ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Running the football has been a chore for the Detroit Lions ever since Barry Sanders retired, but even though the team is coming off its worst rushing performance of the season, there’s hope that things might finally be clicking in the run game.
The Lions, the worst rushing team in the NFL over the last two seasons, currently rank 17th in the category at 97 yards per game.
“I think we’re getting close,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “We’ve got some backs with some talent that can make you pay if you miss-fit a gap or whatever it is, and our guys up front are fighting tooth and nail for those yards.”
The Lions haven’t been especially efficient running the football this year at just 3.7 yards per carry, but they have been committed to the run, which is a change from past seasons.
Leading rusher Ameer Abdullah has 46 carries already on the young season, more than all but 12 other backs in the NFL, and the Lions had more rushing attempts (32) than passing attempts (21) in a Week 2 win over the New York Giants.
Playing with a lead has helped, as the Lions did in each of the first two weeks. And having Abdullah and backup Theo Riddick healthy is important, too.
But Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said the team’s mindset has been especially critical to establishing a respectable rushing attack.
“I think it’s an ebb and flow to it,” Caldwell said. “Last week, we ran the ball decently. The week before we were OK, enough to be respectable. This week we weren’t quite where we wanted to be, so I do think it’s important that you give it time and attention and I don’t think in this league you can’t back away from it, because you got too many really good pass rushers.”
The Lions’ struggles on the ground in last week’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons – they had 19 carries for 71 yards, which was nearly an average game last season – were somewhat predictable as they fell behind 14 points in the first half and changed personnel on their offensive line.
Center Travis Swanson missed the game with an ankle injury, which forced left guard Graham Glasgow to center, and Zac Kerin started at left guard with top interior backup Joe Dahl battling a leg injury.
Swanson is expected back this week, though the Lions have another stiff run test against a Minnesota Vikings defense that’s allowing just 62.7 yards on the ground per game.
“This is another team that’s really difficult to run the ball against,” Stafford said. “They play enough single-high (safety) and get guys down in the box. Their safeties are really good tacklers, (Linval Joseph is) about as good a run player interior as we’ll see all year, too. So, they’ve got really good players. It’s on us to make it work.”
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