Welcome to preseason overreactions. It’s safe to say that nearly everything seen in a preseason game elicits overreactions from impatient fans. It’s always been that way. Just look at Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers fans are doing it harder than anyone at the moment. It’s just part of the game.
In this miniseries we’re going to some overreacting ourselves. This week we’re going to overreact to the Detroit Lions offensive line.
The Lions offensive line has been touted as possibly the best unit on the roster since the Lions drafted Penei Sewell with the seventh overall pick back in April. There’s no doubt the young right tackle has looked decent in camp, and he’s surrounded by some big talents on the line. Big talents like Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow, who are arguably amongst the best at their position.
Needless to say, it was assumed that the Lions didn’t have any concerns in this department, and the Lions would be successful in pass protection and run blocking. Then Friday’s game against the Bills happened and it all looked ugly and sadly familiar.
On the Lions’ first drive Jamaal Williams ran for no gain and Sewell—along with Halapoulivaati Vaitai—allowed a sack. Then the Lions inched their way around the run game again during the second drive helping Jamaal Williams get a whopping 1.7 yards per carry.
Let’s overreact. This all feels scarily familiar. The Lions averaged 4.1 yards per carry in 2020, good for just 25th in the NFL. Very often you’d see a Lions running back run right into a pile of humanity and fall to the ground or get absorbed into that pile. It was rare to see a Lions running back break off a big run after benefiting from a nice hole made by the Lions offensive line. That’s why their biggest run all season was 54 yards and the Lions finished 30th in the league at rushing yards per game. They’re not getting any help on the blocking front.
On Friday, the Lions run game looked exactly like that when the first team linemen were out there. It was just Jamaal Williams getting absorbed into a mass of humanity. His longest run was 5 yards. Per PFF, he was hit at the line of scrimmage on seven of his nine carries.
The Bills aren’t some amazing team against the run. They were right in the middle of the league in 2020 allowing the 16th most rushing yards in the NFL. So what’s the issue? it’s the blocking. It has to be right?
Why it’s an overreaction
Okay, now that we’ve overreacted, let’s rationalize a little. It’s the preseason and none of this matters. This group was together for the first time out there. This was also Jamaal Williams first game as a Lion and the Lions didn’t really do anything imaginative out there. D’Andre Swift—by any account—is the Lions’ best runner, and he spent the game on the sidelines.
The Lions offensive line actually didn’t grade out too bad in the run blocking category. Frank Ragnow led the way with a 71.4 grade and the Lions’ worst grade on the first team was Jonah Jackson’s 61.0.
The best grade went to Logan Stenberg, who didn't run with the first team but still played 11 run snaps and graded out at 89.7 in run blocking. Perhaps the Lions should be considering the possibility of giving Stenberg some first team reps after an impressive game. Although with a pass blocking grade of 40.5, it’s clear the second-year offensive lineman still has a long ways to go.
It’s fine to wonder if the Lions offensive line might not be as good as some offseason expectations, and there are undoubtedly some issues that need to be cleaned up, especially on the interior. It’s just preseason, but Friday night’s game left a lot to be desired.