Detroit Lions: Running Back Carousel Continues to Lose Horses

James Van Etten@jbvanettenContributor INovember 28, 2011

The Detroit Lions' stable of running backs continues to dwindle as every week it seems another injury hinders the once-promising backfield and the training room could now be referred to as the glue factory.

It was just a few months prior that the Lions backfield appeared enviable to many other NFL franchises.

Martin Mayhew was able to jump up into the second round of the 2011 draft and select Mikel Leshoure, which caught many by surprise because the Lions had spent a No. 1 draft pick the year prior on Jahvid Best.

The coaching staff felt they needed to improve the four-minute offense. That part of the game where you need to be able to salt away the game by running the ball, eating up the clock and moving the chains to seal victory.

Leshoure’s tough running style was a perfect complement to the speed and elusiveness of Best, and together they were supposed to handle all possible running situations the Lions would encounter.

As fate would have it, Leshoure tore his Achilles in the preseason on August 8th, and the hopes and plans of the organization were lost before the first snap in Tampa.

The Lions acted quickly and on the very next day signed veteran running back Jerome Harrison. The K-Zoo tailback failed to impress with only 14 carries for 41 yards in four games, and Mayhew turned horse bleep into horsepower by striking a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles to swap Harrison for former No. 2 overall pick Ronnie Brown.

As we all know, this deal became a Mackinac Island road hazard when Harrison’s MRI showed a tumor in his brain, but saving a life will always take precedent over wins and losses; this was an unforeseen blessing.

Two games later, Lady Luck was a royal b*#%! again as Jahvid Best suffered another concussion. The California Bear, who is more Seabiscuit than Secretariat, came to the Lions with such high hopes that Schwartz gave us this timeless sound bite via

"Some people watch adult videos on their computers. I go to YouTube and watch Jahvid Best highlights. That's what gets me aroused."

Well, I’m sure both head coach Jim Schwartz and the front office felt quite blue as that was the last game Best would play this year because in the wake of the Thanksgiving Day embarrassment, he was placed on injured reserve.

Now both components of the Lions’ version of Thunder and Lightning were gone for the year and the focus now shifted Back to the Future.

Kevin Smith didn’t drive to Allen Park in a DeLorean, but he might as well have. During the Lions’ bye week, Mayhew again got busy looking for a Clydesdale that could help with the heavy lifting for this team down the stretch, and Smith made the most of his McFly opportunity as Schwartz said, "Kevin looked so good. He ran well, he moved well and he was in great shape."

I’m not sure if Smith ran 88 MPH in shorts, but he did look like the elixir this team had been searching for with his 200-plus yard effort against the Panthers. In the early part of the Turkey Classic, Smith ran hard and had 57 yards on 10 touches, making the offensive line look acceptable and creating the ever-elusive, balanced offensive attack.

Again the Lions got horse-collared as Smith suffered an ankle sprain that early indications appeared to be of the dreaded high-ankle variety, but now there is hope he may be ready for the road to New Orleans this Sunday night.

The running back situation in Detroit has been nothing less than a MASH unit all year, and no medicinal cocktail of Hawkeye Pierce, Trapper McIntyre and Horse Whisperer Tom Booker can bring back the Lions' ground-attack investments this season. So what are the Lions to do?

With a shaken martini and debonair flair—Coryell, Don Coryell.

Yes, the Lions will have to lean on Air Coryell principals to sneak into the playoffs but with nine interceptions in the last three games from Matthew Stafford, the likelihood of replicating Dan Fouts’ success, sans beard, down the stretch appears remote. 

Although with four of the remaining five defenses ranking in the bottom half of the league in pass defense, I guess anything is possible.

This offense has always been based on the right arm of Stafford and regardless of the injured finger, he’ll have to produce for this team to win. Having an effective running game just makes things easier when hesitation creeps in for the defense.

Maurice Morris is the last man standing currently and can give the Lions a yeoman’s effort that could be enough to keep the defense honest.

He has a respectable 410 yards from scrimmage on 74 touches and with three of the remaining five opponents ranking in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards, the season that started out with unbridled enthusiasm, might have a place or show finish.

With the high draft picks in the barn and every defensive lineman’s ears pinned back, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will need to break out his mirror sunglasses and play the best damn liar’s poker of his life.

Pass when the expect run, run when they expect pass. Throw from double tights, run from the spread.  Reverses, fake reverses…hell, run the Statue of Liberty if it will keep the defense on its heels!

The Lions don’t have to be the Houston Texans and rush for over 150 yards per game, but they do need positive yardage from the tailback to keep the defense honest when they sprinkle in the ground attack between aerial assaults.

Linehan called a great game against Carolina and the Lions will need his “A” game if they want a wild-card spot; it will be a monumental disappointment if they do not make the postseason.

The Fords have put plenty of karats into their Honolulu Bluegrass stud and hopefully they’ll find at least one Mustang they can ride down the stretch.


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