Detroit Lions success hinges on running game improvement

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 08: Quarterback Matthew Stafford
DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 08: Quarterback Matthew Stafford /

The Detroit Lions biggest weakness has been their running game. If they can effectively run the ball, it opens up their offense and can make it elite.

As Detroit Lions fans, we’ve all heard this stat too many times, and yet it somehow gets sadder every time it’s heard: The lions have still not had a 100-yard rusher in almost four years. All the way back in 2013, Reggie Bush was the last Detroit back to break the 100-yard seal.

Now ultimately, lacking a triple digit rusher is not that big of a deal for the Lions, as their passing game has been decent and has carried their offense the past couple years. What is a big deal is the fact that the Lions rushing game has been mediocre at best over the past four seasons. It’s been anchoring their offense over that time period, and the Lions offense will never be elite until they figure out how to properly run the football.

Not only has the Lions rushing attack not been good, it hasn’t even been average. The Detroit running game has been putrid over the last half-decade, even being ranked 30th in yards in 2016 and dead last in 2015

Part of the problem is that the Lions haven’t really had an elite running back in that time span. They haven’t exactly been featuring elite running backs over that time like Jamaal Charles, Marshawn Lynch and Le’Veon Bell. More like Reggie Bush, Jahvid Best and Joique Bell.

Maybe the Lions have their first elite back on their team already, as Ameer Abdullah has posted some promising numbers this season. He’s almost broken the 100-yard streak twice this year, rushing for 86 yards against the New York Giants in week 2 and 94 yards against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 4.

But Abdullah has been nothing but inconsistent in his short bit of time with the Lions. He’s been rather injury-prone, as he only played in two games last year, struggling with various injuries all season. And even in the times he has been healthy, he hasn’t been that great, as he’s averaged less than four yards a carry this season.

This running game hasn’t just been the running backs’ fault, its also been the offensive line play. According to Football Outsiders, the Lions rank 28th in adjusted line yards, or yards that can be attributed to to the blocking on the play. Abdullah can’t run the ball effectively if no one is blocking in front of him.

The mediocre line play isn’t completely fair to place on the offensive line, as they have been banged up recently. Ricky Wagner and T.J. Lang haven’t been 100 percent in the past couple weeks, and although Taylor Decker is making progress, he still isn’t going to back for a while.

And the Lions could clearly use him at Left Tackle, as they currently rank 21st in yards on runs produced off the left edge and 20th on runs off the left tackle. Hopefully the running game can improve with the addition of the young linemen.

However, at some point, we have stop making excuses for this lions running game. Yes, the backs are young and inconsistent and the offensive line is banged up, but it’s time this offense finally gets a running game, and it needs to get one fast. It clearly doesn’t have one now, as they only put  up a measly 50 yards in the loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

Next: Lions fall short against the Panthers, 27-24

Yes, this Lions team has the potential to be really good, and as long as Stafford is at quarterback, the Lions have a puncher’s chance in every game. But if this team and this offense ever wants to be elite, they need to figure out how to run the football consistently and effectively.