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2018 Detroit Lions PFF grades suggest the offense improved dramatically in the trenches

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Maybe the Lions’ offensive line was better than we gave it credit for.

Detroit Lions v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The reasons for the Detroit Lions’ offensive collapse have already been thoroughly debated. Some blame the poor play-calling and uninspiring schemes—hence the firing of offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. Others look at the skill position players and see a completely depleted unit by the season’s end: No Golden Tate, no Marvin Jones Jr., no Kerryon Johnson, and no tight end worthy of attention in the receiving game.

Another contributing factor that most agreed upon was Detroit’s disappointing offensive line. With another addition to the front in first-round pick Frank Ragnow and the hiring of offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, many believed this was the year they would take a big step. And while the run blocking undoubtedly improved noticeably, pass blocking had its issues. Matthew Stafford was sacked 40 times, just seven fewer than last season and still 10th-most in the league.

But according to Pro Football Focus’ end-of-season unit grades, the Lions’ play in the trenches may be better than perceived. Take a look:

It’s probably downright shocking for many of you to see that the Lions ranked eighth in pass blocking grade as a team. Trying to justify that grade with the Vikings’ 10-sack game still fresh in the mind probably makes you want to simply discount PFF completely.

But let’s not completely throw out the results right away. Remember a month into the season? Remember when we ran with this headline: “Only 1 team has allowed fewer QB hits than the Lions”? While the Lions didn’t finish the season anywhere near second in the league in that category, they did finish a respectable 13th in QB hits allowed.

The Lions were obviously hurt by the mid-season loss of right guard T.J. Lang, but that still doesn’t really justify the Lions ranking top 10 in pass blocking, especially when you look at the top graded players on the Lions offense in 2018:

Only one offensive linemen and a bunch of skill position players. How does that make any sense when all the Lions were ranked poorly in all the skill position traits (receiving: 21st, rushing: 23rd)?

Well, pass blocking and run blocking isn’t just up to the offensive linemen. As we noted last week, the Lions also had the best pass blocking tight end in the NFL with Levine Toilolo. They also had one of the best pass blocking running backs in Theo Riddick.

But even still, there’s probably more credit that belongs to the offensive line than we’ve been giving. Taylor Decker had a bounceback season. Ragnow’s inconsistent rookie year eventually had more ups than downs. Graham Glasgow has quietly been solid and, perhaps more importantly, extremely dependable. And even Kenny Wiggins showed signs of improvement by the season’s end.

Considering how bad things were last season—last in yards per carry, 25th in sacks allowed—it’s undeniable the Lions improved in both areas in 2018. Perhaps that’s why the Lions have showed faith in Jeff Davidson this offseason by reportedly allowing him to sit in on interviews for the offensive coordinator job.