary shots in the preseason and it has the confidence of the fanbase shaken.

So let’s get to the bottom of this problem. I went out and charted each of the first-string offensive line’s 27 snaps. I graded each individual performance on every single snap. A player receive a 0 if they did fine, a -1 if they blew a block, but it was a crucial one they get a -2. Lineman receive +1 if they did something impressive and a +2 if it sprung a play or was something else outstanding (great seal, pancake, etc.). I wanted to keep things very simple just to draw basic conclusions. Here are the results:

Editor’s note: This format is very much borrowed from MGoBlog’s “Upon Further Review” series. The work they do over there is astonishing and a must-read for any Michigan Wolverines fans.

Drive 1

First-and-10 at DET 15 - M.Stafford pass short middle to A.Boldin to DET 22 for 7 yards (R.Maualuga)

Riley Reiff was beaten inside (-1) but mitigated the damage by riding his man across the field. Laken Tomlinson held up okay, but failed to get the support he needed from Travis Swanson (-1). Taylor Decker held up well on his own (+1).

Second-and-3 at DET 22 - T.Riddick left end to DET 28 for 6 yards (J.Shaw; S.Williams)

Laken Tomlinson had a great block on this play designed to go right at him (+1), but Travis Swanson (-1) is bullied into the hole. Elsewhere, Larry Warford completely whiffs on the second level (-1).

First-and-10 at DET 28 - M.Stafford pass short left to G.Tate to DET 40 for 12 yards (V.Rey; J.Shaw)

Good pass protection all around. +1s for everyone.

First-and-10 at DET 40 - T.Riddick right end to DET 39 for -1 yards (M.Johnson)

Tomlinson is way too slow off the snap and ends up falling down (-2). Decker can’t get to his guy at the second level (-1). The right side of the line gets pushed backwards but maintains proper leverage. Tomlinson blew this play completely.

Second-and-11 at DET 39 - M.Stafford pass deep right to M.Jones ran ob at CIN 29 for 32 yards

More good protection from everyone (+1 for everyone). Specifically, Warford does a great job without any help (+2).

First-and-10 at CIN 29 - M.Stafford pass deep right to M.Jones to CIN 10 for 19 yards (D.Kirkpatrick).

Just a three-step drop from Matthew Stafford, so no +1s for anyone. But man, Tomlinson (-1) got embarrassed by Geno Atkins.

First-and-Goal at CIN 10 - M.Stafford pass short left to M.Jones to CIN 5 for 5 yards (V.Rey)

Quick slant. Offensive line play negligible.

Second-and-Goal at CIN 5 - T.Riddick left tackle to CIN 6 for -1 yards (M.Johnson)

Decker (-2) was immediately beaten with a swim move courtesy of Michael Johnson, who blew up the play. That’s a shame, because Tomlinson and Swanson both did a good job moving the line forward while fullback Michael Burton was at a stalemate with his guy.

Third-and-6 at CIN 6 - M.Stafford pass incomplete short middle to G.Tate

Swanson (-1) loses a hand battle with his man and gets driven back into the pocket. Protection is solid elsewhere, especially with Decker (+1).

Drive 2

First-and-10 at DET 25 - T.Riddick right end to DET 28 for 3 yards (D.Peko)

Great turn-and-seal from Reiff (+1), but again, Tomlinson (-1) fails to get to his guy in time, who eventually makes the tackle. Both Swanson and Warford could have helped out but ran right by that guy.

Second-and-7 at DET 28 - M.Stafford pass short right to G.Tate to DET 38 for 10 yards (S.Williams)

Clean pocket all around. +1s for everyone. Again, Warford is left to fend for himself and does a good job.

First-and-10 at DET 38 - T.Riddick up the middle to DET 43 for 5 yards (M.Johnson)

[Broadcast missed the beginning of the play, no grades given]

Second-and-5 at DET 43 - M.Stafford sacked at DET 35 for -8 yards (C.Dunlap). FUMBLES (C.Dunlap), recovered by DET-T.Riddick at DET 33

This play is blown up by Cole Wick’s failings, but we aren’t grading him. Once again, Tomlinson and Swanson team up to mixed results. Theo Riddick lays an excellent chip block to help out Decker. Reiff and Warford had no problem double teaming the defensive tackle, raising the question: why was Cole Wick left on a island with Carlos Dunlap?

Third-and-10 at DET 38 - M.Stafford pass incomplete deep left to M.Jones

Once again, Wick is burned, this time with an inside move. Thankfully, Riddick picks up another solid block. Elsewhere, Warford (+1) does a nice job of re-anchoring after some initial help from Reiff. Everyone else was fairly clean on this play.

Drive 3

First-and-10 at DET 25 - T.Riddick left end to DET 27 for 2 yards (M.Johnson)

There’s a lot going on for this toss sweep. Warford immediately gets to the second level, and although he doesn’t connect with his guy on the cut block, it causes to defender to jump and lose crucial time. Adequate down block from Wick allows Decker take the reigns as lead blocker. Unfortunately, Decker is a little too slow then misses his assignment (-1). Tomlinson also pulled and was in good position to take his guy, but the play never made it to him. Swanson (+1) took his guy down to make sure there was no backside pressure.

Second-and-8 at DET 27 - M.Stafford pass short right to G.Tate to DET 46 for 19 yards (D.Kirkpatrick)

This well-designed screen had the over-aggressive Bengals linemen out of place without much work from the Lions’ front five. Not great blocks from Warford or Reiff downfield, but they at least got in the way a little.

First-and-10 at DET 46 - M.Stafford pass short left to M.Jones to CIN 45 for 9 yards (J.Shaw)

Again, solid pass protection all around. TE Matthew Mulligan held the edge effectively, as the Lions gave him some inside support from Reiff.

Second-and-6 at 50 - T.Riddick left tackle to CIN 47 for 3 yards (P.Sims)

This play was actually fairly well blocked. Decker had a little trouble on the second level, but mostly did his job. Detroit could have used a better block from Burton and Theo Riddick’s jumpiness didn’t help much here. Still, decent push from the offensive line.

Third-and-3 at CIN 47 - M.Stafford pass incomplete short right to T.Riddick

Quick pass. No grades.

Drive 4

First-and-10 at DET 39 - A.Roberts left end ran ob at DET 47 for 8 yards (V.Rey)

Excellent job by Tomlinson (+1) to both seal the edge then hustle his way to try and make a play on the second level. Decker, on the other hand, immediately gets out of position (-1) and fails to get a hand on a defender. Luckily, he’s bailed out by Burton.

Second-and-2 at DET 47 - Z.Zenner up the middle to DET 48 for 1 yard (D.Smith)

The left side of the line does their job in cleaning up the backside of the play but Mulligan and Reiff fail to prevent their guy from getting inside leverage. Additionally, Tomlinson is a little hesitant (-1) in his role as the pulling lead blocker, failing to hit the hole hard before Zach Zenner gets there.

Third-and-1 at DET 48 - Z.Zenner left tackle to 50 for 2 yards (C.Lewis-Harris)

Decker (+1) and Mulligan seal their guys perfectly. Tomlinson is a little slow off the snap but rides his man out of the play. Swanson (-1) is too slow to the second level and his guy nearly makes the play short of the sticks. Another so-so block from Burton.

First-and-10 at 50 - D.Orlovsky pass short left to A.Roberts to CIN 44 for 6 yards (C.Lewis-Harris)

Clean pocket all around +1s for everyone.

Second-and-4 at CIN 44 - D.Orlovsky pass short right to T.Jones to CIN 42 for 2 yards (C.Brown; J.Shaw)

Quick pass, no grades.

Third-and-2 at CIN 42 - Derron Smith 60 Yrd Interception Return

This is a max-protect look from the Lions. Detroit has two tight ends on the left side of the formation block, with Burton (block) and Zenner (play-action) in the backfield. The pocket holds up perfectly, but with most defenders getting double teamed, there’s no real standout performances here.

Overall grades

Larry Warford: +5
Riley Reiff: +4
Taylor Decker: +2
Travis Swanson: +1
Laken Tomlinson: +1

Don’t read too much into the fact that all five starters received a positive grade. I have yet to set a standard as to what a “good” grade looks like. For all I know, +5 may not be that good of a score.

That being said, Warford definitely stood out as the best offensive linemen. He was constantly asked to block on his own and for the most part, succeeded. The same can be said for Reiff. Both players only graded negatively once in the four drives.

The rest of the line is where there’s trouble. Swanson and Tomlinson worked side-by-side, often teaming up on blocks, but did not seem to be in sync. Both had trouble getting to the second level and getting any push.

We’ll get to Decker in a minute.

Pass block vs. run block

As a team, the front five did a much better job keeping the pocket clean than they did creating holes in the running game. The offensive line graded out +20 in pass protection while earning a -7 grade in the running game. It’s a bit early to read too much into this because, again, I don’t have a baseline for grading games yet. But still, look at those numbers. At the very least the Lions offensive line did an adequate job pass blocking, despite getting little-to-no help from tight ends.

The run blocking remains a work in progress. The -7 grade comes as no surprise as the Lions averaged just 2.8 yards per carry behind the first-string offensive line, with no carries over 8 yards.

Let’s talk about Taylor Decker

Decker had the most individual grades of any lineman (11), meaning he stuck out — both in good and bad ways — the most of any player. He easily had the most inconsistent performance among the group, which makes absolute sense for a rookie.

Interestingly enough, however, it was Decker’s pass blocking that saved him. On pass plays, Decker graded +6 with no negative grades. However, he finished -4 in run blocking, tallying four negative plays and just one positive.

This is pretty interesting, as Decker was touted for his run blocking skills and his pass protection was under question.

Are the Lions doomed?

The good news is the Lions offensive line looked better in pass protection than I thought. The bad news is the tight ends did them no favors and Detroit doesn’t have any healthy tight ends to help them out. I want to give you a silver lining on the running game, but it looks really bad right now. The only lineman who had a clean report card in the running game was Reiff. Everyone else had some hand in the Lions’ failures in the running game.

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