Lions 'always evaluating' as Adrian Peterson, D'Andre Swift see shift in production
One of the biggest concerns Detroit Lions fans expressed after the team signed veteran running back Adrian Peterson is the future Hall of Famer would eat into playing time of the team's younger options, Kerryon Johnson and D'Andre Swift.
That fear came to fruition almost immediately, but it was easy to dismiss the concerns given Peterson was running well, averaging 6.4 yards per carry the first two games.
In short, he was justifying the trust the Lions were putting in him.
But since formally taking over the team's starting role, Peterson's production has dropped, sharply. In the past four games, that yards per carry average has dipped to 3.0 yards per carry. And that's largely because the explosive runs have disappeared. Outside of a 27-yard romp on his first carry against Arizona — the first of this four-game stretch — he hasn't had another carry longer than 10 yards.
"Sometimes you make a good play, sometimes the defense makes a good play, as well," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "I don’t think it’s anything necessarily against Adrian. I think it can happen to, really, any of the backs that are in there, but there are things that we can do better. I think if you talk to him, the first thing he’ll say is that there’s some runs that he could do better and we’re going to continue to work at that.”
But Peterson's decline has coincided with Swift's rapid improvement, raising renewed calls from the fan base to further reduce the veteran's role in favor of the rookie.
“The correct answer for that is we’re always evaluating, right?" Bevell said. "We’re always taking a look at what we’re doing, how well the players are playing, how well we’re giving them the stuff that they do best. Even last week, I think (D’Andre) Swift ended up with the most just total number of plays. Not necessarily the most carries, but the most total number of plays.
"It’s still in flux each and every week, trying to put guys in positions to be successful. Trying to put them in positions to help the offense with the things that they do well, things that people are seeing that are happening, yeah, just continuing to work on that each and every week.”
Bevell is correct. Swift was on the field more than Peterson last week. And that's been an evolving trend. For four straight games, Peterson's snap percentage has been in decline, from 59% of the snaps against Arizona to 31% last Sunday in Atlanta. Swift's role during that same stretch has increased from 9% to 45%.
Johnson, meanwhile, has had relatively steady playtime, but hasn't had more than four carries the past four games. And for the first time this season, he didn't have a single touch in the win over Atlanta. But he continues to thrive in his third-down role, particularly as a blocker. Pro Football Focus grades him as the best pass-protecting back in the league this season.
"’I'm just going to keep reiterating kind of the same thing, but (we're) trying to put those guys in positions to be successful, trying to do the things that we do well," Bevell said.
Only two Lions players, cornerback Desmond Trufant and linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, missed Wednesday's practice.
Trufant continues to deal with a hamstring strain that has sidelined him much of the season. As for Reeves-Maybin, his absence was to address a personal matter.