The Detroit Lions long have struggled to run the ball, but this year they’re on pace to have the franchise’s best ground game in a long time.
The idea of the Detroit Lions lacking a good ground game is not new. The franchise’s last 1,000-yard rusher was Reggie Bush in 2013, and with D’Andre Swift missing some games this season that streak will extend.
Dan Campbell professed a return of the Detroit ground game when he was hired as head coach. The Lions are middle of the pack in yards per game right now (17th; 110.5 per game). But they are top-10 in the league in yards per carry (4.6), which is arguably a better measure than pure yardage.
The Lions have now started three centers on their offensive line this season, and Frank Ragnow has not played since being injured early in Week 4. Left tackle Taylor Decker missed the first eight games with a finger injury.
In Week 14 against the Denver Broncos, Craig Reynolds became the fifth Lions’ running back to see a carry this season and he was productive in what became the lead role (99 total yards).
Despite all of that….
The Detroit Lions run game is best it has been in a long time
Via Kyle Meinke of MLive:
"The Detroit Lions are averaging 4.6 yards per carry this season, which ranks seventh in the league. They haven’t averaged that many yards a pop since 1997 (when Barry Sanders helped them average 5.51 yards in his MVP season) and haven’t finished in the top seven in the league since 1998 (when where were third)."
The last time the Lions run game was this good on a per-carry basis was when Hall of Famer Barry Sanders was one of the best running backs in the NFL. Sanders ran for over 2,000 yards (2,053) during that 1997 campaign, with close to 1,500 yards (1,491) in what would be his final season in 1998.
Owing to playing from behind a lot, the Lions are in the bottom half of the league in rush attempts this season. But the production they’ve gotten on the ground, through injury and COVID adversity, is a credit to the players, Campbell, offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn (who has maintained influence coordinating the rush attack) and offensive line coach Hank Fraley.