Early in the season, one of the Detroit Lions’ hallmarks as they blasted out to a hot start was their ability to ice victories with good efforts from the running game.
Never was this more on display than a September 21 contest against the Green Bay Packers, where the Lions hammered out 115 yards on the ground and a touchdown en-route to a victory. Better yet, Detroit controlled the clock in the fourth quarter, collected six rushing first downs and ran the ball 38 times.
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Now, with a division on the line in the final game of the season, the Lions will have to be able to do the same to beat Green Bay once again. Last week in Chicago, the re-emergence of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell as a dynamic duo was on display as both found the end zone on critical runs to help Detroit to their close victory.
Detroit has gone to Lambeau Field and lost plenty in the past thanks to a lack of a running game. Without a runner to worry about, the Packers usually can and do tee off on Matthew Stafford in the pocket, taking away plenty of his deep and safe throws. The threat of a power and slashing run, however, is enough to keep any defense honest and loosened up over the middle of the field and down the sidelines.
Considering the Lions will be playing with a pair of rookies along the line, it’s even more critical for Detroit to establish the run. Cornelius Lucas and Travis Swanson might not each be up to the challenge of controlling the pocket on every single down, so grinding out yardage to give the Lions manageable passing downs will be paramount.
If the Lions get a lead, they will have to rely on Bush and Bell to help them control the clock, as well. Any amount of time is too much for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense, so from Detroit’s persepective, the perfect game would be nearly identical to the one played earlier this season in September. That day, eight out of Detroit’s final 12 plays were runs, and helped put the squeeze on Green Bay.
From Detroit’s perspective, the perfect game would be nearly identical to the one played earlier this season in September.
Should Detroit struggle with the run, the Packers will sit in deep coverage and take away Calvin Johnson while limiting the damage Golden Tate can do underneath. It will be a carbon copy of 2013’s matchup, where the Lions ran the ball 19 times for 64 yards and struggled to sustain offense without Johnson. Detroit has seen far too many games go up in flames in Wisconsin exactly like that.
Chances are, the 2014 finale will come down to the Lions’ running game against the Packers’ defensive line. Should Detroit execute as well as they did most of last Sunday in Chicago, it will help provide their offense additional balance and probably help them win the division.
Without a consistent run, however, the result could end up the same as it has every single year since 1991.