Sunday, September 26, 2004

O-Line Troubles

I originally posted this on The Den on September 20, and this was two separate posts that I've combined into one. It spells out some specific problems I've noticed with the O-Line for the Lions...

ESPN ran a story on SportsCenter about the 2-0 and 0-2 teams - who's a fraud, and who's a choker (my terms, not theirs). Sean Salisbury listed the Lions as his overachievers, but he actually had some decent things to say about them - Nice start, but they're probably a year away. He stressed that without CRog, that R.O.Y. and KJ have to be huge, but that they are rooks, and that so far the running game hadn't solidified. He then followed that up by saying that KJ showed him something special on a few of his runs. Not too bad.

What caught my attention was the 4 running plays of KJ and Toose they showed in the highlights, to show the deficiencies of our running game. On the 4 plays, KJ and Toose gained 0, 0, 1, and -3 yards. I kept hitting the TiVo and looking at what happened, and it was pretty much the same thing I have been seeing from our O-Line the last few seasons - Someone misses their blocking assignment and gets an easy, early shot on our RB. The same thing happened last year, and resulted in our league-worst rushing attack.

What was more frustrating was that in the four plays, I saw Backus, Raiola, Woody, and McDougle all miss assignments or not finish their block, causing the bad running play. If it was a single guy, I would know where to lay my frustration, but when it's 4 different guys, then the only thing I can chalk it up to is that they haven't jelled. And perhaps the most amazing thing was the guy who didn't blow his assignment on any of those plays was Loverne. Go figure.

What I did see was this - On the first play - KJ's first carry of the game, no less - Raiola and Woody double-teamed the NT, but left the MLB open for a straight shot through the hole to KJ. Someone missed the assignment - typically the center on that type of play - and KJ gets met in the hole with nowhere to go for no gain. If Raiola engages the MLB, KJ gets an easy 7 yards.

Second play, another problem. Toose goes off left tackle, and Backus doesn't finish off his block, allowing the DE to jump back into the play and hit Toose for no gain. If Backus finishes the block, Toose goes for an easy 6 yards.

Third play, another unfinished block, this time by McDougle. KJ going off right tackle, McDougle tries to bull his man over, and misses; the DE then meets KJ in the hole for a 1 yard gain. If McDougle finishes that block, KJ has 5 yards before anyone can touch him.

Fourth play, this time it's Woody who's at fault. Play is designed to go off tackle to Backus side, Woody pulls to lead KJ. Woody is late getting to the block, and the OLB gets KJ as he's searching for an opening, trying to cut back. This one might be why there is a concern over Woody's weight - if he's lighter, he gets there and KJ gets sprung for 8-10 yards.

These are all problems that have plagued our OL for years, and they won't get fixed overnight. Hopefully Pat Morris will get them fixed soon, because KJ won't put up HUGE numbers until they are fixed. KJ isn't Barry, and he can't make defenders miss when he's at a stop. Only Barry could do that. But what KJ can do that Barry couldn't is bust tackles (of course Barry usually just maked the defender miss, so he didn't have to bust the tackle). He has the jets the take it to the house if he can get sprung.

With all that being said, the plays where KJ had his big gainers were showcases of the ability he has. I haven't seen the crowd get on their feet for a RB like that since Barry was in our backfield. He is electric, and we can only hope we get our O-Line woes fixed soon...
Coyote... I point at the O-Line for problems because

A) It's a pattern that has been seen consistently around here for a long time - poor O-Line play
B) What the coaches say and what film study can tell us are usually two very different things.
C) I saw the plays in person and suspected something was wrong, then I got the chance to break them down using TiVo.
D) It won't matter who our RB is if we don't get good consistent O-Line play.

I'm not pointing out the flaws here to sour the mood, simply because I saw them. And trust me, if I saw them, the Lions coaching staff surely saw them as well. This is the entire point of breaking down game film - to learn what you do well, what you don't do so well, and then try to correct the mistakes.

When I went back to the Bears TiVo, yes, I did see the Bears make several plays, and I wasn't as hard on the Line in that game. But in this game, the Texans do not have a good D-line. And the mistakes I pointed out were glaring mistakes on those plays. For that reason, I felt it necessary to break down the individual plays and highlight what I saw.

Again, the only real concern I had coming out of that film study was that Woody seemed slow when pulling. The other mistakes were technique and communication related - correctable things. But if Woody can't pull and hit the LB before KJ gets there (and no, he didn't chip the LB, he never got there), then the Lions will probably have to reconsider some of the running plays we use. Sweeps, Counters and Traps rely on a pulling guard to get out in front and take out a defender to spring the play. If the guard can't get there, the play is doomed from the beginning. That is why I must raise caution when I see that Woody wasn't out in front of the play.

Yes, it was a good game. Yes, we saw some great things from our rookies. Yes, we can enjoy the wins. But if we don't correct these mistakes, it could mean the difference between 9 wins and 7 wins...

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