Detroit Lions' Problem: Lack of Discipline or Running Game?

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Detroit Lions' Problem: Lack of Discipline or Running Game?
Leon Halip/Getty Images

In recent years, the Detroit Lions have dealt with more than their fair share of adversity.

The Lions fielded one of the greatest—if not the greatest—running backs of all time in Barry Sanders, yet failed to make a Super Bowl. They suffered through the worst tenure in NFL history under Matt Millen and injuries plagued franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford in his first two seasons.

The Lions have finally moved past these paralyzing obstacles and now face a new type of challenge—an unexpected losing streak.

What caused Detroit's recent slide?

Was it “The Stomp” by Ndamukong Suh? Or maybe the continuous lack of discipline the Lions have shown, as penalty flags are flying through the air?

Partially both.

But one point has gone under-discussed through all the calling-out and character questioning.

Look at the injured reserve.

Three running backs rest on that list: starter Jahvid Best, second-round draft pick Mikel Leshoure and James Harrison.

Even newly re-signed Kevin Smith is out with a high ankle sprain, an injury that has kept running back Darren McFadden out for over a month and Adrian Peterson for nearly a month.

Detroit's top four running backs are unable to suit up.

No other NFL team is dealing with a situation as desperate as this. 

The Kansas City Chiefs lost star running back Jamaal Charles at the beginning of the season, but still have their other running backs intact.

Other stud backs like McFadden and Ahmad Bradshaw have missed a month or more with injuries, but again, their backups have taken over.

The Lions were forced to re-sign two tailbacks they cut in the preseason (Kevin Smith and Aaron Brown), with Maurice Morris as the only remaining back from the opening day roster.

Where would any team be without their three top players at a position?

The Lions would be in an equally precarious situation if they were forced to start Maurice Stovall, Rashied Davis and Stefan Logan at wide receiver.

What if they lost their top three quarterbacks?

“Hello, can I speak to Daunte Culpepper?”

Stafford has the most attempts of any quarterback (407) out of the shotgun this year, 83 more than the next quarterback, Tom Brady. Why is this stat so damning?

Stafford has thrown over 50 passes in only two games this season. Eighty-three passes accounts for nearly two full games of pass attempts—and that’s just out of the shotgun. That’s in the same number of games as Brady and all other NFL quarterbacks.

Of Stafford’s 487 passes thrown this season, 407 came from the shotgun—a passing formation.

It’s hard to be one-dimensional in the NFL and win games, unless your quarterback is Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.

Stafford has shown flashes of an elite QB, but he isn’t there yet.

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan must keep defenses guessing and ordering the shotgun formation so consistently is too predictable. Surely Linehan has little faith in the running attack.

The Lions rank 11th in yards per carry at 4.4, but that includes Smith at 6.9 yards per carry and Best at 4.6. Their statistics are deceiving.

Detroit sits in a three-way tie for 29th place in rushing attempts and has just two more attempts than last place Tampa Bay.

There’s no quick fix, but Kevin Smith seems to be Detroit’s best hope for this season if he can get healthy.  

Hopefully, this will cease to be a problem next year, with Best and Leshoure getting back to full health. The need for competent backups like Kevin Smith is an issue general manager Martin Mayhew must address this offseason.

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