Column: Lions' Offensive Line Holds the Key Sunday

It isn't necessarily the brother/brother matchup that will tilt the game's favor on Sunday, according to LionsFans.com correspondent, although Stockar McDougle will still play a heavy role. Also, Joey Harrington's performance last week in addition to his emotional spark brings back memories of a Lion great.

Detroit's 2-0 start is the first for the team since the 2000 season. If they win Sunday, they will be 3-0 for the first time since 1980.

If the Lions' offensive line can protect Joey Harrington and open up running lanes for Kevin Jones and Artose Pinner, thereby keeping Eagles' QB Donovan McNabb on the bench, Ford Field could be rocking Sunday like never before. Then, Sunday night Lions fans all over the sate of Michigan will be digging in their attics searching for long-lost record players and their now faded satin Lions jackets as the Motown faithful will soon be going retro to the sounds of Jimmy "Spiderman" Allen and James "Hound Dog" Hunter's gridiron take-off of the rock-and-roll classic, "Another One Bites The Dust."

Sunday's game will be the first real test to show just how good this 2004 Lions squad is. The Eagles, like Detroit, are also 2-0. Philadelphia rolls into Detroit fresh off their 27-16 Monday night win over the Minnesota Vikings. The Eagles, with the addition of free agent DE Jevon Kearse, have totaled nine sacks through the first two games, including four against the Vikings. Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson loves to blitz quarterbacks with everything but the kitchen sink. So with that, expect Eagle cornerbacks, safeties, and linebackers to fly into the Lions' backfield from all angles Sunday.

Stocker versus Jevon, not Jerome, is the real storyline

While it's nice that the local media has promoted the upcoming Lions/Eagles matchup as a battle between gridiron brothers Stockar McDougle, the Lions' starting RT, and second-year Eagles' DE Jerome McDougle; the real matchup that should be talked about is how Stockar will matchup against the guy who will likely line up across form him for most of the game Sunday, Philadelphia's LE Jevon Kearse.

While no member of the Detroit offensive line has been outstanding thus far in 2004, Stockar McDougle has clearly been the most disappointing. McDougle struggled with Chicago's Adewale Ogunleye in week one and with Houston's rookie OLB Jason Babin last Sunday, collecting two holding penalties and a false start in the process. He will have his hands full Sunday with Kearse, who seems to have fit well in Jim Johnson's defense after coming over from the Tennessee Titans during the offseason.

While Kearse is not as dominant now as he was in his first three years in Tennessee, the six-year veteran's strength remains his ability to rush the passer. His first-step is still formidable and he is good at setting up an OT with an outside move, then attacking their inside shoulder in route to the QB. This is the exact type of move Babin used to beat McDougle to record a 1st quarter sack of Joey Harrington in last Sunday's game versus the Texans. If Jevon wins his matchup with Stocker this week, the Eagles will be well on their way to stopping Harrington and the Lions' offense.

While Kearse's pass rushing skills remain strong, as a 6'4" 255 pound DE, he can be exploited if teams attack him on the ground. At 6'6" and 335 pounds, run blocking is Stockar McDougle's biggest strong point. Expect Detroit to attack the left side of the Eagle defense early behind the blocking of McDougle, RG Damien Woody, and FB Cory Schlesinger. If they have early success on the ground, the Lions will use it to their full advantage, keeping Eagle QB Donovan McNabb and his offense off the field in the process.

A Tip of the Cap for Joey

While I do my best to be tough the Lions when I feel toughness is warranted. I also try equally hard to be fair. In my column last week, I spoke of how I felt Joey Harrington needed to be more consistent before the Detroit Lions could take full advantage of all the new offense firepower in their arsenal. In the game against the Texans, Harrington did just that. He went 18-of-25 (72%) for 176 yards and 3 TD's. He led Detroit on touchdown drives of 61, 79 and 80 yards. Detroit also converted 6-of-11 (54%) 3rd down plays into 1st downs. His 18 completions went to 9 different receivers, and his 31-yard TD strike to Roy Williams in the 3rd quarter, which extended the Lion lead to 14-3, was as good a throw as an NFL QB can make.

It was fun to watch. It must have been a blast for the guy wearing #3.

Staying on the topic of Harrington, I found it pretty sad that just two offensive plays into the game against the Texans, after Joey had dumped the ball off to Stephen Alexander who was pushed out of bounds for no gain at the Lion 15, the boo birds began to rain down impulsively on the Detroit offense. While I am not opposed to fans booing their pro teams, isn't just two plays into your teams first offensive possession of the day a little early to unleash the verbal venom?

What I found encouraging, and funny, however was the response Harrington gave back to the hecklers. As the TV camera zeroed in on the Lions' QB, he turned back toward the endzone seats with a disgusted look and replied "Shut the F^<% up," before turning back to the huddle to call the next play.

That little display of fire by Harrington probably brought a smile to the face of another Lion QB who once heard the boos and catcalls of the parents and grandparents of many of those same folks who were in the Ford Field stands Sunday.

Believe it or not Joey, Detroit booed Bobby Layne too.

By the way, on the very next play Harrington passed to Stephen Alexander for 13 yards and the first down

And somewhere in football's pantheon, the old QB smiled again.


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