Analyzing how the Detroit Lions run game will work in 2015


The Detroit Lions run game has had its fair share of problems since Barry Sanders left town in 1998. In the past 17 years since, the Lions have had only 2 running backs run for 1,000 or more yards. In that time the Lions run game has never ranked higher than 17th and has never ran for more than 112 yards per game, They ranked in the bottom 5 in the league 9 of those years. It’s safe to say that the Lions need help in this facet of the game.

Jan 4, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush (21) scores on a touchdown run past Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Hitchens (59) and Sterling Moore (26) during the first quarter in the NFC Wild Card Playoff Game at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

In theory, Reggie Bush was supposed to be that help. While he did lead the Lions to their best rushing season since  Barry Sanders retirement, it was not good enough. It’s not all Reggie’s fault. The Lions tried to throw the entire load of their poor rushing attack problems on the shoulders of a guy that had never had to shoulder the responsibilities and had very little success as a starting running back in the NFL. Like many would, he faltered under the weight of the world.

Where does this leave the Lions run game in 2015? With the arrival of Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi, comes the New Orleans Saints/Sean Payton styled offense. At one point, the Saints offense was quite similar to the Current Lions offense. The Saints had a potent passing attack, yet ranked in the bottom 5 of the league in rushing in 2007 and 2008. With no discerning type of running back in site, the Saints tried a new approach that wound up paying immediate dividends.

By evening out the work load to all the saints running backs, they were able to pick out the strengths and weaknesses of each of them. This system dubbed “running back by committee” took the Saints from the 28th ranked rushing attack in 2008, to the 6th ranked attack in 2009. This move propelled the Saints to a 13-3 record, 1st ranked in offense and a Super Bowl Championship in its first year. Not bad for a team who’s highest ranked back that season was Pierre Thomas who only ran for 793 yards and 6 touchdowns.

How does it all work? The Saints took three running backs, Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell, and Reggie Bush and divided them into three different categories, Speed, Power and Space. Then they proceeded to used them only in situations that played to their strength in those categories. Here’s how it works out for the Lions.

Speed: Ameer Abdullah

Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Like Thomas, Ameer Abdullah only ran a 4.60 at the NFL combine. Some guys are just faster with the pads on. In both these guys cases, that thought perfectly describes them. Abdullah is a very important spoke in this wheel. Abdullah’s duty will be to get the 1st down.

That seems elementary when you look at it at first glance. What I mean is, the last thing on Abdullah’s mind should be hitting the home run. Just get on base. That’s all the Lions need from him to get the wheels in motion. While nobody will complain about Abdullah breaking off a huge run for a touchdown, they should also be happy about him simply extending the drive.

Power: Joique Bell

Oct 26, 2014; London, UNITED KINGDOM; Detroit Lions running back Joique Bell (35) is driven out of bounds during the second half of the game between the Detroit Lions and the Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

Joique Bell’s role in all of this will be as the work horse. Don’t be surprised to see Bell get the majority of the carries in 2015. Bell’s role will be to establish the run game early and often with power runs.

Power runs in between the tackles will keep defenses honest. Which allows Ameer to come in and change the pace to progress the drive. Bell will also be used in goal line situations as he can muscle his way around the line in ways that the smaller Abdullah and Riddick cannot. It seems crazy to think it, but Bell may be the most important part of this process.

Space: Theo Riddick

Nov 9, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions running back Theo Riddick (25) celebrates after catching a pass in the end zone for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints recognized early that Reggie Bush was not the answer at running back. He never could quite run the ball in between the tackles or be an every down back. But in space, he was a nightmare for opposing defenses.

Theo Riddick will play that same role for the Lions. In 2014 the Lions realized what Notre Dame already knew, Riddick is not a very good running back in the traditional sense. Riddick is not the guy that can take the ball in between the tackles, that’s why Notre Dame made him a slot receiver in college. Like Bush, Riddick is a nightmare in space. For that reason, Riddick will more often than not, take passes underneath or in the slot. Riddick shined in 2014 doing just that. Look for Riddick to be lining up just about everywhere in 2015.

Nov 27, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi during the third quarter against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Detroit won 34-17. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

This method may not to lead to the immediate success that New Orleans had when they implemented it. But it should lead to success that will make the Lions offense one of the best in the league, if it works out. Balanced offenses are what win championships in the NFL. The Lions may finally be on the verge of that production in 2015.

What do you think? Do you believe in this method? Or will the Lions continue to struggle in the run game? Leave your comments below and be sure to follow us on Twitter @SideLionReport and @Lionmike26 for   all your Detroit Lions news and original content.