The Detroit Lions Were Able To Find A Balance In Their Backfield In Their Week Five Victory Over The Green Bay Packers.
Detroit Lions fans have been clamoring for running back Kerryon Johnson to see the field more and get a larger share of the touches in the backfield. After Johnson managed to finally eclipse the 100-yard mark in week three against the New England Patriots, after 70 games of futility from the Lions rushing attack, many believed that Johnson had cemented himself as the clear number one back and the likely workhorse of the Lions backfield.
This was not the case.
Lions fans were furious when Johnson only managed nine carries in the loss to the Dallas Cowboys in week four. He turned those nine carries into 55 yards, causing many fans to throw up their arms and wonder how head coach Matt Patricia and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter could limit his workload when he had been so successful, especially when the Lions were just a week removed from finally breaking the embarrassing streak of poor rushing production.
Against the Cowboys, the lack of carries was a product of game flow. The Lions just didn’t run the ball much. The nine carries for Johnson lead the Lions backfield. It was tough to fault the coaches for failing to find ways to get the ball in his hands when the Lions were simply not in a position to run the football.
The hope was that we would get a better representation of the Lions backfield in the week five matchup against the Green Bay Packers.
The results were encouraging.
Johnson ended the game with 12 carries for 70 yards and added two receptions for 15 yards, good for 5.8 yards per carry. He did this on only 29 snaps.
LeGarrette Blount also had 12 carries but managed only 22 yards. While Blount was not nearly as efficient as Johnson, he was successful where he was called upon. Blount converted two carries for short yardage touchdowns as well as converting on several short-yardage runs for first downs.
The plan always seemed to be to use Blount in short yardage situations, and he was successful in those situations against the Packers. He didn’t shine in his regular duties carrying the ball, but he converted the opportunities that he was given.
If the Lions want to move away from having their personnel tip off the play type, Patricia and Jim Bob Cooter can’t only bring Blount into the game when they are trying the run the ball up the middle with a yard or two to go. They have to send him out in other situations as well, even if those plays are few and far between.
Blount played only 18 offensive snaps, and 12 of those plays resulted in a carry. Blount was only on the field in clear running situations.
Theo Riddick had only five touches (three rushes and two receptions) on 19 snaps.
With the success of the Lions standout trio of wide receivers, Riddick has become a much smaller part of the passing game than he has been in years passed. The Lions can send Riddick out on routes knowing that he is an accomplished enough route runner and pass catcher to demand attention from the defense. This requires the defense to allocate resources to ensure that they bottle him up. The extra attention helps free up some of the Lions other receiving options.
Riddick’s presence on the field is good for the passing game, even if the production doesn’t show it. His appearance on the field is still a direct indication of a pass play, unfortunately. Two of his three carries came on draw plays that were essentially just to run the clock.
If you look at the Lions backfield as a whole, the philosophy starts to take shape, and I think that fans can be happy with where the rushing attack is headed. Blount is going to be on the field in short yardage situations and clear power situations. Riddick is going to be on the field in clear passing situations. Johnson is going to see the bulk of the rest of the work.
For those that believe that the Detroit Lions need to get Johnson on the field more or that he is being held back, before the injury that Johnson suffered in the fourth quarter, Johnson had 29 snaps, Blount had 12, Riddick had 13. I’d say that the Lions are doing a decent job of getting Johnson involved without abandoning the balance entirely.
That is what most fans were hoping for when this season started.
The adjustment that I would like to see is them dialing back the number of “clear rushing” or “clear passing” situations. There is a fine line between situations where the defense knows that you are going to throw the ball and situations where the offense is telling the defense that they are going to throw the ball.
The Detroit Lions are walking that line, but I still think that the overall philosophy is strong and will get more dialed in as the year progresses.