Corey Hilliard vs. Jason Fox 3

9:03 PM 17 Oct 2013

Coming out of the preseason, it was clear who the winner of the RT camp battle was.  In fact, the ‘camp battle’ was decided after the Lions first game of the preseason, where Jason Fox pulled ahead and never looked back.  When the regular season began, however, Fox went down almost immediately with injury and Hilliard became the full-time starter.  Coming into the Lions Week 5 away game against the Packers in Lambeau Field, the Lions Offensive Line had surrendered only three sacks in five games, yet a healthy Jason Fox was inserted back into the lineup without any explanation whatsoever.  Should an explanation ever have been needed?  Fox wasn’t taking Hilliard’s job, he was taking his own that Hillard had been filling in for.  A very common sentiment among Lions fans at the time was “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  But was it really not broken?  The first four weeks saw some excellent Oline play, but in all five contests the lowest graded Offensive Lineman was Corey Hilliard.  Four out of four games.  The Offensive Line as a whole struggled against the Packers and a great deal of that blame was placed on the returning Jason Fox.  I mean, when he wasn’t in the unit was doing well!  He would (unsurprisingly at this point) go down with injury in the 3rd Quarter and Hilliard would once again take his place.  This is the closest we’ll get to a side by side comparison of the two Right Tackles, so I watched every play the two had and graded them against the same opponent.  Corey Hilliard vs. Jason Fox.  Was Hilliard really a significant improvement over Fox?  Or was he just more of the same?

Fox

The Grading

So this will make sense, there’s a few terms you’ll need to know.  When I’m grading players’ performances, it’s on a very simple scale of Green, Yellow, Red.  Green plays are those in which the player won, played in their assignment, and played well.  Sometimes these plays still result in a positive or negative play for the opponent, but that’s not what I’m grading.  What I’m grading is individual performance.  So, for instance, if a player whiffs on a block but the play was a rollout in the other direction so it didn’t ultimately affect the play, it’s still a red play since they blew their assignment.  Conversely, if a player holds his block, keeps his man off the line and away from the QB, but the QB is sacked from the other side, it’s still a green play.  Red plays are those in which the player failed at their job. These are generally obvious on tape and usually stand out when watching tape.  Yellow plays are those that fall somewhere in the middle.  Maybe a player makes a good initial block, but fails to sustain the block (which shows a poor field awareness) and instead gets to the next level.  Or, perhaps, the player gets a good block and pushes the defender off the hole…but then allows the defender to slide back in before the runner is through.  Those are plays where the player did something right, but not enough for it to be a positive or negative mark.  In general, using this system, a good performance will net more “Green plays” than “Red Plays” and “Yellow Plays” combined.  Let’s take a quick look at how the two fared.

Fox Hilliard
Green Plays 14 37.8% 12 41.4%
Yellow Plays 13 35.1% 11 37.9%
Red Plays 10 27.0% 6 20.7%
Total Plays 37 29

Remember the part where I said players should always grade out with more Green than Red and Yellow combined?  Neither player came close.  Hilliard obviously outperformed Fox by the numbers, but only just barely with only a 3.5% margin of difference, and they were both still negative.  In fact, they played so similarly that if we were to assume Hilliard’s consistency continued in the same amount of snaps, he would have 15 Green, 14 Yellow, and 8 Red.  That’s a difference of ONE play to the positive.  So when I say that Hilliard played “marginally better” than Fox, that’s what I’m referring to.  Better, yes.  But only in the way that sitting in row 5 is better than sitting in row 7.  Better, yes, but enough so that you’d be willing to riot or rejoice if you had to move from one to the other.

Fox is the Better Pass Blocker, Hilliard the better Run Blocker

This has been the argument made by pretty much anyone that watched the team throughout the preseason or checked back to previous tape of the two.  It rung true in the Packers game, though not as noticeably on the surface.  Of Hilliard’s 12 Green plays, 10 were passing downs.  Fox?  13 of 14.  That’s not a huge difference.  What is more noticeable is how many Red plays in that area.  Despite playing 8 fewer snaps, Hilliard had more Red passing plays (5) than Fox (4).  Those math handy of you have already caught the second part of this, which is that Hilliard had only 1 red rushing play to Fox’s 6.  It was pretty clear watching the two that Fox is not a run blocking specialist.  Fox’s run blocking can be summed up in one word – “Soft”.  All but one of his Red or Yellow run plays were due to the same thing, flailing his arms about trying to push with his elbows.  A good run blocker, hell a competent one, will push with his legs, through his core, and basically use his arms to just direct.  Fox anchors like he’s pass blocking and then swings his arms wildly, barely engaging (In one, disgraceful case, he didn’t even TRY to engage).  To put their respective skill sets into better perspective, let’s break up run and pass plays and see what shakes out.

Runs Fox Hilliard
Green Plays 1 8.3% 2 33.3%
Yellow Plays 5 41.7% 3 50.0%
Red Plays 6 50.0% 1 16.7%
Total Plays 12 6
Passes Fox Hilliard
Green Plays 13 52.0% 10 43.5%
Yellow Plays 8 32.0% 8 34.8%
Red Plays 4 16.0% 5 21.7%
Total Plays 25 23

Doesn’t get much clearer than that, does it?  Fox graded well on only 9% of his rushes, compared to 33% for Hilliard.  Conversely, Fox deserves notice for the only true positive grade of the day (Though only just), grading in the green on just barely over half of his passing plays.  On the other end of the spectrum, Fox blew HALF of his run blocking attempts, while Hillard only miffed on one of those.  So that kinda takes away from his Fox’s pass blocking achievement.

The Verdict

Wow, these two were terrible.  I should point out that Hilliard has graded out at just about average every game prior to this one and while I haven’t graded the Browns game just yet I have a feeling it will be similar.  Is Hilliard a better Right Tackle than Jason Fox?  Maybe a little right now.  There’s no question that Hilliard has hit his ceiling, there isn’t going to be any sudden or sustained improvement.  He is what he is, a backup forced into starter duty.  The question isn’t really whether Fox is better than Hilliard, it’s whether Fox will EVER be better than what Hilliard is, a career backup.  Health issues aside, I find it hard based on this performance to really say that he will be.  There aren’t many one way RTs in the NFL today, and the few that are out there are all far better than Fox is.  Even then, it’s a very limited role.  Fox would have to improve A LOT to make a case for keeping the RT job outside of 2013.  You don’t want to know about that, though, you want to know about right now.  To that, you should take note of the total plays in the above illustration, since they carry over pretty similarly in most games this season.  The Lions simply pass far more than they run.  In that case, you have to take the better pass protector between the two if they are both healthy.  One thing that should also be mentioned is the “Wow Factor”.  For those unfamiliar with my work, the Wow Factor is how often a player makes plays that you will remember, good or bad.  In this game, Fox only had one Wow play, and it was a bad one, getting driven back so badly that he almost got the sack himself (He gave it to his man instead).  Hilliard also had his share of Wow plays, also bad, and they were ALL of his Red plays, which you can read below.  Fox isn’t a good blocker, but he’s a decent to above average pass protector.  Hilliard is a decent pass protector and okay run blocker, but when he gives up plays boy does he ever give up plays.  If I had to choose between the two of them based on their play, I would take Fox ten times out of ten, though by the narrowest of margins each time.  The Lions pass on a nearly 2:1 ratio, and they need the guy least likely to get his QB killed.  That’s Fox.  Having said that, it will always come down to health, and I don’t care if Fox was an all pro of the Ogden variety.  If you can’t get on the field, you’re not worth anything.  That, and likely only that, is why Hilliard is starting over Fox.  It’s also the biggest reason that Fox will probably not be a Lion next season, while Hilliard will likely slide back into his old backup position while the Lions pick up someone better.  At least they had better find someone better.  For Stafford’s sake.

Play by Play

Jason Fox
Play 1 Run Sealed the outside as part of double team, Bell streaked through for 9 yards.
Play 2 Pass Sidestepped against the pass rush, held his man from getting around the edge.  Quick pass, but could have kept him away from the QB easily for longer.
Play 3 Pass Held off his man for a quick pass, then drove im off the line and outside.
Play 4 Run Swung his man out initially at the draw, after the handoff was driven inside to close the hole (Broken play)
Play 5 Run Minimal push inside, play wasn’t to him so it worked, but if it was off his back there would have been no hole.
Play 6 Pass Got stood up and driven back immediately, lucky it was a quick pass.
Play 7 Pass Catch block, defender got no push.  Sack on the play from elsewhere. 
Play 8 Pass Blown up outside, beat badly.  Again lucky it was a quick pass.
Play 9 Pass Drew even with his man, unluckily the play went right behind him.  Pressure came from elsewhere, but would have been from him if not.
Play 10 Run No real push off the line, let his man lead him towards the run.  Play was to the opposite side.’
Play 11 Pass Great kickslide, held his man off, could have held him off for longer.
Play 12 Pass Beat on the outside.  Held, not called.  Gave up pressure forcing early, off target throw.
Play 13 Pass Play fake, Packers bit so hard Fox never really had to block anybody.  Didn’t go upfield early, but shadowed the defender and payed attention to his QB, so that’s a win.
Play 14 Run If this were a pass, it would have been fine.  Very standoffish, barely touched his defender.  Didn’t initiate contact.  Worse run block I’ve ever seen.
Play 15 Run Got beat if it were a pass, but let his man overrun on the draw.  
Play 16 Pass Great kickslide, held his man off at the point of attack, but gave up at the end BEFORE the pass was off.  Why?
Play 17 Pass Did his job, held his man off at the point of attack. 
Play 18 Run Lazy run block, pushing with his arms not his body.  Soft.  Play went elsewhere.
Play 19 Run Held his man off, but didn’t get much push.  
Play 20 Run Kicked out a little, got beat badly enough the rusher almost slid around him and grabbed the RB.
Play 21 Pass Driven hard into the backfield, right into his QB.  Allowed the sack. 
Play 22 Pass Good kickslide, held his man off.  Did his job well, play developed and Stafford wasn’t pressured.
Play 23 Pass Deckent kick out, held his man off but only just.
Play 24 Pass Good kickout, didn’t lose his man on the stunt.  
Play 25 Pass Good kick, held his man off.
Play 26 Pass Knocked back but didn’t give up pressure
Play 27 Pass Good kick, held his man off.
Play 28 Pass Held off his man, but not for long.  Pressure came from elsewhere.
Play 29 Pass Again held off his guy well.
Play 30 Pass Play didn’t help him, had nobody to block so he clogged up the inside.  Didn’t provide anything to the play.
Play 31 Run Finally got push inside, but then slipped off his man and got rolled.  
Play 32 Pass Held off point of attack, didn’t allow countermove.
Play 33 Run Pushed his guy, didn’t direct him.  Gave up the tackle.
Play 34 Pass Held off his guy, but started to give pressure when the throw was made.
Play 35 Run Inside run, no push.  Added nothing to the double team.
Play 36 Pass Held off his guy, not very long, sack from the other side.
Play 37 Pass Held off his guy, quick throw.
Corey Hilliard
Play 1 Run Sealed his man on the out then allowed him inside.  Play looks designed to go inside, so he blew the play, but Bush shares some blame as he should have seen the hole close and bounced out.
Play 2 Pass Missed the blitz.  Held his guy just fine, but should have taken the outside man instead. 
Play 3 Pass Held badly, uncalled.  Awful pass blocking.
Play 4 Run Hits one block, slides off to seal another, trick play goes for big yards.  Not a lead block, but prevented two defenders to get back into the play.  
Play 5 Pass Seals the inside.
Play 6 Run Perfect outside seal.  An uncalled hold, but got away with it and the play went positive.
Play 7 Pass Minimal rush inside, did his job here again.
Play 8 Run Completely blew his block.  Tackle wasn’t on him, but it easily could have been.  Whiffed the block.
Play 9 Pass Held off his man inside
Play 10 Pass Kept his block, sack came from elsewhere.
Play 11 Run Sealed the inside just fine, play looked designed to go outside and that’s where the tackle was.
Play 12 Pass Blown into the backfield.  Held off just long enough.
Play 13 Pass Blew his block allowing an inside move.  Throw got off in time for a gain, but Hilliard blew this play. 
Play 14 Pass Got it done in pass pro, kicked out too much early but recovered when the defender moved inside.  
Play 15 Run Didn’t hold his first block long enough, forced play outside where it went for nothing.
Play 16 Pass Perfect block, gave Staff plenty of time
Play 17 Pass Good outside block, but gave up on the inside move.  Play positive, so no red.
Play 18 Pass AWFUL cut blocking attempt. 
Play 19 Pass Didn’t block anybody on this play.  Got lost while rolling that direction, may as well not been on the field.
Play 20 Pass Knocked into the backfield.  Adequate time to throw, thrown quickly anyway.
Play 21 Pass Half blocking attempt.  Play was relatively quick, but Hilliard provided little.
Play 22 Pass Blown into the backfield, adequate time to throw, thrown away quickly.
Play 23 Pass Good block, anchored well.
Play 24 Pass Kickslide well outside.  Quick thhrow
Play 25 Pass Sealed well at initial contact, second effor nonexistant.
Play 26 Pass Kickslide well outside, gave up the inside.  Sack came from elsewhere.
Play 27 Pass Pushed backwards, adequate time to throw.
Play 28 Pass Great initial blocking, sustained.
Play 29 Pass Good faking inside, but then gives up on the play.

3 thoughts on “Corey Hilliard vs. Jason Fox

  1. Reply david Oct 18, 2013 9:07 AM

    thanks for the analysis – if our weakest link on offense is our RT and our 2nd WR, we’re in much better shape than we used to be! I still don’t get why we didn’t sign a better veteran this year to come in and play RT. We knew what we had in Hillard.

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