Lions look to get running game on track

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Detroit — On his first run of his NFL career, Lions rookie Ameer Abdullah busted free for a touchdown against the Chargers. Abdullah finished the exhibition season and his first regular-season game with plenty of potential and looked to be the next great Lions running back, in the mold of Billy Sims and Barry Sanders.

Not so fast.

After getting seven carries for 50 yards, including that 24-yard score, Abdullah had just six rushes for nine yards against the Vikings last week. Joique Bell had four carries for two yards and Theo Riddick and fullback Michael Burton one rush each, for a combined seven yards.

In a statistical anomaly quarterback Matthew Stafford was the Lions’ leading rusher, with 20 yards on five carries, with the team’s longest rush, for nine yards.

The quarterback outrushed the other four backs — combined.

It’s one of the quandaries of the Lions’ offensive struggles through their first two losses. The passing game seemed resurrected in Week 2 against the Vikings, with Stafford’s 286 passing yards and two touchdowns. In addition, Calvin Johnson had 10 catches and Golden Tate and Eric Ebron had 10 targets apiece, sparking the passing game.

But even in youth football leagues, establishing a running game is a priority — and it’s still true in the NFL, even with the Lions’ weapons in the passing game.

“We expect more from it and I think we’ll get it going forward. We’ve just got to execute better,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said this week. “It’s been two games where, maybe, it hasn’t had a chance to get going. Limited plays against the Chargers and we had some two-minute drives and then kind of got into some no-huddle, called some runs where the looks were to throw it, so we’ve got to give those guys a chance to get going.”

Both Lombardi and head coach Jim Caldwell pointed to deficits and situational calls as reasons that they haven’t run the ball more, but given Abdullah’s status as a second-round pick and his performance in the preseason, the expectations grew.

After Bell had a couple of procedures to fix injuries, he was expected to mesh slowly into the offense, especially with Abdullah’s ascension. But with a total of 16 yards on 10 carries, he’s still looking to reach his production from previous years.

“I think he’s fine. I think it’s such a small sample size and some of his runs have been uphill,” Lombardi said. “He may have missed a cut here or there, but every running back does. I think Joique is going to be fine. I think we know what we have in that player and we like it.”

As yet, Riddick, who also was projected to have an increased role in the offense this season, hasn’t been able to get on track. Riddick has one carry for five yards but has been more effective out of the backfield, with seven catches for 78 yards and a touchdown.

But with Larry Warford back at right guard and LaAdrian Waddle returning at right tackle — Warford missed the opener and Waddle both games — the line play could be solidifying, which could be a harbinger of improved production from the backfield.