Amid great start, Lions need to shore up OL

BY foxsports • September 30, 2011

For two quarters last weekend, the Detroit Lions looked like the team that set so many standards for NFL futility.

Although they rallied to beat Minnesota, the Lions head into Sunday's matchup at Dallas with one clear area of concern. Their offensive line allowed five sacks against the Vikings, and Detroit again struggled to run the ball.

''Last week, our technique wasn't what it should have been,'' guard Rob Sims said. ''That just needs to change. It's very, very small fixes.''

Detroit allowed a modest 27 sacks last season, and the Lions (3-0) didn't give up any in the first two games this season. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan attributed some of last weekend's problems to a noisy Metrodome crowd, but there were still some troubling signs.

Detroit has a lot at stake when it comes to protecting the quarterback after Matthew Stafford's first two seasons as a pro were marred by injuries.

Stafford looks healthy now, and his brilliant passing performance against Minnesota helped the Lions win 26-23 in overtime after they trailed 20-0. Still, they don't need him getting knocked around on a regular basis.

''We go two straight games with a shutout. That's hard to do in this league,'' Linehan said. ''Five in three games, that's a pretty good number at this point. We'd like to keep it down and not, obviously, have five in a game.''

The Lions have a veteran group up front.

The 27-year-old Sims started every game last season, and center Dominic Raiola has been a mainstay for a decade. Left tackle Jeff Backus, now in his 11th season, has started every game of his career, although he suffered a partially torn chest muscle during the offseason and spent the first three weeks of training camp on the active/non-football injury list.

''He gets a lot of attention because he is a left tackle and things like that,'' coach Jim Schwartz said. ''Your objective is you are an offensive lineman - you never want to get the quarterback hit. Jeff's been through an awful lot of, you know, playing experience and he takes a lot of pride in his play, but just like in general terms from the whole offensive line, Jeff can play better and he will play better.''

Schwartz had similar things to say about right tackle Gosder Cherilus.

''We need to be more effective at that position,'' Schwartz said. ''I think I will leave it there. It wasn't just one play. ... just like the rest of the offensive line, there are a lot of things we can do better and we need to do better.''

Schwartz made sure to point out that not every sack is the offensive line's fault. Receivers need to get open and the quarterback can't hold the ball too long.

But Detroit's meager rushing numbers are also telling. The Lions have rushed for 235 yards, just 26th-best in the league. And not every game was like last week's, when they were passing while trying to overcome a deficit.

If Detroit can run the ball consistently and protect Stafford, its offense will be difficult to stop. Sims understands the responsibility his group on the line faces.

''We don't get any of the glory or anything like that, and get a lot of the blame,'' Sims said. ''That's fine. That's what we signed up for. We've got to keep working and figure it all out.''

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