NY Times: Lions awful at choosing O-linemen, DBs

Monday, August 3, 2009

For those who grumble that preaseason stories are relentlessly positive and hopeful, I give you a rather caustic assessment of the Lions by KC Joyner, "The Football Scientist," at the New York Times' NFL blog The Fifth Down.

Joyner points out that before last season he wrote that the Lions seem to be OK to good at building certain parts of their team. (But he lists LB, D-line and RB as areas the Lions do fairly well personnel-wise, which to me lessens his credibility. Linebacker and D-line have been underperforming and thin, and beyond Kevin Smith, RB hasn't been even decent.)

But the Lions, Joyner said, can never seem to get solved their offensive line or defensive secondary. And at least the secondary should be one of the easiest personnel pieces to solve, he said, because it comes down to pure, physical talent.

Heading into 2009, Joyner said new GM Martin Mayhew does appear to have added quality to the secondary with Phillip Buchanon and Anthony Henry (though like many, Joyner thinks Henry may be destined for safety).

But Joyner calls Mayhew out on his approach to the O-line: "It doesn’t look as if he is approaching personnel roster stocking in this area any differently than it was approached under previous top management."

For example, the Lions ranked 31st in sacks allowed. That is bad enough, but their starting offensive linemen last year also had a combined Point of Attack (POA) run block win percentage of 79.8%. To give an idea of just how bad this is, if a single lineman put up that total in this metric, it would be a sure sign that he is a candidate for replacement.

Despite the inability to either pass block or run block with any consistency, the Lions look as if they are going to keep this line pretty much intact. The only change will be at left guard with Damion Cook taking over for Edwin Mulitalo, but Cook was on the Lions’ roster last year and doesn’t look to be much of an upgrade.

What is amazing to me is that Detroit didn’t even try to make wholesale changes here. The only offensive lineman they drafted was Nebraska offensive tackle Lydon Murtha in the seventh round. Free agency could offer some help, as former Washington right tackle Jon Jansen posted an 87.6% POA win rate with the Skins last year, but in order for him to hit the lineup, he’d have to replace last year’s No. 1 pick, Gosder Cherilus.

That could be an indication that the Lions are acknowledging that Cherilus can’t cut it, but that thought raises the question of what their front office staff looks for in linemen in the first place.

Joyner said it appears the Lions picked Cherilus in the first round in 2008 based on his size, because a breakdown of his performance showed "he never seemed to overwhelm defenders in pass blocking" despite "having a huge physical advantage over most of his competition." And that while Boston College did very little running, Cherilus in run-blocking "seemed to lack motivation and (looked like) he was trying to get by on physical talent alone."
The Lions downplayed what the tape said about Cherilus’s collegiate performance and instead said, “He’s big, wide and strong and that’s enough for us.” That mind-set gave them a guy with a 74.1% POA win rate (one of the lowest in the league not only at his position, but at any position), six false start penalties and four sacks allowed in only 13 starts.


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