Detroit Lions running multiple backs can yield championship results

Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Lions will look to spread the carries among their talented running backs

Entering the 2020 NFL regular season, the Detroit Lions are set to field their most talented running back group in recent memory. New additions in rookies D’Andre Swift and Jason Huntley join Kerryon Johnson, Bo Scarbrough, Ty Johnson, and Wes Hills who already populate the running back depth chart.

But at the heart of the running game conversation this offseason has been their two second rounders. Kerryon Johnson, the 43rd overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, has struggled to stay healthy during his first two seasons in Motown. While Swift was the Lions’ top Day Two selection in April, drafted 35th overall.

The combination of Swift and Johnson figures to be the key to igniting the Lions’ rushing attack under second-year offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. The man who coached future Hall of Fame running backs like Adrian Peterson with the Minnesota Vikings and Marshawn Lynch with the Seattle Seahawks undoubtedly hopes to unlock this new duo’s potential for Detroit.

But in the case of Kerryon, availability has been his biggest liability. And he’s certainly not alone as the running back position lends itself to brutal physical punishment, carry after carry. So, the injury risk at the position is always high.

If you are the Lions, and you know your starting running back has missed 14 games over the past two years, you must have a plan in place to help negate that risk. Here’s what head coach Matt Patricia told on why the team plans on spreading out the carries between their running backs in 2020.

"“You have to have multiple backs to handle that load. If you don’t, there are too many hits, too many plays, too many situations. You need a guy who can handle all of it and be durable enough to get through all of it. Durability of a running back is critical. If you have multiple guys to do that, your chances for being healthy through the course of the season are better.”"

Patricia witnessed firsthand how a running back by committee can work for the Detroit Lions

Patricia knows how successful spreading out those rushing opportunities can be. During his first Super Bowl victory as defensive coordinator for the New England back in 2014, the Pats perfectly illustrated how having multiple backs carrying the load can still yield positive returns.

The Patriots didn’t have a single running back rush for more than 412 yards that year, which was the total recorded by Jonas Gray on 89 carries in eight games. Running back Shane Vereen, who actually led the team in carries with 96 attempts, ran for 391 yards and was the only back to play in all 16 regular-season games.

Stevan Ridley had a near-identical 94 rushing attempts for 340 yards in six contests. And LeGarrette Blount rounded out the group with 60 carries for 281 yards in five games.

In total, the Patriots’ four running backs racked up a combined 1,421 yards on the ground and 12 rushing touchdowns during a regular-season run which saw New England post a 12-4 record. In the AFC Championship game, Blount would go off on the Indianapolis Colts to the tune of 148 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries.

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Matt Patricia witnessed firsthand how having numerous capable running backs carrying the load can carry a team through the rough patches each NFL season presents. Entering his third year as head coach, Patricia appears to have his most talented group of runners yet and a proven plan on how to use them.