Detroit Lions' quarterback Matthew Stafford has thrown for the most yards in the NFL during the 2012 season, largely because once again, he's had time to survey the pocket thanks to the protection of his offensive line. Despite being much maligned, numbers do show the group protects as well as the NFC's elite.
Though yesterday, we put the Lions' coaching staff on notice, today, we're giving plenty of credit where it's due to George Yarno, the offensive line coach. Since he took over, the Lions have vastly improved their blocking and team play as a unit and the stats show it.
How good have the Lions been? Since 2009, Detroit has ranked comfortably within in the top 16 of league quarterback protection. For 2011, the Lions placed within the top ten at seventh overall, only allowing 36 sacks. Compared to the messy protection statistics of the past, this was a welcome and needed change.
The same beat has gone on impressively during the 2012 season, showcasing excellent continuity. Through 12 games, the Lions rank sixth overall in offensive line efficiency with only 25 sacks allowed and 59 quarterback hits given up. Considering what's gone wrong, those are very respectable totals.
Then, you glance deeper at the numbers as a whole and things look even better. Looking at team statistics, it becomes readily obvious that the darlings of the NFC, the 11-1 Atlanta Falcons, protect Matt Ryan nearly as good as the 4-8 Lions protect Stafford. Though the Falcons rank third in offensive line efficiency, they've given up 22 sacks and 60 hits to the quarterback, numbers which closely resemble the Lions.
Another NFC darling, the 6-6 Washington Redskins, don't even protect their star Robert Griffin III as well as Detroit protects Stafford. The Redskins' offensive linemen have given up 26 sacks and allowed 64 hits on the quarterback thus far in 2012. Somewhat surprisingly, this week's opponent the Green Bay Packers do the worst job protecting Aaron Rodgers of any NFC playoff contender. They've given up 39 sacks and allowed 66 quarterback hits in 2012. Ouch. Come January, that could leave a mark.
In fact, Detroit's numbers could likely look even better. Many of Stafford's sacks come as a result of poor pocket awareness or decision making, definitely not the fault of the big uglies. A few particular sacks Against Houston on Thanksgiving come to mind. Stafford took two unneeded sacks late which prevented the Lions from scoring and extending their lead. If the young quarterback has any room for improvement, it's mostly within this game management department. Simply checking the ball down or throwing it away does work wonders, and Stafford needs to remember that most during crunch time.
Regardless of that, when you dive inside the numbers, you find that protection by the Lions' offensive line as good as the NFC's elite has been the biggest reason for Stafford's early career success.
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