The Detroit Lions made their splash in free agency with the signing of T.J. Lang from the Green Bay Packers and Ricky Wagner from the Baltimore Ravens. Both players will play on the right side of the offensive line for the Lions, with Lang at guard and Wagner at tackle.
Detroit Lions Fortify Offensive Line
These two signings signal more than just adding protection for Matthew Stafford. The Lions will hope that Wagner and Lang can establish a “strong” side of the offensive line and the fact that they both play on the right side is very significant. The right portion of the offensive line is supposed to be the side dedicated to running the football.
If you watched any Lions games last season, you will understand how little of a threat they were to run the football. Opposing teams simply did not respect the Lions ability to run the ball and the Lions became one dimensional. This is very bad news for any offense.
The worst thing you can be in football is one-dimensional. If teams know exactly what you are bringing to the table, they can game plan for it and take that away from you. This is what the New England Patriots excel in.
As an offense, you want to create a game plan that makes it as difficult as possible to predict what you will do. If you do not have the threat of running the football, you have just made the defenses job infinitely easier.
The best way for offenses to be unpredictable is to mix up run and pass plays, run different blocking schemes, and change how you attack the field. Also, offenses should look to attack deep, look for plays in the middle of the field, attack both hashes and use both inside and outside zone run plays.
A good model for the Lions should be the Atlanta Falcons last season. Under the control of former offensive coordinator and now head coach of the San Francisco 49ers Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons were the epitome of a balanced offense.
Defenses had so much to prepare for last season when facing the Falcons. You could not take away the run game because Matt Ryan and Julio Jones could beat you through the air and if you tried to stop them from throwing the ball the combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman would run all over you.
A huge reason the Falcons were able to accomplish what they did on offense last season was the solidification of their offensive line, specifically the addition of center Alex Mack. Mack provided the Falcons with extremely consistent offensive line play, something that is very difficult to come by in today’s NFL with the new collective bargaining agreement. The new CBA reduced practice time and many have argued this has had an extremely negative effect on offensive line units because of their reliance on timing and teamwork.
The Lions will hope the additions of Lang and Wagner will have the same effect on their team that Mack provided to the Falcons. If Lang and Wagner are able to perform well for the Lions, look for the running game to be the biggest beneficiary. In 2016, the Lions ranked 30th in rushing yards and were tied for last in rushing attempts. These statistics just go to prove how truly one dimensional the Lions offense was in 2016.
At times, the Lions looked like they could score on almost anyone. In other cases, they struggled to move the ball against some of the league’s worst teams. This is because of how unreliable their run game was. It is very difficult to piece together long, methodical drives when you can not rely on your run game to pick up good chunks of yards.
Many people assume the Lions had an elite offense in 2016, primarily because of the MVP caliber season from Matthew Stafford. However, this is not necessarily the case. The Lions ranked 20th in the NFL in total points and 21st in total yards in 2016.
However, they also ranked 11th in passing yards per game, so throwing the ball was not the issue. This is also significant because every single team ranked ahead of Detroit in passing yards had a higher ranked running game as well. In other words, the Lions were able to finish with the 11th highest passing offense while having virtually no threat to run the ball.
The next step the Lions should take in their effort to establish an effective running offense is drafting a running back. The best example for this is the Dallas Cowboys drafting Ezekiel Elliott last season. With the addition of Elliott, the Cowboys became not just one of the best running offenses in the NFL, but one of the best teams.
With the additions of Wagner and Lang, selecting a running back in one of the early rounds of this spring’s draft could be the move that puts the Lions over the hump.