Lions' Theo Riddick answering the call when it comes
Allen Park — In Theo Riddick's first extensive action on offense of his NFL career, the Minnesota Vikings weren't prepared for him, and they admitted as much after the game.
A running back who played two years at receiver for Notre Dame, Riddick had five catches for 75 yards and a touchdown in the first half, helping the Lions start hot in a 17-3 win in Minnesota in Week 6.
In Week 8, Riddick weaved his way around the Atlanta Falcons with eight catches for 74 yards and a touchdown, and he caught the game-winner in Week 10 against the Miami Dolphins, validating much of the offseason hype from his teammates.
"I've just been given an opportunity and making the best out of it," said Riddick, a sixth-round pick in 2013.
If Reggie Bush (ankle) can't play Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, Riddick won't be taking anybody by surprise, but how he plays could be determinant of the outcome.
Joique Bell will continue to be the feature back because of his success between the tackles, but the Cardinals are allowing just 78.6 rushing yards per game. Arizona gives up 274.2 yards per game through the air, and with cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie following receivers Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, the Lions could lean heavily on Riddick, Bell and the tight ends in the pass game.
"Any time there's a linebacker or safety on him, you feel pretty good about your matchup," offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said of Riddick.
But even if Riddick has another big game Sunday, there's no guarantee his role will expand. Bush aggravated his ankle injury in the first quarter against the Dolphins, and Riddick played just seven snaps, though the ball went to him on six of those plays.
"I don't know if he can do anything more," Lombardi said. "We've been excited about the player since OTAs. Just keep making plays when he's in position to do it, which he's done and I expect he'll continue to do."
One thing holding Riddick back this year was a lingering hamstring injury that held him out of weeks 5 and 7 and limited him other games.
"I'm happy those days are over now," he said.
Riddick has contributed some of the top offensive highlights of the Lions' charmed 2014 season. Against the Vikings, he had an explosive, shifty, 41-yard screen on the game's opening drive. A couple weeks later, he had a one-handed catch on an angle route that gained 20 yards on the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter against Atlanta in London.
Then, last week, Riddick caught an 11-yard touchdown on a wheel route to give the Lions a 20-16 lead with 29 seconds left. On the play, quarterback Matthew Stafford made a sensational side-armed pass while running to his left, but Riddick's play — falling to the ground with a defender bearing down — was impressive, too.
"Just tried to tiptoe the sideline, saw the ball coming out of the corner of my eye and some way and somehow came up with the catch," Riddick said. "Matt put the ball on the money."
Riddick still hasn't produced much on the ground with just 33 yards on 15 carries, but with Bell as the primary ball carrier, the Lions will likely continue to lean on Riddick in the pass game. And even though he hasn't had many chances, he's been poised when opportunity comes.
"I played receiver for two years, so when I get out there, I don't really have a lot of goose bumps. I feel confident," he said.