Ever since the trade rumors began to run rampant regarding Maurice Jones-Drew coming to Detroit, I had to dive into some research.
While the old saw, "You have to run the ball to win games", has had its place, I'm not so sure that it rings true anymore.
Let's take a look at last year's playoff teams, where they ranked in rushing for the season, who the top rusher was and where they finished in the playoffs:
- Denver Broncos, ranked first with164.5 YPG, Willis McGahee, 1,199 yards. Lost to New England in AFC Divisional Playoffs
- Houston Texans, ranked second with153.0 YPG, Arian Foster, 1,224 yards. Lost to Baltimore in AFC Divisional Playoffs
- Baltimore Ravens, ranked 10th with 124.8 YPG, Ray Rice, 1,364 yards. Lost to New England in AFC Conference Championship
- Pittsburgh Steelers, ranked 14th with 118.9 YPG, Rashard Mendenhall, 928 yards. Lost to Denver in AFC Wild Card Game
- Cincinnati Bengals, ranked 19th with 111.1 YPG, Cedric Benson, 1,067 yards. Lost to Houston in AFC Wild Card Game
- New England Patriots, ranked, 20th with 110.2 YPG, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, 668 Yards, Lost to New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI
- New Orleans Saints, ranked sixth with 132.9 YPG, Darren Sproles, 603 yards. Lost to San Francisco in NFC Divisional Playoffs
- San Francisco 49ers, ranked eighth with 127.8 YPG, Frank Gore, 1,211 yards. Lost to NY Giants in NFC Conference Championship
- Atlanta Falcons, ranked 17th with 114.6 YPG, Michael Turner, 1,364 YPG. Lost to NY Giants in NFC Wild Card Game
- Green Bay Packers, ranked 27th with 97.4 YPG, Ryan Grant, 559 yards. Lost to NY Giants in NFC Divisional Playoffs
- Detroit Lions, ranked 29th with 95.2 YPG, Jahvid Best, 390 yards. Lost to New Orleans in NFC Wild Card Game
- New York Giants, ranked 32nd with 89.2 YPG, Ahmad Bradshaw, 659 yards. Won Super Bowl XLVI.
Is the running game critical to the Detroit Lions success in 2012?
I know the fact that the team that was dead-last in rushing last year, the New York Giants, won the Super Bowl is hardly conclusive evidence that the running game isn't as important as it used to be.
I suppose, as Detroit Lions fans, being spoiled by Barry Sanders would push us to say that we have to have that caliber of running back. I think that with the current running backs the Lions have, they're going to be just fine.
While preseason is no indication of how the regular season is going to play out, I do need to point out that the Lions are fourth in the NFL in rushing at 143 YPG after three preseason games.
Joique Bell, on 26 rushing attempts, has 135 yards for a nice 5.2 yards per carry average. Keiland Williams is right there with him, with 120 yards on 23 attempts and an equal 5.2 yards per carry average.
We haven't seen the real Mikel LeShoure yet.
We have seen glimpses of what Jahvid Best can do. The biggest issue with Best is whether he can stay healthy enough to be effective.
The offensive line has improved, and Matthew Stafford has plenty of targets to throw to in Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew and Titus Young.
All the Lions need is a running game that can keep defenses honest and allow the passing game—the Lions' main offensive weapon—to operate as it can.
Maurice Jones-Drew would have been a great addition to the Lions, but he would have cost too much and I don't think he would have adjusted to the pass-happy Detroit offense.
The Lions have the potential to be the NFC North Champions.