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Ask POD: Why is PFF so down on Zach Orr?

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We answer all the leftover questions from our PODcast mailbag.

Philadelphia Eagles v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The PODcast is taking a week off for the holiday, which is the fake excuse we’re using while adequate host Chris Lemieux traverses the country to his new home in Los Angeles. That means a week without Detroit Lions analysis, car talk and food debates. But I didn’t want to leave our dear listeners empty handed, so in an effort to make sure we didn’t get a backlog of mailbag questions, I purged through some reader questions, both old and new, to make sure we get a nice fresh batch for the PODcast next week.

Let’s start here, because this was a question I have been wondering about myself. In case you missed it, even though free agent linebacker Zach Orr was honored as a second-team All Pro last season, Pro Football Focus graded him out as one of the worst linebackers in the league. In fact, his overall grade placed him 81st out of 87 qualifying linebackers. His grade against the run was particularly atrocious, ranking 84th of 89. However, things were further complicated by this PFF tweet:

So the sixth-worst linebacker against the run had the seventh-best run stop percentage and “anchored a strong Ravens’ run d”? What the hell is going on here?

I went to the tape to find out, and what I found was a very promising linebacker. Orr really stood out as the Ravens’ main pass coverage linebacker. Though he played as a 3-4 inside linebacker, a lot of his duties resembled that of a 4-3 weakside linebacker. He would often line up in man coverage against a running back or tight end, but he really shined in zone. Just watch this amazing play against the Jaguars (I know) last year:

Orr starts the play showing pressure in the A-gap, but immediately shoots downfield into coverage. This is something Orr did very often on third down—he also occasionally blitzed, something he’s not particularly good at. But watch as Orr checks in several times with Blake Bortles, while naturally drifting into his zone and recognizing the crossing route.

As for the run grades, I do see some of the issues PFF may have with Orr’s play. He’s not particularly aggressive, so don’t expect a guy like DeAndre Levy in his prime, who would sniff out plays and shoot gaps for TFLs. But Orr is an excellent open-field tackler, and he’s got a good amount of speed. He’ll track down players from the backside and not let a tailback get the edge. However, if a lineman, tight end or even sometimes a running back gets his hands on Orr, he’s done. Orr is not overly powerful and can’t ever seem to shed blocks.

For more highlights and breakdowns of Orr’s game, I highly recommend this Twitter thread from Bryce Rossler.

The Lions’ run defense in the Jim Caldwell era has ranked first, 14th and 23rd in DVOA from 2014 to 2016 respectively. The losses of Ndamukong Suh and DeAndre Levy during that span obviously have a lot to do with that steady decline.

Detroit’s defensive roster is only now starting to rebound, but it still has a long way to go. A’Shawn Robinson will be the key to Detroit’s run defense this year, as will the addition of Jarrad Davis. But this defense is still too young and too thin on the defensive line to expect anything more than an average performance stopping the run.

Trades at this point in the offseason are somewhat rare, especially if we’re talking about a very talented pass rusher. You may remember from free agency that pass rushers were one of the hottest commodities this offseason. Melvin Ingram and Jason Pierre-Paul both received franchise tags to avoid free agency, Calais Campbell got four years, $60 million from the Jaguars and Chandler Jones stayed with the Cardinals to the tune of five-years, $82.5 million.

What I’m trying to say is there likely aren’t any teams willing to part with a worthwhile edge rushers this late in the offseason. The NFL trade deadline is one of the most boring deadlines in professional sports, so don’t expect anything to come together then either.

Jarrad Davis has one of the toughest tasks of anyone on the team. Not only is he being asked to learn an NFL system and start from Day 1, but he’ll be quarterbacking the entire defense from his very first snap. The Lions knew this and threw him into the role from the get-go. This method worked very well for left tackle Taylor Decker last year, but it’s easy to forget just how much Decker struggled from the jump.

But assuming he doesn’t fall victim to the Jeremy Reisman Jersey Curse, you should expect average linebacker play from Davis in his rookie year. He’ll lead the team in tackles—though that doesn’t mean much—and bring some stability to a linebacking corps that needs it, but expect some ugliness early on.

As for Tabor, I personally don’t think we’ll see him until around the bye week. Detroit’s cornerback competition is heated this year, and there’s really no reason to rush Tabor into the lineup. I predict fans will get impatient by Week 3, but cornerback is a tough position to dominate in your rookie year. Give him time.

I’ll be honest, I really only expect one or two Lions to make the Pro Bowl this year. They just don’t really have a lot of household names at this point. But since you asked, I’ll throw one name out there: Travis Swanson.

It’s extremely hard to get noticed as a center in this league, so Detroit would have to see wild improvements in the running game for Swanson to be considered, but he was arguably the Lions’ best offensive lineman in 2016. It’s no coincidence that Detroit’s offense plummeted when Swanson missed the final five games of the season.

We missed this one on the PODcast, and because I feel the need to honor Adam West, let me answer this. I’ve never been much of a superhero guy, so I first fell in love with West from his mayor character on “Family Guy”—before it returned from cancellation and turned into a terrible show. Fight me.

But my favorite role of his was from a show that lasted exactly one episode called “Lookwell!” The show was about a retired TV actor who tried to use his experience as a TV cop to help solve real crimes. It is brilliant, and, lucky for you, the entire episode is on YouTube. You’re welcome.