Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Justin Rogers take a look at Matt Patricia, the leading candidate for the Lions' coaching job, and they preview this weekend's conference finals. Detroit News
The Detroit Lions’ running game has been a weak spot throughout former head coach Jim Caldwell’s tenure, hitting rock bottom this season.
Never finishing higher than 28th in the league in rushing, the Lions finished last for the second time in Caldwell’s four seasons in 2017.
This, despite an offseason in which the Lions revamped their offensive line through free agency, bringing in tackle Rick Wagner and guard T.J. Lang, and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter’s apparent commitment last offseason to get the ground game on track.
It still wasn’t enough. The Lions averaged 76.3 yards per game this season, and 3.4 yards per carry — both lows during Caldwell’s stay. Ameer Abdullah led the Lions with just 552 yards — a 3.3 yards-per-carry average.
The Lions’ running back unit ranked fourth among NFL.com’s top 10 underperforming units from 2017.
The unit does include Theo Riddick, a threat out of the backfield as a pass-catcher (he tied for third on the team with 53 receptions), and received late-season contributions from undrafted rookie Tion Green, but Abdullah failed to establish himself as the Lions’ lead back, starting just nine of the 14 games in which he played.
“The 2017 season was meant to be the breakout campaign for third-year pro Ameer Abdullah,” Matt Harmon of NFL.com writes. “Yet, it was anything but a season of ascension. ... Abdullah earned a reputation as an explosive runner after a 45-yard ankle-breaking run in his first preseason game back in August of 2015. In 2017, few players at the position were easier to bring down than Abdullah. The former second-round pick gained an average of 3.17 rushing yards after defenders closed within 1 yard, ranking 45th out of 47 backs with at least 100 carries.
“Abdullah likely has a place in this league as a change-of-pace back, but hopefully the fabled dreams of him being a feature back have come and gone as Detroit searches for a real solution to an annual problem.”
But, while the Lions’ ground game ranked last in the NFL, their running backs finished behind the Arizona Cardinals’ running backs among the NFL.com’s biggest underperformers. The Cardinals’ backs finished third (Denver’s quarterbacks topped the list, followed by Seattle’s run-blocking unit), even though they lost star David Johnson in the season-opening loss to the Lions.