The Detroit Lions have won two straight and three of four in large part because they finally have a running game.
In Sunday’s 32-21 victory over the Miami Dolphins, the Lions churned out 248 yards on the ground, their highest single-game rushing output in 21 years.
The Lions averaged 7.1 yards per carry. Kerryon Johnson ran for 158 yards, including a 71-yard burst in the first quarter.
It was the first time all season that the Lions had executed more run plays than pass plays in a game.
“I think just as a team it makes it a lot better for everyone,” Johnson said. “I feel like (Lions quarterback) Matt (Stafford) feels like he doesn’t have as much pressure on him. Our O-line knows what they’re capable of doing. Our defense knows that we can go on sustained drives.
“I think as a team it just helps everybody mentally, and obviously it helps us win games.”
It was their best rushing performance since the Lions ran for 249 yards in a 32-10 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Nov. 23, 1997. Barry Sanders rambled for 216 yards in that game. It was also the first time Detroit averaged at least 7.0 yards per carry on at least 35 attempts since Nov. 24, 1991.
Johnson had 100 rushing yards in the first half, becoming the first Lions player to do so since Reggie Bush on Sept. 29, 2013. Johnson joined Isaiah Crowell as the only NFL running backs to rush for 100 yards in the first half of a game this season. Johnson also became only the fifth rookie running back to have multiple 100-yard rushing games in Lions history.
This is the same team that ran for just 39 yards in a season-opening 48-17 loss to the New York Jets.
“We’re always going to try to be balanced the best we can,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “We want to be able to run it if we have to and throw it when we have to do that. It was good to see the run game be productive.”
“Look, when you go out and you can execute and do it the right way, it looks really good. We’ve seen it when it doesn’t look so good the other way.”
Detroit is 11th in the NFL in rushing yardage, averaging 122.3 yards per game. The Lions were last in the league in rushing in 2017, averaging 76.3 yards per game.
That forced the team too often to be reliant on Stafford’s arm. He finished fourth among QBs in pass attempts last season. This season, Stafford is 19th in the NFL in pass attempts.
“As an offensive lineman, you know if you can establish the run game, you don’t have to sit there and drop back and pass the ball 50 times,” Lions left tackle Taylor Decker said. “That’s part of the game, but that’s not always the most fun for an offensive lineman.”
Run-blocking, where they get to attack the defense, is a far more enjoyable experience for the offensive linemen.
“When you’re able to establish a run game, that opens up everything else for us,” Decker said. “It’s going to open up our play-action pass. That’s going to open up our passing on third down, because we’re going to have a lot more calls to go to.”
As good as their ground game has been, the Lions believe that there are more yards to be gained.
“There are definitely plays that we see on film that we could have done a better job,” Patricia said. “We could have blocked better, we could have identified better, to get that extra yardage that was left out on the field.”
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