The Detroit Lions defensive turnaround this season has been fueled by strength against the run, but opposing running backs haven’t done much in the passing game all season.
As the Detroit Lions have won seven of nine games to rally from a 1-6 start this season, their run defense has been notably better. Take out nearly 100 yards on the ground from Bears quarterback Justin Fields in Week 17, and the numbers would be better.
The Lions have still been a bottom tier defense overall this season, and they’ve ceded plenty of production to provide targetable matchups for fantasy managers who have had an appropriate opposing player. Running backs have been an exception over the second half of the season, and Detroit sits in the top half of the league in fantasy points allowed to that position.
The Detroit Lions have shut down opposing running backs in the pass game
Entering Week 18, the Lions have allowed the fewest passing targets to running backs this season (60). Second fewest is 70 targets allowed to opposing running backs by the New York Giants, according to Pro Football Reference.
The Lions have allowed to the fewest receptions to running backs (45), with the Giants allowing the second-fewest (46). But the Lions have allowed the fewest receiving yards to the position (331) by a solid margin (Washington Commanders, 384 receiving yards allowed to running backs). With one game to go, the Lions have yet to allow a receiving touchdown to a running back. The Dallas Cowboys have also not allowed a receiving touchdown to a running back entering Week 18.
The 75 percent completion rate the Lions have allowed on passes to running backs is slightly stingier than the league average of nearly 79 percent (h/t to Lions Wire).
Given how it has been so profitable to target tight ends against the Lions, throwing the ball to running backs just hasn’t been a big part of things for opposing offenses.
Packers running back Aaron Jones had a pedestrian two catches for 20 yards against the Lions back in Week 9. But he is tied for their team lead in receptions (56) and he’s second on the team in targets (68), so limiting him through the air again stands to be a challenge and a test on Sunday night.
But regardless of that result, the Lions will finish this season among the stingiest–if not the stingiest–defense against running backs in the passing game.