No help coming: Green running backs will carry Lions' load
With names like Melvin Gordon and Le’Veon Bell available, Kenyan Drake already moved and Kerryon Johnson once again hurt, the Lions were rumored to be in the market for a running back.
But as Tuesday’s NFL trade deadline passed, general manager Bob Quinn declined to go hunting big names like Gordon or Bell — or even trying his hand with a lesser name to fortify his inexperienced group.
So it as that, as of Tuesday night, the Lions were rolling with Tra Carson, Ty Johnson, J.D. McKissic and Paul Perkins with a salvageable season hanging in the balance.
Like in Sunday’s 31-26 win against the New York Giants, all could be part of a multi-pronged attack this weekend in Oakland.
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said the fact the Lions didn’t go out and trade for another back could be a calming agent for a green room.
“Those guys are a work in progress,” Bevell said. “We just have to kind of refine what’s going to be best for their roles.”
The Lions are 22nd in the NFL in rushing at 96.9 yards per game and are tied for next to last with two rushing touchdowns along with the New York Jets and Washington (Jacksonville is 32nd with one rushing score). Tennessee, Cincinnati, Chicago, Jacksonville and Detroit are the only teams that have had just one player score a rushing touchdown this season.
This Lions averaged over 100 rushing yards per game last year in coach Matt Patrica’s first season, the first time for the franchise since 2013.
The running back quartet has combined 270 career carries for 1,011 yards and one touchdown. Perkins is the bell cow of the group, having toted for 550 yards over three seasons, though he's still scoreless.
The running back roles were scattershot in the first game without Kerryon Johnson, who is on injured reserve after knee surgery.
With only 14 career rushing yards heading into the Giants’ game, Carson was the unexpected starter. He was hitting holes hard, gaining 23 yards on his first three carries of the opening drive.
His final nine carries yielded just 11 yards. The other three running backs combined for 28 yards on 11 carries.
“We’re going to have to learn Tra and what Tra does well and what Perkins does well,” Bevell said.”We’re in the process of doing that, giving them opportunities.”
Ty Johnson and McKissic are bigger factors in the passing game, as Johnson has nine catches on the season and McKissic has 10. The two are tied for second on the team with 108 rushing yards apiece this season, exactly 200 yards behind Kerryon Johnson’s underwhelming 308 yards in six games.
McKissic, who played for Bevell in Seattle, also showed off his arm, throwing the ball back to Matthew Stafford after a handoff during a trick play that resulted in a 41-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Golladay.
Still, the Detroit running backs will need more production as the weather gets colder and crucial season-defining games await.
Despite the quartet combining for just one career rushing touchdown, Bevell said he can make the parts fit.
“We’ll continue to hone in there, but we like the guys that are in the room,” Bevell said. “We like the skill sets that we have.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.