Detroit Lions: Don’t fret about RB injuries, run game depends on OL

Frank Ragnow, Detroit Lions (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Frank Ragnow, Detroit Lions (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /

Injuries have hit the Detroit Lions’ running back room this summer, but their running game will depend primarily on the performance of the offensive line.

As the Detroit Lions set their sights on having a dangerous and balanced offensive attack this fall, it was troubling to hear reports of several of their running backs dealing with various ailments since training camp began. Regardless of who lines up in the backfield though, the players blocking for them will tell the true story in 2020.

The Lions have undergone several changes to their offensive line this offseason in search of a combination that will vault the unit into the upper echelon of the NFL. That, combined with some significant draft capital recently invested in running backs has them looking to complement their dangerous aerial assault with an equally effective running game.

There’s no doubt that the Lions have made a concerted effort to develop a deep and versatile stable of tailbacks, though some of them have been relegated to watching from the sideline for large portions of training camp thus far.

As reported by’s Tim Twentyman, running backs D’Andre Swift and Bo Scarbrough were limited participants in practice Wednesday as they continue to inch their way back from injuries that have slowed them for most of training camp.

Scarbrough seemed like a good bet to repeat as the Lions’ power option while Swift has a real chance to become their unquestioned lead back. Their health is clearly a concern, but it is not the most pivotal determinant in the Lions asserting themselves on the turf.

When considering Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) recent offensive line rankings, the correlation between strong play up front and a potent running game is clear. Of the teams with the NFL’s five highest rushing yardage totals in 2019, four of them fall in the top half of PFF’s list.

Conversely, of the five teams with the lowest rushing totals from last season, four of them are ranked 24th or lower. Simply put, teams with strong offensive lines tend to have more success on the ground.

Further underscoring the importance of a stout offensive line, of 2019’s top 10 rushing teams, none of those squads produced a running back selected as an All-Pro last season. However, four offensive linemen from those teams were awarded that distinction in 2019. It’s a major factor in today’s NFL.

Where does this leave the Lions, who ranked right in the middle of PFF’s hierarchy?

They have an emerging star at center in Frank Ragnow, who could easily become one of the league’s best pivots by year’s end. They also have a steady left tackle in Taylor Decker who is in line for a contract extension, and a free agent acquisition on the right side in Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who is highly regarded for his run blocking.

Whether the Lions can climb into the upper third of NFL rushing attacks could depend on the uncertainty at the guard positions as much as the output and depth of their tailbacks. Rookie Jonah Jackson seems on track to start at right guard, and veteran Joe Dahl is his presumptive counterpart on the left, despite his recovery from a back injury that cut his 2019 season short. Can they complete the puzzle?

Trending. This Detroit Lions rookie is turning heads at training camp. light

Clearly, Swift’s development and availability, as well as that of the backs behind him will be important in the Lions becoming a feared team on the ground. But should any of them miss time or endure periods of low production during the season, it should not spell doom for Detroit. That is if the Lions’ long-standing efforts to construct a formidable offensive front are finally realized this fall.