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Detroit — The inability to effectively run the ball plagued the Lions last season as they bottomed out with the league’s worst rushing attack.

And through two exhibitions, the Lions haven’t done much to show they're trending in the right direction.

After rushing for 95 yards in the preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Lions mustered 73 yards on the ground in Thursday’s 30-14 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at Ford Field.

Granted, starting running back Ameer Abdullah has yet to play and the Lions have faced two teams that have stingy run defenses, with Steelers and Bengals both ranking in the top seven in fewest rushing yards allowed per game a year ago. But the Lions averaged 3.5 and 2.7 yards-per-carry against the Steelers and Bengals, respectively, which is below their 3.8 average last year.

“At this stage of the preseason, you're concerned about everything,” coach Jim Caldwell said about the run game. “It's a work in progress and you've got a lot of different groups playing, different people. We were just sloppy.”

Theo Riddick, who has started in Abdullah’s absence, ran for 17 yards on seven carries Thursday night and the rest of the unit didn’t fare much better.

Stevan Ridley had 13 yards rushing on four carries, Zach Zenner had four carries for four yards and George Winn lost a yard on two carries.

The lone bright spot was rookie Dwayne Washington, who had 22 yards rushing on six carries, a 5-yard rushing touchdown and rumbled into the end zone for a two-point conversion.

Yet, quarterback Matthew Stafford said it’s still too early to sound the alarm.

“We’ve got to keep putting the work in. That’s what it all boils down to,” Stafford said. “Just showing up to practice with the attitude to make sure we can run the football, make sure we can throw it, do whatever we want on offense. Just got to continue to have that and keep working.”

Stafford has been efficient in the first two exhibition games, throwing for 171 yards on 12-for-17 passing. But the lackluster run game has only helped stall drives. The first-team offense turned the ball over on its lone series against the Steelers and could only manage a field goal in three drives against the Bengals.

“You know, we’ve got talented offensive linemen, we have talented tight ends, running backs,” Stafford said. “We’ve got the guys to do it, just got to hone in on the little things and make sure our technique is great.”

With two exhibition games left, guard Larry Warford said the offensive line shoulders the burden in turning around the ineffective rushing attack.

“Part of having a good offense is being able to run the ball,” Warford said. “I don’t know, I haven’t seen all the film yet, but as an offensive line we’re going to watch that film tomorrow or the day after and figure out what broke down and how it broke down and pick up pieces to try and fix it the best we can.

“It’s definitely on the offensive line to progress that run game and get it to where’s effective. It’s still preseason and we’re in that process.”

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/jamesbhawkins

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