To say Detroit’s offensive line had a dominating performance last week vs. New England might be understating it a bit.
“That’s what you want it to look like, right?” quarterback Matthew Stafford said Thursday.
Looking at the five players on Detroit’s offense receiving the highest grades from Pro Football Focus vs. the Patriots, three of them were offensive linemen (Frank Ragnow, Graham Glasgow and Taylor Decker).
The Lions gained 159 yards on the ground and imposed their will on the Patriots' front seven all night.
The biggest benefactor of that terrific run blocking, rookie running back Kerryon Johnson, finished with 101 yards on the ground. He said it was fun to watch how physical those five guys were in front of him for 60 minutes last Sunday.
“I think that was our most physical game that I’ve seen,” Johnson said this week. “I just think (the O-line) came ready to play. They got tired of (the talk about the run game), just like we got tired of it, just like the organization got tired of it, and they came out and made a decision like, ‘hey, this is what we’re going to do today’ and we stuck to it.”
It wasn’t just the run game, either.
There was only a single hit on quarterback Matthew Stafford in that Patriots game and just five total pressures in 40 drop backs.
“I saw a group up front that played well together,” offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said this week. “It wasn’t a left side, right side thing. Those guys were five guys playing together.
“Those guys came out and really worked hard to get the right block, get the right combination of finished plays. There were a lot of really encouraging things that happened there. We’ve still got some getting better to do, no doubt about that, but it was encouraging from that standpoint.”
Detroit’s offensive line has received the fifth highest grade among the 32 offensive lines around the league after three weeks.
“It’s been a while since we had a game like that,” veteran right guard T.J. Lang said of the o-line performance last week. “It’s obviously something we’re hoping to build off of.”
Therein lies the key. Build off it. After beating New England in dominating fashion Sunday night, it’s now important to stack another good performance on top of it in Dallas this week.
That obviously won’t be an easy task against a very active and aggressive Dallas defensive front that ranks second in sacks (11) and is holding opponents under 100 yards rushing per contest (98.6).
“That’s the type of game we’ve been talking about playing since we got together as a group in April,” Lang said. “But that’s in the past in our mind, we put that to bed early on Monday and got a new challenge ahead of us in Dallas. They’re a very good defense.”
One thing to monitor in the coming days is the knee injury suffered by starting left guard Frank Ragnow this week. Ragnow was added to injury report Thursday, and was limited in practice after not being on the report Wednesday.
HAND TOP GRADED ROOKIE INTERIOR LINEMAN
Detroit’s Da’Shawn Hand is currently the highest graded rookie interior defender by PFF, the website revealed in a Tweet Thursday.
Hand, Detroit’s fourth round pick this year out of Alabama, has 12 tackles, one tackle for loss and seven stops on run defense. His 13.2 stop percentage against the run is the seventh best percentage among all interior defenders in the NFL.
Rookies Frank Ragnow and Johnson get a lot of the headlines, and deservedly so as Detroit’s top two picks this year, but Hand is quietly – well maybe not so quietly now – having a terrific start to his rookie campaign too.
NOT FOOLED BY STATS
The statistics say that if the Lions are somehow able to stop Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott and force quarterback Dak Prescott and the Dallas passing game to beat them, they should have a pretty successful day on defense.
The passing component to Dallas’ offense has struggled early on this year. Dallas’ run game is actually averaging more yards per play (6.0) than the passing game (5.7) through three games. Prescott, who has a passer rating of 74.9, hasn’t thrown for more than 200 yards in a game in his last five contests dating back to last year.
Lions safety Glover Quin was quick to remind reporters Wednesday that stats can be misleading.
“He’s an NFL quarterback,” Quin said of Prescott. “I think a couple years ago they won 13 games.”
Prescott is an athletic quarterback who can escape the pocket and make plays down the field to his speedy receivers on broken plays. Quin and the Lions aren’t taking Dallas’ passing offense lightly.
Any quarterback in this league is going to be less effective if a defense is able to make their offense one dimensional. That’s obviously the goal for the Lions first and foremost Sunday.
“We have to get the run stopped and make it one dimensional and then we can hone in on the passing game and try to make it difficult on him,” Quin said.
Dallas does have an effective short passing game with Cole Beasley, Tavon Austin and others being dangerous weapons there.
“That’s kind of what they like to do and it stems from the run game,” Quin said of Dallas’ short passing attack. “They want to stay on track and ahead of the chains and not put themselves in third and long and long down and distance situations, so they run a little bit and short passes to get them moving the chains.”