Are the Lions for real? Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Justin Rogers look at the Lions as they roll into Week 5 against the Carolina Panthers at Ford Field. Detroit News
Allen Park — What’s wrong with Theo Riddick?
It’s a question that’s been on the mind of a number of Lions fans after a seemingly slow start to the season from the shifty receiving back.
The sample size is small, but Riddick is on pace for 56 receptions and 360 yards, well off his production level the previous two years.
In 2015, he set the franchise record for receptions by a back, catching 80 balls out of the backfield. Last year, he averaged more grabs per game, but was slowed down by a sprained ankle early in the year and had his season prematurely ended by a wrist injury.
Riddick returned to the lineup for this year’s season opener, catching six passes, but was limited to 27 yards. He hasn’t caught more than four balls the past three weeks and has yet to top 40 receiving yards.
Part of the problem issue is defenses are more keyed in on him.
“Yeah, I think you put on tape what he’s put on tape the last couple years, bound to scare a lot of defensive coordinators,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “There’s definitely quite a bit of attention going to him.”
Another issue is his playing time has been reduced with Ameer Abdullah back in the lineup.
When the Lions are committed to running the ball, like they have been in for their two road games, Abdullah is the more-accomplished and preferred option. Against the Minnesota Vikings last week, Abdullah was having success on the ground, gaining 94 yards on 20 carries. Riddick, meanwhile, was limited to 18 snaps.
A final factor has been the defenders he’s had to deal with in coverage. When the Lions have been looking to pass, he’s drawn some of the fastest sideline-to-sideline linebackers in the NFL — from rookie Haason Reddick in the opener to Atlanta’s Deion Jones. Their speed has limited Riddick’s ability to maximize his elusiveness in the open field.
But if you’re looking for promise of brighter days to come, Riddick has shown plenty. Beyond getting open on multiple routes where he didn’t get the ball, he’s already made seven tacklers miss as a receiver. He’s still as tough as ever to tackle.
Everyone in the organization seems to believe it’s just a matter of time before he gets the right matchup and breaks out.
“He’s run a lot of routes over the years where he’s beaten guys and gotten open,” offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “I wouldn’t say defenses are drastically changing their structure, but every now and then might be a vital call, where Theo may have been one-on-one in the past and now he’s sort of doubled.
“Theo’s still doing a really nice job, Theo’s going to be really productive for us.”
For Riddick’s part, he’s far from frustrated with his individual production, given the team’s success.
“Yes, teams are kind of changing things up a little bit, but we’re 3-1, man. That’s the only thing I care about,” he said.
“I’m just playing my game, trying to pick my spots wisely and go from there. I don’t try to make the game more difficult than it is from a mental standpoint. I’ve just got to stay patient. It’s early in the season.”