Detroit Lions: Follow the BluePrint That Works

David McClureCorrespondent IJuly 30, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS - DECEMBER 14:  Kevin Smith #34 of the Detroit Lions avoids a tackle by Kelvin Hayden #26 of the Indianapolis Colts on December 14, 2008 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana.  The Colts defeated the Lions 31-21.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Originally Posted on SportsScribes: Detroit Lion's Blog Page

The Detroit Lions need to follow a tried and true plan for success.

I spent some time studying statistics from the 2008-2009 NFL season. I was trying to get a grasp on where Detroit ranked in numerous categories. My goal was to explain why I feel the offensive line is not a big concern like many think.

Instead, my attention was drawn away to another interesting trend. I was looking at the play selection numbers, how many run plays and pass plays, versus how many total yards were gained in each category.

Atlanta, New England, and Baltimore each essentially started a rookie quarterback last season. Other teams, including Minnesota and Tennessee, had quarterbacks that were average or below average on a good day.

So what do these teams all have in common?

They all finished winning seasons and all but the 11-5 New England Patriots went to the playoffs.

What else did they have in common?

They all ranked in the top five for rushing attempts.

Pittsburgh had a capable quarterback but had major concerns on the offensive line when it came to pass protection. They ranked No. 9 in rushing attempts, despite being ranked No. 29 in yards per carry.

Baltimore, in a similar fashion, ranked No. 1 in rush attempts and only No. 22 in yards per carry.

Atlanta was ranked No. 9 in average yards per carry but still ran the ball enough to be the No. 2 team in rushing attempts.

On the other end of the spectrum are Denver, Kansas City, and the New York Jets. They ranked No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5 respectively at average yards per carry. They also ranked No. 28, No. 29, and No. 19 respectively, in rushing attempts per game.

Look at how each of these teams faired this last season. Denver and New York faded as the season wore and Kansas City was never good enough to fade away.

New England, despite often being considered a team that passes to set up the run, is almost a lock in the top ten for rushing attempts season after season.

The old saying in the NFL is that you win by running the football and playing good defense. It’s become quite the cliché. There is a misconception though. People often make the mistake of thinking you have to run the ball well.

The truth is that you don’t have to run the football well; you just have to run the football. The attempts mean more than the yardage.

Detroit has not attempted enough running plays in the last 6 seasons to be ranked higher than No. 26 overall.

Most notably, especially under the current circumstances, is how the Lions responded to Joey Harrington. As I told you before, it is normal for teams to protect the quarterback by running the ball more when they have quarterback or pass blocking concerns.

With a rookie quarterback taking the snaps the Lions did just the opposite. They ranked dead last in attempts. This is the No. 1 reason Harrington failed. There are other factors but none with the statistical proof.

This year rookie Matthew Stafford will likely be the starter for much, if not all, of the season. Also, the same right tackle, left tackle, left guard, and center from last year’s team (that gave up 52 sacks) will be the likely starters.

A questionable pass block and a rookie quarterback mean the Lions have the two biggest reasons to run the ball more. If the Lions do not have 500 rushing attempts this season they will lose more games than they should.

Some other reasons to run the ball more this year include the play of second year running back Kevin Smith. He was a workhorse in college and really began to prove himself last year. He developed more patience at the point of attack and displayed both the strength and the burst needed to gain consistent yardage.

The addition of Dennis Northcutt, Derrick Williams, Brandon Pettigrew, and Bryant Johnson mean teams will have to respect the passing game.

The Lions should see mainly seven man fronts. With the added beef along the offensive line and the addition of a solid full back there does not appear to be a good reason not to run the ball.

Scott Linehan has been able to improve the rushing attack in Miami and St. Louis. Hopefully he will do the same here. Hopefully the Lions follow the blue print that works.

I’m sure Mike Martz won’t agree but it seems simple.


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