Allen Park — The Lions improving run defense always has been good at one aspect this season, which figures to be put to the test on Sunday.
After containing the scrambling of quarterbacks such as Russell Wilson, Mitch Trubisky and Cam Newton this season, a strong-armed rookie from Wyoming is the Lions’ biggest test yet in that regard.
The Lions (5-8) have allowed just 62 yards on the ground to quarterbacks on 34 carries this season, with Wilson’s 11-yard first quarter run on Oct. 28 as the only rush of double-digit yardage this season.
But Buffalo’s Josh Allen, the seventh pick of the draft, has three straight games of rushing yardage that are each more than the Lions have allowed all season to a quarterback. He also has 16 plays this season of 11 or more yards on a carry, including 11 in the last three games.
“We prepared well and I think the guys have a good job on that,” Lions linebackers coach Al Golden said. “Now having said that, I think Buffalo and Allen might be our greatest challenge this year. The young man is doing an unbelievable job of moving the football for Buffalo.”
Allen has rushed for five touchdowns this season. The Lions have allowed one rushing touchdown to a quarterback this season. The Lions lead the league, allowing 4.8 yards per game rushing by opposing signal callers, with Trubisky's 18 yards the highest total of the season. The next best yards against opposing quarterbacks is 8.0 per game by Denver.
“We’re just looking at someone that has been very explosive, very dynamic as a player that’s really given this offense a whole different element that you have to try to defend against,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “We’re going to have our work cut out for us there.”
The Lions were ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing defense at 139.3 yards per game when it acquired defensive tackle Damon Harrison on Oct. 25. In seven games since, Detroit has allowed 94.6 yards per game, which would be sixth in the league over the full season.
Overall, the defense has climbed to 18th overall in rush defense this year.
The Lions have held opposing quarterbacks to below their season averages in rushing yards in a game all but once, when seldom-used Chase Daniel ran for 4 yards for the Bears on Thanksgiving. Five times this season, Detroit has held the other team’s signal caller to their lowest output of the season.
"I think it's a collective effort," Golden said. "If there's one person that deserves some of the credit, it would be the leadership of (Devon) Kennard, because he'll execute the defense as it is designed. He won't just go for the sack and let a quarterback run underneath him or whatever the case might be. He's very unselfish on that accord.
"When you have some of your better players doing that, it's easy to get buy-in from the group collectively."
As for Allen, he’s the Bills leading rusher this season at 490 yards despite missing four games. Over the last three, he’s totaled 99, 135 and 101 yards on the ground for a three-game total of 335 yards, breaking Michael Vick’s record for quarterback rushing over a three-game stretch.
The results haven’t carried over to the passing game, as the Bills (4-9) have the 31st-ranked passing attack in yards per game (166.7) and yards per attempt (6.0).
“He’s not trying to win the game on every play, he’s just trying to control and manage the game,” Patricia said. “I think his ability in the run game and what he’s been able to do to extend plays has really given them another element now, which defensively is difficult to defend against.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.