Justin Rogers and John Niyo discuss the Lions' upcoming game against the Rams and the depressing nature of covering meaningless football in December. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Allen Park — You can't cook with cold grease.
The old boxing adage was one Detroit Lions running back LeGarrette Blount hadn't heard before, but felt summed up his feelings well. After struggling through one of the worst stretches of his career, the veteran running back had a breakout performance last week against the Chicago Bears' top-ranked run defense.
Blount ran for 88 yards and two touchdowns in the loss. Asked what fueled the performance, he pointed to the number of touches he received in the contest, a season-high 19 carries.
"As a running back, I think every running back in this league is going to want the rock over the course of a game," Blount said. "You want to get lathered up, you want to see how they're playing and how they're fitting the runs and how they're playing against certain runs. Whenever you get a chance, an opportunity to get a few in a row, and see how it's going, it helps a lot."
Prior to that game, Blount had gained just 16 yards on 21 carries the previous four games.
This clearly wasn't how he expected this season to go. Coming off a highly productive year with the Super Bowl champion Eagles, and two years removed from his best single-season rushing total, 1,161 yards with New England, his one-year deal with the Lions carried significant incentives tied to his yards, touchdowns and playing time.
Blount has hit one of his bonuses, a $350,000 bump for scoring five touchdowns. He'll earn another $350,000 with two more scores. But he's not on pace to hit the marks for yardage (he needs another 494 yards over the final five games) or play-time percentage.
That's because rookie Kerryon Johnson has emerged as Detroit's top option in the backfield. When he was healthy, he was getting most of the snaps and touches. Not that Blount has no issue with that.
"Kerryon is obviously a really, really good running back," Blount said. "He's a really good player. He's a player that deserves the ball as much as he gets it. He makes a lot of big plays with the touches that he gets. It helps your team. So I'm all for it."
But while Johnson remains sidelined with a knee injury, Blount will have his opportunities to get warmed up and make a difference. That extends to this week in a matchup against the Rams, when controlling the clock and keeping their high-powered offense on the sidelines as much as possible is the key to pulling off an upset.
"As an offense, you definitely want to stay on the field as long as possible," Blount said. "We know how deadly their offense is and we know how many weapons they have."
For all the things the Rams do well on both sides of the ball, they've been poor defending the run. They come to Detroit having allowed opponents to average 5.2 yards per carry. Only Seattle has been worse.
Taking advantage of that could require Blount to correct his season-long issues with getting north and south. Despite his big frame, no running back has been less efficient carrying the football this year. According to data tracked by the NFL, Blount is running 5.1 yards laterally for every yard he's gained.
Running north and south against the Rams would mean charging into the heart of their defensive line, where Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh reside.
There's history between Blount and Suh, who got into an on-field shoving match a few years back. That had Blount calling the former Lion a dirty player in the locker room after the game.
Blount said he still feels that way about Suh, but declined to elaborate.
Johnson remained out during Thursday's practice with the knee injury he suffered two weeks ago, against Carolina. Fullback Nick Bellore also sat out for a second straight day with an ankle injury.
Wide receiver Bruce Ellington (back), linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (neck), tight end Michael Roberts (shoulder) and wide receiver Brandon Powell (calf) were limited.