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Pass protection hasn't been a stumbling block for Lions' running backs

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

In their first four games, the Lions’ offense has sputtered somewhat, with just 407 total rushing yards (101.8 yards per game) and 929 passing yards (232.3), ranking in the bottom half of the league in both categories.

Although they have an upgraded group of running backs with Kerryon Johnson, Adrian Peterson and D’Andre Swift, it hasn’t resulted in gaudy stats just yet, but there is one notable area of improvement: pass blocking by those backs.

Lions running back Adrian Peterson (28) gets ready to block the Cardinals' Chandler Jones.

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell noted Johnson’s attention to detail in the win over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3, but it’s been more consistent than that, even.

“Protection-wise, I'm going to throw this out there — Kerryon Johnson is one of the best I've ever been around when it comes to understanding not only who to block but how to block the guys that he's blocking from week to week,” running backs coach Kyle Caskey said Monday. “We get different blitzers than the line has with their pickups, so we every week, we've got to figure out how the safety blitzes versus this nickel versus this big linebacker that we may have to handle.”

It’s one of the unsung skills that has Johnson as the starting back and on the field for a chunk of the plays in the game. Though those snap counts have fluctuated from game to game — about 20 in each of the first three games and 11 in last week’s loss to the New Orleans Saints — Johnson’s pass-blocking has been very good.

And that’s something coming from a young player in just his third season.

“He handles all that really well and really has grown in that area because I'd say coming out of college, a lot of these guys don't have that ability; they've never had to in a lot of offenses that they're running in college these days with the spread offense and everything,” Caskey said. “He's really taken that to heart and the other guys they all do it; they are at the highest level of football, so you have to be able to do it.

“I think Swift is kind of in the same boat coming out of Georgia. We're still working with him, and (Peterson) has been doing this for a long time — he'll put his face in there; he's not scared of anything.”

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard