Lions offensive line ranked best in league

Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson may get all the headlines, but Week 1 again proved that there's more to these Detroit Lions than a little skill-position excellence.

NORTHBROOK, Ill. (STATS) - Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson may get all the headlines, but Week 1 again proved that there's more to these Detroit Lions than a little skill-position excellence.

Detroit graded out with a week-best 102.1 in the New York Life Protection Index after a 27-20 win at Tampa Bay for its fifth straight regular season victory. The NYLPI is a proprietary formula created by STATS LLC which measures pass protection by using metrics such as length of passes, penalties by offensive linemen, sacks allowed and quarterback hurries and knockdowns.

Stafford was 24 of 33 for 305 yards and three touchdowns - two of them to Johnson - as the Lions continued to show that their winless campaign of 2008 is nothing more than a distant memory. But for all the highlights the Stafford-to-Johnson combo puts up, it's been the improvement of the team's offensive line that has been critical in establishing a new tradition of winning.

"Luck is starting to change around here, bounces are starting to change around here," guard Rob Sims said. "It's coming together nice. We're excited."

On Sunday, Detroit's offensive line certainly did more than just get lucky. Outside of a lone knockdown, it kept Stafford upright the entire game. The Lions were one of two teams - San Francisco the other, albeit with 13 less attempts - that did not allow a sack. Stafford was hurried just twice, and the unit was not called for a single holding penalty.

As a result, Stafford completed 73 percent of his attempts and finished the game with a passer rating of 118.9. "We have so much confidence in him," Johnson said of Stafford. "He puts it up there for me, I've got to go get it. He's our coach on the field." The Indianapolis Colts are currently without their coach on the field, and the results are as glaring as they are predictable. A season ago, Indianapolis finished with a league-high NYLPI score of 90.7, but for the first time in 227 games the club had someone other than Peyton Manning under center.

Not surprisingly, the precision crispness of the offense suffered with Kerry Collins at the helm. Collins was sacked three times, hurried five and knocked down eight as the Colts fell at Houston 34-7. A revamped offensive line struggled after previous versions allowed 16 or fewer sacks each of the three prior seasons, ending the game with a 29.7 NYLPI mark.

"None of us played well. It had nothing to do with Kerry," Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday said. "As an offense, we just didn't play well, and we didn't execute when we needed to. We had fumbles, sacks, penalties, any way you could shoot yourself in the foot, we did it."

Yet for all the issues Indianapolis had, Minnesota fared even worse in the debut of its own veteran quarterback. Donovan McNabb was sacked twice and threw for a mere 39 yards on 15 attempts - 10 of which resulted in a hurry (six) or knockdown (four) - as the Vikings lost 24-17 at San Diego. The 39 passing yards were the fewest in a game for Minnesota in 40 years.

The Vikings' week-ending NYLPI score of minus-18.9 was by far the lowest of the week - St. Louis ranked 31st with a 25.1. Last season, there were only four other scores that were lower for the entire year.

"There's obviously improvements to be made, little things in technique and communication," center John Sullivan said. "We're still breaking it in. Obviously it needs to happen quickly because we're into the real games now."

Other noteworthy performances included strong starts by the front five of New England and New Orleans, which helped power Tom Brady and Drew Brees to a combined 936 passing yards and marks of 94.8 and 90.1 to rank second and third, respectively. And while Brady's team-record 517 yards stole the show Monday night, it's interesting to note that Carolina rookie Cam Newton actually led the league with 294 of his 422 yards through the air - i.e., the distance the ball actually travels before being caught. Brady was second at 279.

After ranking 30th for the season in 2010, the Panthers finished 15th in the pro debut of their new quarterback.

"Everybody believes in him," two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jordan Gross said. "We're never looking around wondering who's going to make the play. I know our receivers believe in him as well. He's our quarterback and he's taken that by the reins and led the charge."

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