Old Mother Hubbard: The Offensive Guards

>> 3.08.2012

Last year’s offensive guard Old Mother Hubbard was sobering indeed. The Lions had stolen a productive young starter from Seattle in Rob Sims, and Stephen Peterman was coming off an outstanding 2009. In 2010 they were pretty good and horrible, respectively. Worst of all, the bad performances fueled each other: Raiola does best with help from the guards in the run game, but when the guards are struggling there’s no hope.

Let’s look at last years’ bottom line for each of them:

Rob Sims is an above-average starter just entering his prime. If it weren’t for an odd midseason slump, Sims would have graded out amongst the best in the NFL. He’s locked up until 2014, and should provide stability at the spot for the first time in a very, very long time.

Stephen Peterman turned in incredibly consistent, strongly positive grades in 2009, and was clearly hampered by a laundry list of dings this season. We can reasonably expect a major bounceback in 2011—and, like Sims, he is under contract through 2014.

2011’s performance chart looks much, much, much better:


At the top of the list is Philadelphia’s Evan Mathis. At +34.6 overall, he was in a class by himself. His run block grade was a breathtaking +20.4, more than three times as high as the next-best effort. His pass blocking wasn’t too shabby either; at +10.6 he was the 9th-highest rated guard out of 77. Screen blocking has very little variance, but Evans was in a seven-way tie for 4th place at +2.0.

At the rear, ranked 77th, we have Jacksonville’s Will Rackley. -12.7 run block, -18.9 pass block, -3.6 penalty, -35.7 overall. Brutal.

The Lions guards are much closer to the former than the latter.

Rob Sims was the 14th-highest graded guard in football, and the eighth-highest graded left guard. Most of that comes from his outstanding +11.1 pass block grade, tied for seventh-best in the NFL (second-best amongst left guards). With three assessed penalties on 1,143 snaps, his +2.1 penalty grade was an asset, too.

Now the bad news: Sims earned a -6.5 in run blocking, and had a vicious run of four negative grades from Week 3 to Week 7. The run-block mark isn’t as bad as it looks; the NFL average is -4.3. But Sims’ -4.9, -1.3, -4.3, and -1.4 for Weeks 3, 5, 6, and 7 respectively were his only negative grades of the year. I’m not even excluding neutral/weakly negative grades, as I usually do: those four awful games were his only not-positive grades all year.

What's even weirder, this slump mirrors Sims' performance from 2010: all but one of his negative grades came in five consecutive games from Week 6 to Week 11. I can’t explain either swoon, but when he’s not in the midst of one Sims is absolutely rock-solid, especially against the pass.

Statistically, Sims allowed one sack, eight QB hits, and 11 pressures over 1,143 snaps. That's one every 57.2, 20th-best in the NFL and above the league average of 50.9. However, as I noted with Raiola, the Lions ran the fourth-most offensive plays in the NFL and passed on 63% of those plays—the most frequent pass rate in football.

So far, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller and staff have only completed the analysis of the right guards; I can’t give you Sims’ scouting profile (though I will update this piece when their piece goes live). Update: here’s the B/R 1000 scouting report on Rob Sims; he’s ranked the 12th-best left guard in the NFL.

Bottom line: Rob Sims is one of the 10 best left guards in the NFL, and in the top 15 overall. He is an exceptional pass-blocker, and keeps his nose clean. He is subpar in the run game, and seems to have a several-game stretch of poor form every season. But outside of those midseason swoons, he’s extraordinarily dependable. He is signed through 2014 and will be a key component of the offense going forward.

Stephen Peterman needed to have a big-time bounceback after last year’s injury-riddled campaign, and he did. Peterman’s performance was just a tick below Sims’ in every facet of the game: +4.2 overall, 20th-best in the NFL and ninth-best amongst right guards. His pass block was +9.1, 14th-best overall and eighth-best rightie.

Peterman's run block grade is further off the pace than Sims’s,  at -8.0. That figure is ranked 56th of 77, and deeper below the NFL average of -4.3. Peterman was also flagged five times, with one declined/offset, so his overall grade got dinged for that.

Ready to have your mind blown? At +3.0, Stephen Peterman registered the second-best screen block grade in the NFL. Remember, we’re talking about 6’-4",” 323-pound Stephen Peterman here.

Peterman was more inconsistent than Sims. He registered more peaks (four games graded +2.5 or better, compared to three for Sims), but also had more flat/weakly negative games, and his five negative games were sprinkled throughout the season instead of clustered in one big slump.

Statistically, Peterman allowed 2 sacks, 4 hits, and 13 pressures, one every 60.2 snaps. That rate is slightly better than Sims’s, and of course Peterman played the same number of snaps in the same offense that Sims did.

Bleacher Report graded out Stephen Peterman as the 12th-best right guard in the game, at 70.5 overall. As with Raiola, their scouting report dovetails nicely with what we see above: great size, great movement in space, very good pass blocking, extremely shaky run blocking  and off-putting inconsistency.

By the way, for those of you who don’t know Matt Miller’s work, I relied on his New Era Scouting draft evaluations extensively before he signed up with B/R. I’m not forwarding you to his because we’re colleagues, I’m forwarding you to it because it’s great stuff.

Bottom Line: Stephen Peterman proved his horrifying 2010 backslide was due entirely to injury. He’s shares Sims’s and Raiola’s weakness in the interior run game—not what you want from a right guard—but he completes a fantastic pass-blocking interior trio . . . maybe the best in the NFL. Like Sims, he is signed through 2014.

Davis, Leonard is a name that appears on the Lions’ roster next to some very big numbers like 6’-6”, 355, 33, 11, and Texas. The former Cardinal and Cowboy was tipped to replace Peterman after his disastrous performance in Dallas. However, the Lions didn’t sign Davis until a month after that game, and he never saw the field.

Except for practice squadder Jacques McClendon, Davis is the only backup for either guard position, and will be 34 shortly after the season starts.

SHOPPING LIST: The Lions have two top-third starters in their prime locked up until 2014. Their only backup, however, hasn’t played since the close of the 2010 season and is at, or near, the end of his career. Ideally, the Lions will draft a talented center who can push Davis to back up one, if not both, guard positions.


Old Mother Hubbard: The Centers

>> 3.06.2012

dominic_raiola_detroit_lions_centersLast season, the Old Mother Hubbard assessment of the Lions’ center position was so dire I dropped some Thomas Hobbes in the introduction. Dominic Raiola, the Lions’ only center of note, showed severe signs of regression in 2010. Here’s how I summed it up:

Dominic Raiola had his worst season in years, and possibly ever. 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.

In the shopping list, I said the Lions "cannot afford to assume Raiola will bounce back, and be fine for years to come," and that they "need to acquire an impact starting center for 2012 and beyond."

They didn't.

The good news is, Raiola did indeed bounce back. Let's look at his 2011 performace, as graded by Pro Football Focus:


The top-rated center was Houston’s Chris Myers, who had an incredible season in the middle of the Texans’ line. Myers’s +29.8 was best amongst all centers, and well above the average of +1.4. Most of that was powered by Myers’ stonking +25.8 in the run game; his pass-blocking mark was a pedestrian +3.7.

The worst-graded center was Denver’s J.D. Walton. His appalling -23.4 run block grade, paired with a not-great -5.3 pass block grade, dropped him to the basement of the NFL: 35th overall at -28.9

Dominic Raiola fared much better. His -4.2 overall grade was ranked 24th of 35; just a bit below the average of +1.4. He had the 5th-worst run-block grade at -10.2, and his 6 assessed penalties dragged his score down, too. However, Raiola had a fantastic season protecting Matthew Stafford: his +6.4 mark was 4th-best in the NFL, well above the +0.7 average.

This is a huge step up from 2010. Raiola was graded out at -15.2 overall, and just as bad against the pass as he was against the run. In 2010, he was graded negatively in 9 of 17 games; in 2011 he finished in the red in just 6 of 18. The best part is, he only had one game where he was graded any lower than -1.5: Week 6 against San Francisco, where his -4.7 run block sunk the Lions' efforts to control the game.

Statistically, Raiola allowed 4 sacks and 10 pressures. Raiola allowed one of those three every 81 snaps—on average, 14th-best in the NFL and just below the average of 85.6. I suspect this is because I’m going per snap and not per pass play, but I don’t have that figure to divide by. For those wondering, Advanced NFL Stats does have -EPA and -WPA for offensive lines, but only as a group, not individually.

For another "eyeball test," there's the B/R 1000, a project where the top talent evaluators and draftniks over at Bleacher Report grade out the top 1,000 players in the NFL. Their report on Raiola perfectly dovetails with what the PFF staff saw: B/R ranks Raiola the 23rd-best center in the NFL. If you want a true scout's evaluation of where Raiola's game is at, read that.

Of course, all of this ignores the hidden benefits Lions coaches and staff are quick to bring up whenever Raiola is mentioned. Raiola is phenomenal at reading defenses and adjusting protections; he makes the entire offense more effective by calling protections and feeding Matthew Stafford information.

Beyond that, there’s his on-field and off-field leadership. There’s a reason Raiola wears a “C” on his chest. When the Lions needed someone to tell them to grow up, Raiola was there.

Unfortunately, the backup situation remains unchanged. There’s no one behind Raiola, either in the short-term or long-term picture. The Lions are in the second year of what is likely a 2-5 year championship window, and betting Raiola can keep playing at this level for the duration is a bad bet.

If they want to draft Raiola’s long-term replacement, but don’t want him to learn on the job, this year is the year.

BOTTOM LINE: Dominic Raiola turned in a typical performance in 2011: one of the best pass-blocking centers in the NFL, one of the worst run-blocking centers in the NFL, and a true leader who earns his captaincy. After eleven years in the NFL, he still rolls without a legitimate backup, and the Lions must plan for the future now.

SHOPPING LIST: The Lions must draft a talented long-term replacement for Raiola who can capably back up the center and guard positions.


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