September 23, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Josh Katzenstein

Monday breakdown: Lions should start bruising Joique Bell over Reggie Bush

Joique Bell had 63 yards rushing and 69 receiving Sunday against the Redskins. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)

Even when Reggie Bush returns, Joique Bell should be the Lions' starting running back.

Bush has an edge in speed, but otherwise, Bell is the better all-around player and should be rewarded with more touches.

With Bush nursing a knee injury Sunday, Bell shone in his first NFL start, running for 63 yards and a touchdown and catching four passes for 69 yards in the Lions' 27-20 win over the Redskins.

Still, even with 132 yards from scrimmage, the Lions under-utilized Bell on Sunday.

In the first quarter against Washington, Bell was unstoppable, running seven times for 38 yards and a touchdown and catching two passes for 48 yards, including a 37-yard gain in which he spun and juked around defenders and broke multiple tackles.

Then, in the second quarter, Bell had one carry for one yard.

Imagine if Bush had just one touch in a quarter this season. The outrage would be so great that even if the Lions won the game, fans would be calling for offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's head -- granted, that already happens nearly every week.

In Bell and Bush, the Lions could have one of the most dynamic backfields in the NFL if they use them correctly. Bell should be the early bruiser who wears down the defense to a point where Bush comes in and uses his speed to blaze by.

At 5-foot-11, 220 pounds, Bell is a load to bring down, and even when he appears to have nothing, he can put his head down and gain extra yards. Bell is also a better pass blocker than Bush and did his damage Sunday against a five-man Washington front.

This isn't taking anything away from Bush, who was fantastic in his Lions debut with 191 yards from scrimmage. But for what the Lions need, Bell is the perfect back. He's a guy who will always run forward, and although Bush didn't show this in his first game and a half, his career has been marred by backward runs.

If Bell was the starting running back, Bush could also could return punts, where he we would be an upgrade over Micheal Spurlock.

Because the Lions gave Bush a four-year, $16 million contract this offseason, he's going to be the starter as long as he's on the field. However, Bush is the epitome of a classic third-down back, a guy who can come in and make game-changing plays in a reserve role. That's part of the reason the Saints had so much success with Bush while the Dolphins went 6-10 and 7-9 in his two seasons as a starter.

On his way to those 132 yards Sunday, Bell forced six missed tackles by the Washington defense.

"I think the good thing about Joique is he plays with a chip on his shoulder," Lions left guard Rob Sims said last week. "Nobody's going to just bring him down."

Bell's ability to make something out of nothing is a testament to his work ethic. After his career at Wayne State, Bell went undrafted in 2010. He bounced around from Buffalo to Indianapolis to Philadelphia to New Orleans then finally back home to Detroit.

And in 2012, in his first NFL opportunity as a running back, Bell exploded with 899 yards from scrimmage playing behind Mikel Leshoure. Many thought Bell only had success because teams weren't prepared for him or because he gained all those yards in garbage time with the Lions trailing.

Fact is, Bell should've been the starter last year when he averaged 5.0 yards per carry compared to Leshoure's 3.7, but statistics hardly explain Bell's success.

"He's still hungry, and I love blocking for him," Sims said. "I tell him all the time I'm proud of him, and the way he approaches the game he's going to be in the league a long time playing like that."

Bell is going to eat this year. It's just a question of how much the Lions put on his plate.

Around the NFC North

* Through three games, the Bears (3-0) look like one of the most complete teams in the NFL. With a 40-23 win in Pittsburgh Sunday night, the Bears showed they still have a ball-hawking defense, forcing five turnovers. Meanwhile, Chicago has a powerful rushing attack, and quarterback Jay Cutler has a 94.2 passer rating.

The Bears come to Detroit next Sunday in a battle for early division bragging rights.

* The Packers (1-2) let one slip Sunday in Cincinnati. With 3:47 left in regulation, the Packers led 30-27, but tried to put the game out of reach by going for a fourth-and-1 in Bengals territory. Instead, rookie running back Johnathan Franklin lost the ball, and Cincinnati ran it back for a 58-yard touchdown and a 34-30 victory.

* Surely, a home game against the Browns would cure what ailed the Vikings the first two weeks. Apparently not. The Vikings (0-3) gave up a touchdown in the final minute and lost to the lowly Browns, 31-27.

Around the NFL

* Watch out for the Dolphins. I was on the Ryan Tannehill bandwagon this offseason, but I didn't expect Miami to be this good. After beating the Falcons Sunday, 27-23, the Dolphins are 3-0 and already have two road wins (Cleveland and Indianapolis).

* What's wrong in San Francisco? After losing 29-3 at Seattle last week, the 49ers should've come out fighting for their lives. Instead, Colin Kaepernick made the Colts defense look like the 1985 Bears in a 27-7 home loss.

* The Redskins, Vikings, Bucs, Steelers and Jaguars are all 0-3, but the Giants really stole the futility show Sunday, losing 38-0 in Carolina. After a trip to the 3-0 Chiefs Sunday, the Giants could look like the worst team in the NFL.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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