Lost in the Detroit Lions' shocking 44-41 overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 3 was the fact that quarterback Matthew Stafford got back on track while second-year running back Mikel Leshoure had a breakthrough performance.
Stafford has never had a particularly impressive running game to work with. Last season was the first time the Lions ranked in the top 15 in yards per carry since Stafford took over. Perhaps not coincidentally, that was Stafford's breakout season.
In his first NFL start on Sunday against the Titans, Leshoure racked up 100 yards and a touchdown on the ground. He also added four catches for 34 yards, showing his versatility.
In the same game, Stafford went 33-of-42 for 278 yards and a touchdown. It was his first game of the season in which he hadn't thrown an interception.
Now, it's fair to chalk it up to the fact that Stafford was playing against a poor secondary (he played against the St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers in the first two weeks of the season), but you also can't deny he looked better overall.
It's pretty simple: If you draw defenses in to stop the run, you have more room to operate in the passing attack. Given Stafford threw for over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns to 16 interceptions last season, imagine what he could do if he is equipped with a suitable running game (Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers has been dealing with this for years).
Leshoure didn't break off an electric run against the Titans (his long was 12 yards), but he consistently gave the Lions five to six yards. On top of that, he showed the ability to push the pile and fight for extra yardage. That is certainly a boost.
While the Lions are hurting right now after two straight losses, there is still hope for them to turn things around. The pass defense obviously has to improve significantly for Detroit to be a prime contender, but it's not out of the question to see this team average the most points in the NFL by season's end if Leshoure can keep on rolling (as a second-round pick who was highly touted in 2011, I believe he has the ability to make a difference).
After a season-ending injury and a drug suspension, Leshoure is finally beginning to come around. If he can keep improving, he could quickly become Stafford's new best friend.
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