Free Press sports writer Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez dissect and predict Week 4’s Detroit Lions vs. Dallas Cowboys game. Recorded Sept. 27, 2018.
Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press

Golden Tate has finally come clean about the one unnamed element he said the Detroit Lions were missing last season that was keeping them from becoming a great team — a running game.

Tate praised the Lions’ newfound rushing attack Friday, saying that was a big reason why the team played so well in last week’s upset of the New England Patriots.

“Last week we felt like we were clicking as an offense and I honestly think it was because the run game was going so well,” Tate said. “It took the pressure off of everyone, and if we can get that going this week, I’d be happy.”

Asked if that was the element he was referring to last December when he said he knew what ailed the team but wouldn’t say because “I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus,” Tate said it was.

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The Lions ranked last in the NFL in rushing at 76.3 yards per game last season and missed the playoffs after losing three of their final six games.

They made a coaching change in January, and spent the offseason fixing their running game. They signed LeGarrette Blount in free agency and added Kerryon Johnson and left guard Frank Ragnow in the draft.

Johnson ran for 101 yards on 16 carries last week to become the first Lions running back with 100 yards rushing in a game since Thanksgiving 2013.

The Lions (1-2) are currently tied for 16th in the NFL at 98.7 yards rushing per game. They haven’t finished in the top half of the league in rushing since 1998, Barry Sanders’ final season. Tate said he doesn’t have any theories about what’s finally clicking with the running game.

“Beats me,” he said. “I’m a receiver. I don’t know too much about the run game other than block my guy.”

The Lions traded up to take Johnson in the second round of April’s draft, and the rookie has had a profound impact on the offense, both rushing the ball efficiently and helping to open space for the passing game.

Tate said he wasn’t sure drafting Johnson was going to be enough to fix the problem initially.

“No offense to Kerryon, but no, I did not,” Tate said. “I wasn’t going to hold our run game in a rookie’s hands before I’d even laid eyes on him. But Kerryon’s been phenomenal. With those guys we have back there, really we have a power back, we’ve got a quick back, we’ve got a guy who looks like he’s running slow but he’s really running really, really fast in Kerryon. We got some good players back there.”

And if those players keep performing like they did last week, when the Lions had 159 yards rushing as a team, Tate said the offense will be “really good” when this season is over.

“I think we’re able to do a lot of things,” he said. “I think it’s going to open up the playbook even more. You got guys coming down to make blocks or they think they’re making blocks but maybe they’re running out for passes. The sky’s the limit.

“Those down-the-field passes become more open because of play-action pass, because the linebackers are coming up to play the run, but then they realize it’s a pass and so now they got to drop back into their spots. By then, with our quarterback, with the speed we have on the outside, you can kind of have your way with teams, I believe.”

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