Free Press sports writers Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez preview the Lions’ game against the Bills. Recorded Dec. 13, 2018.
Carlos Monarrez and Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press
Even with budding star running back Kerryon Johnson sidelined with an injury, the Detroit Lions’ run game hasn’t missed a step.
The Lions have rushed for more than 100 yards in each of their past three games. It’s one of the best three-game rushing performances of the season for the Lions.
And yet, it’s hard to fathom. Johnson was averaging 5.4 yards per carry and broke the century mark twice on his own when he went down with a sprained left knee Nov. 18 against the Carolina Panthers.
The next week, LeGarrette Blount ran for 88 of the Lions’ 111 rushing yards against the Chicago Bears.
The week after that, Blount had 61 of the Lions’ 102 rushing yards against the Los Angeles Rams.
Last week, it was the unlikely contribution of Zach Zenner. He was key in an inspired fourth-quarter drive and ran for 54 of the Lions’ 122 yards against the Arizona Cardinals.
The metaphor of cooking with cold grease was recently invoked when Blount spoke of the need for running backs to get carries in order to find their rhythm. But Zenner’s lack of carries was even greater; he was out of football for nearly two months until the Lions signed him Nov. 6.
“He cookin’ with the air fryer,” Blount said Thursday.
Blount. Zenner. How has the Lions’ run game inexplicably continued to churn?
“There really ain’t no secret,” Blount said. “We’ve just been executing better and better as the year’s gone on. Better blocking, better running, better decision-making, breaking more tackles. It’s a series of things that have contributed to it.”
In a way, the Lions have had little choice. With injuries and the Golden Tate trade limiting their offensive arsenal, the Lions have had to rely on the run game despite its ineffectiveness in the past.
“It’s a team game, it’s complementary,” Blount said. “In order for you to be successful on offense, you’ve got to run the ball well. You’ve got to throw the ball well and you’ve got to block well.
“Any offensive player would come in here and say they want an offensive explosion. But realistically that rarely happens. You’re not going to see a lot of games where guys are passing for 400, 500 yards. You’re not going to see a lot of game where guys are rushing for 238 yards on less than 20 carries with four touchdowns. You’re not going to see things like that happen often.”
Even the Tennessee Titans’ Derrick Henry — he of the 238 yards and four touchdowns — would probably admit his impressive showing last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars’ lifeless defense isn’t likely to happen again any time soon. Like the Titans and every other team, the Lions can’t hope for an offensive anomaly to save them. They have to deal with the reality of who’s available.
“It may not always be a ton of points and a ton of yards,” offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “We’d love to move the ball every drive and score points every drive, but we’re going to find a way to win that game.
“That’s the goal of our staff, that’s the goal of our offense. How can we work together with our defense, with our special teams to get the win, to walk out of there with the win? If it’s pretty, if it’s ugly, we’ll take the win. They all count the same.”
The Lions’ 17-3 was roundly criticized as boring football — though that matters little to the Lions. And they could be in for more of the same this wek, with quarterback Matthew Stafford dealing with a back injury and the Lions visiting the Buffalo Bills’ top-ranked defense Sunday.
“I haven’t really saw that or heard that,” Blount said of the boring talk. “But we don’t really care about that. Whatever it takes for us to get the win, we don’t care if it’s a boring or exciting game to anyone else. It’s about winning to us, really.”
Contact Carlos Monarrez at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.