If you said the running backs won the game for the Detroit Lions last week, you would obviously be right. But the question remains, can the running backs continue to carry the burden of the entire offense moving forward into the playoffs?
Reggie Bush dominated the Lions offense in the first quarter with Joique Bell sidelined for violating undisclosed team rules. Bush found a first down on 4th and 5 before scoring a 13-yard rushing touchdown on the next play. He finished the game with 54 rushing yards, 44 receiving yards, and a touchdown.
During the second quarter, Matthew Stafford threw back-to-back interceptions in the red zone, creating further panic over the fact that the offense has a serious “it” factor stalling problem. Calvin Johnson did have 6 receptions for 103 yards, showing continued dominance even in double coverage but was unable to find the end zone. The Lions have scored only 19 passing touchdowns all season.
Joique Bell came in and took over a majority of the rushing carries finishing the game with 13 carries for 74 yards and a touchdown. At the beginning of the year I was skeptical of the impact Bell would have on the running game but he proved to be clutch in the final minutes of this game, scoring a 17-yard touchdown with about 1:05 minutes remaining.
The Lions also have talent in the backup running back positions as well with George Winn and Theo Riddick. However, none of these players have been given many carries, even when Bush was out with an injury. Riddick has been used as a receiver out of the backfield, with 29 receptions and 282 yards on the season. Winn will continue to be instrumental with power running tactics as he currently has 11 carries for 73 yards on the year.
Not to take anything away from the performance of the running backs against the Bears, but the Lions rushing offense currently ranks 27th in the league. They are the only team that far down the list that expects to make the playoffs other than the San Diego Chargers. Even the New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, and Green Bay Packers, all teams that rely on their quarterback, are in the top 20 in the rushing game.
It seems that this tandem is not consistent enough to be enough to ensure the Lions long-term success in the post season. Of course their contribution will be unparalleled if they can have a game like the one against the Bears but they are going to need help against the better defensive teams.
There is a specific set of circumstances to which it is recommended that an NFL team rely on the running game. It was about 10 years ago when LaDainian Tomlinson, Shaun Alexander, and Tiki Barber dominated the league and the running game was prominent.
Put simply, Matthew Stafford, Golden Tate, and Calvin Johnson will be the keys to this offense. The Lions, however, are not the only team struggling to find a solid balance between the rushing and passing game, so if they are able to secure points from both angles the Lions could be serious contenders down the stretch.
The best news you will have heard all day is the fact that the Lions have been able to find a way to win, the only important thing in this league. It might not be the most exceptional display of offensive talent but hard work in the running game has definitely been an important piece to the Lions success thus far.
This Sunday the Lions will play the Green Bay Packers, a team with a 22nd ranked rushing defense and 12th ranked overall defense in the league. This season ending rivalry will provide insight into the current talent and issues facing the teams on both offense and defense.