The unsung hero of the Detroit Lions first win of 2020

Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions Mandatory Credit: Billy Hardiman-USA TODAY Sports
Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions Mandatory Credit: Billy Hardiman-USA TODAY Sports /

While many helped to get the Detroit Lions their first win, here’s one unsung hero

The Detroit Lions were supposed to enter the 2020 NFL regular season with their strongest duo of running backs in recent memory. Yet, through the first three games of the year, the player who leads the team in rushing wasn’t even on the roster until a week before the start of the season.

Running back Adrian Peterson currently leads the Lions with 209 total rushing yards through Week Three. The 35-year old is clearly Detroit’s lead back now receiving an average of 14 carries a game and playing in nearly 40% of all offensive snaps.

As a result, the highly-touted running back duo of Kerryon Johnson and rookie D’Andre Swift has taken a backseat to Peterson, the 14-year veteran. Johnson has total just 18 carries in three games rushing for a total of 62 yards and a touchdown. Swift has received just eight rushing attempts, gaining 20 yards and a score.

The biggest difference between the three running backs and the most likely reason Peterson has been given the larger workload is due to their yards per carry average. The ageless wonder has been racking up a whopping 4.9 yards per carry average through the first three weeks. In comparison, Johnson is averaging 3.4 yards and Swift 2.5 yards per carry in limited snaps.

That near 5.0 yards per carry stat is Peterson’s third-highest average of his Hall of Fame career. And it’s also the highest average he’s recorded since 2012, the year he rushed for a career-high 2,097 yards with the Minnesota Vikings.

So, going purely by the box score, you’d figure the diminished role for Johnson, the Lions’ primary starter for the past two seasons, is a major disappointment. And that his impact on the game has been minute. But you’d be wrong.

While Johnson’s stat-line against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday reads three carries for 16 yards and one reception for 14 yards, the third-year running back is finding ways to contribute in ways that aren’t reflected on the stat sheet.

And by embracing his role as a blocker, in pass protection, and as a backup to Peterson, Johnson was a key figure in leading Detroit to their first victory of the season against the Cards.

In fact, Lions’ offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell called Johnson the player of the game. Running backs coach Kyle Caskey called his play against the Cardinals the best by a player at his position in recent memory. Here’s what Caskey told the Detroit Free Press

"“Some of the things we’re putting [Johnson] in, it’s just a trust factor. There’s a big trust factor with me, with the quarterback, with Bev, with Matthew [Stafford] … I mean there’s a lot of things you said that’s not going to show up in the stat line, but he had one of the best games for a running back in a long time. … He really sprung a lot of the big plays for us.”"

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While the running game in Detroit hasn’t unfolded the way we might have thought it would, the play of Adrian Peterson has been a pleasant surprise. And his presence hasn’t diminished the importance of having both Kerryon Johnson and D’Andre Swift on the depth chart behind him, it has simply adjusted their roles within the offense. And both can still help this team win.