Detroit Lions: Lifting the running game is a group effort
The Detroit Lions company line is that everyone is responsible for their poor rushing attack. And that means improving is a group effort.
For the past three seasons, the Detroit Lions passing game has been among the best in the NFL. Their running game? A polar opposite.
Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, the Lions’ former quarterback coach who took over the OC job into the 2015 regular season, has been a boost to Detroit’s passing game. Under his direction, franchise passer Matthew Stafford has posted some of the best numbers of his career. In fact, just last season, Stafford recorded a career-high 99.3 quarterback rating.
But the yin to the passing game’s yang has been the poor rushing attack. While the Stafford and a group of talented receivers have posted a top ten passing game twice in the past three seasons, their running game has been ranked dead last twice in that same span.
When asked about that poor production on the ground, the Lions’ company line has always been that it’s a team issue, not just the poor play of an individual player.
Last season, it was easy to make starting running back Ameer Abdullah the scapegoat. The former second-rounder showed promise his rookie season rushing for 597 yards and two touchdowns averaging 4.2 yards per carry.
After suffering a season-ending foot injury in Week Two of his second year, Abdullah looked primed to have a breakout season in 2017. And the Lions placed all their rushing hopes on the then 24-year old’s shoulders.
Unfortunately, Abdullah underwhelmed last season, rushing for a disappointing 552 yards and four scores averaging a lowly 3.2 yards per carry. The third-year runner started in 11 games but was essentially benched at the end of the season.
This offseason, there was some speculation that Detroit would part ways with Abdullah. But Lions general manager Bob Quinn is a huge fan of the young running back and believes there is a place on this team for him. And it now appears Motown is going to utilize Abdullah as a special team returner.
But where Abdullah’s rushing woes all his fault? This offseason, Detroit brought in veteran running back LeGarrette Blount and rookie runner Kerryon Johnson to replace Ameer in the backfield. The team also drafted Arkansas center Frank Ragnow in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft to improve their offensive line.
As Lions’ running backs coach David Walker explained to DetroitLions.com last week, improving Detroit’s lackluster rushing attack still requires a group effort.
"“We’ve shown we can be an efficient pass offense over the years. We expect that to continue. For us to take that next step, the run game has to improve. That’s a lot of different people doing their job better and more effectively. That will be a continual point of emphasis.”"
The Detroit Lions sweeping changes to their running game this offseason proves they believe new blood was required in the backfield in order to improve their ground game. But their new running backs could find themselves in a similar situation as Ameer Abdullah did last season if their offensive line doesn’t do their part to lift the Lions’ rushing attack.