By Ashley Dunkak
FORD FIELD (CBS DETROIT) – Nearly every day of training camp, Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz answered questions about the team’s reshuffled offensive line, with its newcomers and its young players, its relative lack of experience.
Schwartz maintained positivity about the units, though, and Sunday certainly seemed to provide some solid evidence.
“”They have done a nice job all year,” Schwartz said. “Overall those guys have not only protected the quarterback well, they have also blocked the run well. They’re an underrated group. They’re not underrated by us, but it was a big worry every time in training camp I just took questions about how everybody is fretting about our offensive line. I think our offensive line has done a pretty good job.”
The Lions proved against Washington their offense can function even without dual-threat running back Reggie Bush. Against Chicago, Detroit showed that with Bush – as well as quite a few other contributors – the offense can be downright potent.
Returning from a knee injury he suffered two weeks earlier, Bush rushed for 139 yards and added 34 receiving yards. In total, the team racked up 387 against a traditionally stout – if currently shorthanded – Bears defense.
Then again, the Lions were down a man as well, since wide receiver Nate Burleson is out for an undetermined amount of time after breaking his arm in a car wreck earlier this week. Schwartz said the team would need everyone involved in the offense to step up.
Essentially, everyone did.
Although superstar Calvin Johnson only recovered 44 yards, catching just four of 10 passes thrown to him, tight end Brandon Pettigrew caught all seven passes thrown to him for 54 yards, and Kris Durham snagged three passes for 58 yards.
Johnson’s reputation always earns him copious attention, and Pettigrew appeared to benefit from it.
“They’re so worried about Calvin Johnson and making sure they jam him and hold him up and don’t let him get down the field,” Stafford said. “We’ll just use that to our advantage.”
The strategy worked well, and Pettigrew in particular looked better than he had all season.
Two veterans of the Lions, center Dominic Raiola and Stafford, both seemed happy for Pettigrew, who dropped a number of passes in 2012 and began this season with similar struggles. Sunday he catalyzed the offense, particularly in the first half.
“That guy, he works his tail off,” Stafford said. “He’s been a guy that, since I’ve been here, has been a security blanket for me. A guy that has been, a lot of times, five yards away from me right in front of my face, and I’ve put some throws on him. He’s taken some big hits and made some big plays for us. He did it again today. That guy is tough. He’s blocking his butt off. I’m glad that we got to repay him with some passes today.”
With Burleson injured and fellow wide receiver hurt, the Lions appear a bit thin at the position, but Stafford got the ball to six different players, targeting eight total, so the versatility of the offense could make it dangerous throughout the season.
That unproven offensive line makes all the difference, and so far the going has been good. Even when right tackle Jason Fox went down at the beginning of the season with an injury, Corey Hilliard stepped in, and the line did not miss a beat. In fact, in enabling what has become – especially with a Bush – a rather explosive, powerful offensive, saying the line is pretty good is probably an understatement.
Stafford, for one, is not taken aback by how well the line has performed.
“They’re young guys – they’re athletic, they’re hungry, they’re playing hard,” Stafford said. “Finishing blocks and doing a great job of avoiding penalties and still playing physical. That’s tough to do in this league. They’re playing good football right now. We just need to have more of it. Keep it coming. They understand that.
“We’re only a quarter way through the season,” Stafford added, “but it’s a nice start.”