Allen Park — On one hand, Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter notes he’s aware of his team’s tendencies and doesn’t want to be predictable. On the other, the Lions aren’t using running back Ameer Abdullah on third downs, despite the back’s proven abilities as a pass-catcher.
In the three years he’s been in Detroit, Abdullah has dropped one of the 44 passes his direction, according to Pro Football Focus. And he didn’t put one of his 26 on the ground his senior year at Nebraska. So, despite the presence of Theo Riddick on the roster — an outstanding pass-catching option out of the backfield in his own right — it’s interesting the Lions have left Abdullah glued to the bench on third downs.
“Well, Ameer traditionally doesn’t play a lot on third downs,” Cooter said. “We’re doing a lot of passing in the league. The league is very high percentage pass on third down, that’s true of us as well. So, we’re throwing the ball a whole lot. We’re doing a lot of route related things. We’re doing a lot of protection related things. Theo is quite good at that, some of our other backs have done a really nice job at some of those things.”
Cooter is right. The Lions are doing a lot of passing on third downs, 87 percent to be exact.
But his words imply a lack of confidence that Abdullah is as capable of his teammates in those situations. And to some degree, the numbers bear that out. Abdullah has only been asked to pass protect nine times this season, but has allowed pressure on two of those snaps. In 32 blocking situations for Riddick, three pressures.
The Lions leaned heavily on Riddick in that role against the Steelers last Sunday, leaving him in protection on seven snaps, where he helped give quarterback Matthew Stafford the extra time he needed to make some downfield throws that exploited weaknesses in the opponent’s zone coverage.
“Haven’t been perfect all year, but saw some really nice things in this game from those guys,” Cooter said. “And I think coach (Jim Caldwell) said it, or somebody said it earlier this week, those Steelers linebackers really bring it. When they blitz, they blitz physically, and they blitz downhill and they can really bring it. And I thought our guys stood in there pretty firm and kept the pocket nice and clean from their perspective.”
Still, it’s odd the team won’t use its starting running back in key situations. To date, he’s been on the field only 5 percent of the team’s third-down snaps. And Abdullah’s goal line work is largely vultured by the bulkier Dwayne Washington or Zach Zenner, depending on which is healthy.