A Statistical Analysis Of The Ways LeGarrette Blount Can Add Value To The Detroit Lions’ Running Game In 2018.
This offseason the Detroit Lions signed running back LeGarrette Blount to a one year $2 million contract after he spent last year playing in a committee for the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. At 31 years old, the traditional narrative suggests that he should be on the downside of his career. Despite this narrative, he has shown the last few years that he has significant gas left in the tank, sporting an above average 4.4 yards per carry (YPC) in 2017, and leading the league in rushing touchdowns with 18 in 2016. In my opinion, this is because of the efficient management of his workload over his career, carrying the ball only 11.6 times per game in eight NFL seasons.
LeGarrette Blount brings a 250lb frame to the Detroit Lions’ backfield, along with a violent running style that punishes defenders for having the audacity to try and tackle him. Blount has extensive playoff experience, scoring 11 touchdowns in 11 games, playing for the Super Bowl champions in 2014, 2016, and 2017. He has carved out a role for a number of teams throughout his career as an early-down and short-yardage back that can be relied on to play tough while rarely turning the ball over (only five fumbles in the last four years).
So where does LeGarrette Blount fit in the Detroit Lions’ backfield? Below I will be analyzing the different ways I believe the Lions can use Blount, demonstrating the impact he can have based on his situational statistical production the last few years.
First And Ten
In 2017 the average NFL team ran for 4.1 yards per carry when running on first and ten. Of the 12 teams that made the playoffs, 11 of them were above average in this statistic. This makes sense from a logical standpoint, as teams that can run the ball successfully on first down have the benefit of manageable second downs. They also have more success setting up an effective play-action game. This improves the chances of sustained drives, while taking pressure off the passing game. It’s no coincidence the Super Bowl participant Eagles and Patriots ranked second (5.0 YPC) and third (4.9 YPC), respectively. The ability to run on first down is the cornerstone of a balanced offensive attack.
Last year the Detroit Lions were positively abysmal in these situations, averaging only 3.4 yards per carry (31st in the NFL). This has been an issue for years, leaving quarterback Matthew Stafford the unenviable task of having to frequently make big time plays to dig the Lions out of difficult second and third down situations.
Enter LeGarrette Blount. Blount has been a revelation in these scenarios over his career (5.1 YPC) and was at his best last year for the Eagles (5.6 YPC). As an assertive, no nonsense power back, he will fit the style necessary to give Stafford the help he needs. Unlike the more tentative Ameer Abdullah, Blount hits the hole hard and is incredibly difficult to bring down on the first hit.
Playing With The Lead
One of the more frustrating things to watch in a football game is when a team loses the lead in a game because they try unsuccessfully to run clock, leading to infuriating three-and-outs that give the opposing team opportunities to claw their way back into the game. Running clock with the lead is absolutely a viable and efficient strategy, but it has to be facilitated by a running game that is consistent down the home stretch of games.
The Detroit Lions’ offense struggled mightily to do this last year, averaging only 2.8 YPC when playing from ahead. This is over a full yard below the league average figure of 3.9 YPC. This type of mediocrity puts an immense amount of pressure on Stafford to run the clock instead, something he has adapted to by using high-percentage short-yardage passes to receiving targets like Golden Tate and Theo Riddick. A lack of success running the ball with the lead also keeps the Lions’ defense on the field, allowing teams to wear them out with more drive opportunities.
LeGarrette Blount was remarkably proficient for the Eagles last year playing with the lead, averaging 4.9 YPC. His effectiveness forced teams to put extra men in the box to keep the Eagles from running out the clock, opening up the Eagles’ short play-action game and run/pass option sets. Their offense last year was explosive, but it was their success at running clock with methodical, long drives that made it so difficult for their opponents to recover from large deficits. With Blount the Lions can use their single back sets with more confidence, keeping the pressure off their defense while also opening up the short to intermediate passing game for Stafford.
Running In The Second Half
I am a firm believer that a proficient passing attack is the most important facet of an offense in the modern NFL. With that said however, its important to understand that this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Explosive deep passes don’t get completed if the offensive line doesn’t provide enough time for receivers to get downfield. Pinpoint accurate passers won’t be successful with receivers whose hands are made of stone. While these are more direct factors involved in an explosive, efficient aerial attack, the indirect factors can be just as significant.
Consider for a second how difficult it is to run against a stacked box in the NFL. With eight or more men in the box, there simply aren’t enough blockers to even the scales. The same concept applies to the passing game. When the running game cannot provide even a vague threat, defenses can put their focus into their coverage schemes and pass rush. This can make life incredibly difficult for a quarterback.
In 2017 the Detroit Lions averaged only 2.7 YPC in the second half. This is significantly lower than the league average of 4.0 YPC and was a clear sign of their one-dimensional style of football late in games. It was honestly so ugly in several games that I began to wonder why they even bothered to try running the ball. When the Lions were running this poorly, they had no choice but to rely entirely on the arm of Stafford. With how good Stafford is at throwing into tight windows, think about how good he could be if the defense were forced to keep a couple extra men in the box.
LeGarrette Blount should add some legitimacy to the Detroit Lions’ second half running game. He is the type of bruising runner who will not only wear down defenses, but also seems to become more effective as the game goes on. Last year he averaged 4.6 YPC in the second half, tiring out defenders as he facilitated long, time-consuming drives for the Eagles. If used effectively, Blount will make a big difference in the 2018 Detroit Lions’ backfield.
Concluding Thoughts And LeGarrette Blount’s 2018 Outlook
Above are some of the biggest reasons I’m ecstatic to have LeGarrette Blount in a Lions uniform in 2018. I love the way he plays the game. His energy and physicality will help to set the tone early in games while also burying opponents late. He generates yards after contact, and regularly breaks the first tackle. Now in fairness, Blount isn’t a perfect player. He isn’t a good pass catcher or pass blocker. He struggles running out of shotgun. With that said, I feel strongly that he will be a big part of what should be a much improved Lions running game in 2018.
I’ve been a big fan of LeGarrette Blount since his days with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I was an even bigger fan of the Lions’ signing of Blount this offseason. As an early down specialist, there are very few running backs with a statistical resume as proficient as Blount’s. Given the insane mediocrity of the Detroit Lions running game on first down, in the second half, and when playing with the lead, LeGarrette Blount will have every opportunity to make a significant impact early and often.
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