Column: Lions Still Haven't Fixed Offensive Line

By: Mike Fowler -- Lions Insider<BR>Give Matt Millen credit for trying. Millen has spent two first round picks, a second round pick and paid millions of dollars to acquire another first round pick in an attempt to fix what has been a perennial problem -- the offensive line. He inherited another first round lineman from the previous regime.

(ALLEN PARK) - Give Matt Millen credit for trying. Millen has spent two first round picks, a second round pick and paid millions of dollars to acquire another first round pick in an attempt to fix what has been a perennial problem -- the offensive line. He inherited another first round lineman from the previous regime.

But despite the presence of all those high round draft picks, Detroit still can't open holes in the interior line to spring the running game. The Lions are primarily a right-handed team. When they really want to run the ball, they go to the side occupied by (first round from Boston College) guard Damien Woody and (first round pick from Oklahoma) tackle Stockar McDougle, their two best run blockers.

But opposing teams aren't stupid. They see this and stack their defense to stop first and second down run plays going right. Almost every team Detroit has faced in the first five games crowd the line of scrimmage and gang up on the right side. When McDougle and Woody do their thing, beating the opposing defensive line, they are met by waves of defenders swarming to the ball.

When Detroit runs to the left side, their two starters, (first round pick from Michigan) Jeff Backus and Dave Loverne can't get a push against the defensive line so teams have time to react and make the tackle. The result has been a tepid run game, almost forcing the Lions to rely on the pass to make any kind of offensive gain.

Lions' head coach Steve Mariucci is doing the right thing and stubbornly refuses to give up on the run game. He says the running game is "evolving" and he will not allow the team to become a one-dimensional team. "We threw the ball way too much last year," Mariucci said commenting on his one-dimensional (5-11) 2003 team. He remains committed to running the football.

Detroit is going to have to make more changes. Backus is outstanding in pass blocking but hasn't been consistent in the run game. Loverne is a journeyman who's played like it. Center (second round pick from Nebraska) Dominic Raiola continues to struggle mightily in the run game.

Detroit often asks Raiola, who has been called Detroit's most athletic lineman, to pull and block in space. He has continued to struggle with this aspect. He gets into the space easily with his quickness but hasn't been able to consistently complete the block. He does seems to have eliminated the problem with blocking at opponents feet and getting called for the "chop block" penalty.

Detroit has some tough decisions to make this offseason on the way to building a playoff team. Is Backus the answer at left tackle? Will Raiola improve or should Detroit move in a different direction? Can they rely on Loverne or do they need an improvement?

The Lions have two young capable backs in first round pick Kevin Jones and fourth round pick Artose Pinner who have shown the ability to run tough, elude some tacklers and do damage once they get into space.

They just need some holes to run through.

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