Is there a more improved unit on this Detroit Lions football team than the offensive line?
General manager Martin Mayhew made upgrading that unit – especially the right guard position – a major priority this offseason and nine games into the season it looks like he pushed all the right buttons.
STATS, LLC, a statistics based company many NFL teams use -- including the Lions -- has an index they've put together to assess and rank offensive line play. They call it the protection index.
The index takes into account length of a team’s pass attempts combined with penalties by offensive linemen, sacks allowed, quarterback hurries and knockdowns. The higher the index the better.
The Lions total of 87.7 is second only to Denver at 88.0. The league average is 58.4
"They're playing very well and offensive linemen don't get evaluated like a skill player or a quarterback or anything else," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "It's as a group. Our ability this year to effectively run the football and protect the passer - we can't ask for any better at this point."
The Lions have surrendered the fewest sacks in the NFL. Denver is second with 13 and Chicago third with 14. On the season, Stafford has been hurried just 26 times in 373 attempts.
"If they keep working hard like they have and answer all the challenges that we face each week, then we'll be in pretty good shape," Linehan said. "I'm really proud of those guys, I think they're doing a great job of getting themselves prepared each week for some of these defenses that they've played."
Especially considering the right side of the line which is made up of rookies
"For them to be playing this well, this early in their careers, says a lot about how well they're coached, No. 1, by coach (Jeremiah) Washburn and coach (Terry) Heffernan, but also as a group, their attention to detail for a young group is pretty impressive,” Linehan said.
"Offensive linemen have as hard of a job as anybody in pro football because they've got to do things as a group, together, the looks are always going to change.
"People scheme and game plan different than what you practice against too, so you have to adjust in-game. For them to be able to handle all that this early in their career says a lot about them."
The protection index says the Lions have one of the best offensive lines in football. The eye test says it too.
With 60 percent of that line under the age of 25 and only center