Improved vision, run reads boost Riddick's game

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Lions running back Theo Riddick, left, finished with a personal-best 45 yards rushing and a career-long, 21-yard TD run in Week 1.

Allen Park — Since early in the offseason, the Detroit Lions have expressed a commitment to getting running back Theo Riddick more involved in the ground game. But with limited success carrying the ball his first three seasons, it was fair to wonder why Year 4 would be different.

While only small bits of data can be gleaned from seven carries, Riddick looked like an entirely different player in the backfield during the Lions’ season-opening win over the Indianapolis Colts. He finished with a personal-best 45 yards rushing, including a career-long 21-yard romp up the gut that ended in the end zone.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford attributes Riddick’s success to the natural progression that comes with experience, but offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter sees more specific improvements in the back’s game.

“I think it’s visions and run reads,” Cooter said. “He’s worked really hard with our running backs coach David Walker. They’ve been working really hard over the offseason to kind of get some of those reads right, get some of his vision right and at the end of the day, he’s doing a better job with that. We all know he’s really an elusive runner in the open field and when he gets a little crack he tends to do pretty good things with it."

Riddick has already established himself as an exceptional receiver, setting the franchise record at his position with 80 receptions in 2015. He continued to build off that passing game success against the Colts, hauling in five throws for 63 yards.

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Both Riddick and Ameer Abdullah operated as dual-threat options out of the backfield in that contest, with each recording five catches and tallying more than 100 yards from scrimmage. It’s a unique option for a team to have two backs on the roster possessing those skill sets.

“It makes it a little more difficult for defenses to scout you,” Cooter said. “If you have a guy who’s primarily there in the pass game, they’re going to expect pass a lot of times when he’s in the game. So for (Riddick) to be able to do both and be able to do both at a really high level, that’s going to be really impactful for our offense.”

'Play 60 minutes'

Based on the final stat line, there are obvious reasons for concern with the Lions' defense following the season opener.

The unit gave up 450 yards, including 385 through the air. The Colts managed to score touchdown on all four trips to the red zone and allowed 56.3 percent of third downs to be converted.

But for the majority of the opening half, the Lions held the Colts in check, and that’s where defensive coordinator Teryl Austin would like to build from heading into the team’s Week 2 matchup against the Tennessee Titans.

“For, I don’t know, let’s say 28 minutes, we played outstanding defense,” Austin said. “For two quarters, we played awful defense. I think that for us, we just have to be able to string that together and not play 28 minutes, but play 60 minutes, because that’s our goal.”

Prior to a long touchdown drive to end the half, the Lions allowed the Colts to gain 78 yards on four possessions resulting in three points.

Against the Vikings last week, the Titans managed just 316 yards and 16 points.

Twitter: @justin_rogers

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