In his best-known work, the Leviathan, the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote:
Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
“Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” is an apt description for the Lions’ center play in 2010:
There’s only one center who was credited with any snaps for the Lions this season, and it’s Dominic Raiola. He was above-average in screen blocking (9th-best, in fact), and slightly below average in his penalty rating. Everything else was somewhere between “below average” and “way below average;” overall he was ranked 30th out of 34 centers.
On the other hand, Raiola only allowed 2 QB sacks and 1 QB hit, compared to NFL averages of 1.74 and 2.65, respectively. Given his massive rep total (over 1130 snaps), Raiola did a truly fine job of preventing quarterback sacks and hits. He allowed a sack or hit only once per every 380 snaps or so, making him seventh-best in the NFL.
How could it possibly be, then, that Raiola was graded so poorly in pass protection? Well, his 22 quarterback pressures allowed were second-most in the NFL. Even if we adjusted for his high rep count, Raiola’s pressure numbers are terrible; he had the fourth-worst rate in the NFL—an average of once every 52 snaps!
The picture his paints is of a center who is continually overmatched at the point of attack, but almost always prevents disaster. Remember the PFF “consistency bias,” as I’m calling it: a player constantly racking up minor dings is going to have a worse overall grade than a guy who’s mostly average, except for occasional catastrophic failure.
The strangest thing about Raiola’s grades is his inconsistency. In weeks 4, 13, 14, and 15, Raiola turned in very strong positive grades. In weeks 1, 5, and 10, he was weakly negative. Every other game netted poor, or very poor, grades for Raiola. Interestingly, he went on pronounced hot streaks: in weeks 2, 3, and 4, he had uncharacteristically positive pass-blocking grades, while in weeks 13, 14, and 15 he had great run-blocking marks (0.9, 3.1, and 2.9 respectively).
I looked at Raiola’s 2009 and 2008 performances; he had only three games with overall negative grades combined. To turn in nine “red” games this season indicates a dramatic decline. Now, we’ve seen players—especially offensive linemen—fluctuate wildly from year to year. This was his first year playing next to Rob Sims, and Stephen Peterman was clearly limited by multiple injuries this season. So, this may not be a real, permanent fall off the cliff. But, the Lions have no solid backup and no developmental prospects.
Bottom Line: Raiola had his worst season in years, and possibly ever, last season. Lions tailbacks had zero room to run inside in 2010, and Raiola dances on the edge of disaster in pass protection. His value is partly in recognizing defenses and calling protections, but these grades point to a disturbingly rapid decline in pure performance.
SHOPPING LIST: The Lions cannot afford to assume Raiola will bounce back, and be fine for years to come. They need to acquire an impact starting center for 2012 and beyond.