NOTEBOOK: Offensive line play; young defenders on the rise and Sunday focus

Posted Dec 27, 2013

If there are any silver linings to take from a disappointing finish to this season it's the play of the offensive line and a few young up-and-comers on defense

It's the time of the year when we look to silver linings in a season that -- by all accounts -- was a disappointing one for the Detroit Lions.

One of those silver linings can certainly be the play of the offensive line.

The unit ranks second behind only Denver by STATS, LLC in their protection idex, which is a formula that measures pass protection by using metrics such as length of passes, penalties by offensive linemen, sacks allowed and quarterback hurries and knockdowns.

The Lions have allowed only 18 sacks all season long. Only Denver has fewer with 17.

"I think our offensive line played fantastic all year," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "We had certain guys that had to step up. We have kind of filtered through a couple of guys at the right tackle position. All of which have played really high caliber football.

"We play a rookie at right guard that played outstanding. I think that Dom (Raiola) played a Pro Bowl level. Definitely the best since I've been here. Rob Sims was fantastic as always. Riley (Reiff) did a great job. Playing in this division against the pass rushers that we have faced, it's tough to play left tackle and we throw the ball quite a bit, so Riley did a heck of a job. It was a great year for those guys up front. They kept me clean and our running game was as good as it's been since I've been here for sure."

The fact that Reiff (25), Warford (22) and Waddle (22) are still so young will serve the Lions well in the future, too.

"I couldn't be happier for all of us," Warford said Friday when asked how the offensive line has played all season. "Like you said, there were a lot of questions about us and I feel like through the season we've worked hard and became the heart of this team.

"I feel like we play hard and that's the thing I'm most proud of."


Ziggy AnsahRookie defensive ends Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor are proving determined and talented. (Photo: G. Smith/Detroit Lions)

Another silver lining for defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham was the opportunity for some young players on defense to play roles and show they might have some bright futures ahead of them.

"I think you always need to add to a defense," he said. "The things that I like is that there is a good glimpse of some good corners coming up, young ones, fast ones, big ones. (Darius) Slay, and Chris Greenwood last week. Disregard the game, he made my day the way he played. I have always been high on him and he didn't let me down.

Slay is the same way. People don't realize that he was operated on a couple weeks ago and stepped out there ready to play. He practiced all week. We have a future there.

"Now the two (defensive) ends (Ziggy Ansay and Devin Taylor), there is no telling what is going to happen with those two guys. They have size, speed, they're always ready, they practice hard."

While the future of the defense certainly looks bright, Cunningham couldn't help but lament on how disappointing this season has finished.

"Football is like that," he said. "You all are in it. You understand it and see it every day. You understand the highs and lows every day and it can tear a man apart.

"Whether you're a trainer or a coach or anyone who works in this business, it's tough.

"If you lose your focus in anyway at all, you are going to get beat and that's what happens. As far as the defense is concerned, there are plenty of plays that we should've made. I said it after the Arizona game that it was going to come back to haunt us at the end. Cincinnati was another example. You can't allow a team to do that, you can't allow them to kick a 61-yard field goal at the end of the game if you are going to be a playoff game. We need to make sure that never happens again."


Schwartz was asked again on Friday if he's received any clarity about his future.

"Again, I have too much respect for the game on Sunday," he said.

"It's about the players that are going to be on the field. It's about building a game plan and practicing this week. That's what our full attention is on. Like I said coaches are no different than players. There are a lot of players that are in their last year of their contract or whatever situation comes up, we are all paid to put that stuff aside and go out and do the very best we can this week and that's what we have done."

He was then asked if he'd prefer that he did have some clarity or assurance moving forward.

"That's really not my thing," he said. "I'm just going to go out and coach every day and try to put a good plan together for Sunday and manage personnel the best way that we can on Sunday. That's no different than any week of the season. None of that really matters. It's all about the game on Sunday.”


• The Lions have placed DE Israel Idonije (neck) on IR and have promoted DB Akwasi Owusu-Ansah from the practice squad to the active roster.