Rave Reviews For New-Look Pro Bowl
By Scott McMahon
Remember the past few AFC-NFC Pro Bowls? You know, the games that had an 83.8 total points per game in the last five years? Thankfully, those days are over. The new Pro Bowl format—featuring a fantasy draft between Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice—added an energy and excitement that hadn’t been seen in years.
As much of an improvement as this year’s Pro Bowl was, it was missing something—more Detroit Lions representatives.
First of all, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh were chosen to go to Hawaii, and rightfully so. Although Johnson didn’t play, he put up another Megatron-like regular season. Suh and the defensive line may not have gathered too many sacks, but he was a big presence (literally and figuratively) in one of the league’s best run defenses. I mean, there was a reason that Suh was selected first overall by Team Sanders in the Pro Bowl fantasy draft this year.
Call me a homer, but there should’ve been more.
Case in point: Dominic Raiola. The Lions had one of the best offensive lines in the NFL this season, and featured dominating run and pass blockers. Matthew Stafford was sacked just 23 times this season, and on only 3.5% of his passing attempts—both of those numbers ranked second in the NFL. Stafford may have stumbled in the second half of the season, but it was in no way the offensive line’s fault.
In the running game, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell each had more than 500 rushing and passing yards, including 1,006 yards on the ground for Bush. The line opened holes and brought a running game back to Detroit for the first time in years.
So why Raiola? He had arguably his best season as a professional, and was a huge part in the development of rookies LaAdrian Waddle and Larry Warford. Without the solid play in the middle of the offensive line, Stafford wouldn’t have had the first half that he did (not to mention the second half he could have had). Without Raiola’s leadership and strong play at the center position, the running game wouldn’t have been as effective as it was.
The next snub: DeAndre Levy. The guy seemingly came out of nowhere to hold a league lead in interceptions until Richard Sherman took it over at the end of the year. Levy combined with Stephen Tulloch and Ashlee Palmer to create one of the better linebacking units in the NFL, with Levy leading the way. For Levy, it was a breakout season, as his six interceptions led the team, and his 112 were a career high. He may not have had the sacks that the selected outside linebackers had—all of the outside linebackers chosen to attend the Pro Bowl had at least 10 sacks—but there is something that needs to be said about a breakout team leader for one of the best run defenses in the NFL.
Honorable mention: the aforementioned Warford. The guy didn’t allow a sack all season, and played all 16 games for the Lions. If he keeps up that play, though, he’ll have plenty of Hawaii visits in his future.
Overall, hats off to the NFL for the first successful and interesting Pro Bowl in years—it actually kept me occupied for a while. But it’s my hope that in future years, some lesser-known names like Levy, Raiola, and Warford can crack the lineups and be recognized for the stellar seasons they had.