Midseason review: Offensive line

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
11:00
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This week, during Detroit’s bye, we’ll take a look at each position group at the halfway point of the season.

Prior reviews: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide Receivers; Tight ends

What has worked: Dominic Raiola may always have his detractors, and after 13 years in the NFL he should in theory be slowing down. Except for one problem: The veteran center has not done anything close to that. Raiola, the leader of the offensive line and the man responsible for any shifts and calls there, has had one of the best seasons of his career. According to Pro Football Focus, he has graded out positively in every game but one and extremely well in five of eight games this season.

[+] EnlargeDominic Raiola
AP Photo/Joe RobbinsLongtime Lions center Dominic Raiola is having one of the best seasons of his 13-year career.
He is in the middle of a line that has been responsible for giving quarterback Matthew Stafford time in the pocket this season and for keeping him upright. He has more pass attempts than anyone in the NFL and Stafford has only been sacked 2.8 percent of the time this season. Only once, in a meltdown performance against Green Bay, has the Lions' line given up more than one sack in a game.

Two of Raiola’s biggest line calls led to massive plays in crucial wins -- the fourth-down sneak against Washington to go between Raiola and left guard Rob Sims and a 37-yard Reggie Bush touchdown run against Chicago that broke open the game.

Part of the line’s overall success goes to rookie right guard Larry Warford, a third-round pick out of Kentucky who has played every snap this season. Pro Football Focus grades him out as the sixth-best guard in the NFL and in the top 15 in both run and pass blocking. The website also credits him with allowing no sacks this season.

As a team, Detroit has been among the best pass-blockers in the league.

What has not: Injuries have hit this group worse than any other on the Detroit roster, to the point where the Lions had to reinsert a limited Riley Reiff at left tackle against Cincinnati because of a lack of other healthy options at the position.

There’s still some recovery there -- Corey Hilliard might not return for a little while still and Jason Fox’s health has been a constant concern -- but the injuries may have unearthed a blocking gem in undrafted tackle LaAdrian Waddle. The mountain of a human played well in his first start against Dallas, but the learning curve for offensive linemen can often be a steep one.

Run blocking has also not been a specialty for this group. They have been decidedly average run-blockers, firmly in the middle of the Pro Football Focus rankings. Fitting with that, the Lions are averaging 3.77 yards a carry, 21st in the league.

Prognosis: This group will continue to play well as long as Raiola keeps up his current level of play. He appears more rejuvenated this season -- and has said as much -- and the longtime Lion has to sense there’s a chance for this team to make a run to the playoffs.

Sims has been consistent next to Raiola and Warford should continue to improve as the season moves on. He has not given any indication he will take a step back from his successful start to his career.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens at right tackle, which has been the most revolving door spot on the team this season. By the time Hilliard returns from injury, it is possible Waddle will have played well enough to bump him from the starting role. The Lions could have a ton of depth at the position if Fox and Hilliard return to health and Waddle and Reiff stay relatively healthy, but who plays next to Warford will be a position to monitor throughout the second half.

There is little reason to think, though, that this unit will regress at all in the second half of the season.

Information from ESPN Stats & Information was used in compiling this report.

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter

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