Detroit Lions Must Split Backfield Carries to Revive Stale Run Game

Brandon Alisoglu@@BrandonAlisogluCorrespondent INovember 20, 2015

Detroit Lions running back Ameer Abdullah (21) during warm ups prior to an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals at Ford Field in Detroit, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)
Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

The Detroit Lions are on pace to have the worst rushing attack in the 32-team era.

They are currently averaging 66.9 yards per game, which is the lowest mark seen since the 2000 San Diego Chargers (66.4 YPG). To put that in perspective, it would currently take the Lions two-and-a-half games to catch the 31st-ranked Cleveland Browns (on their bye this week).

The schematic issues have been covered extensively. Outside zone runs, or stretch runs, don't play to the offensive line's talents. Then again, the lack of said talents is a problem in and of itself, but that's a different discussion.

No, the issue for today's dissection is even simpler than either of those topics. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter discussed the team's running back situation on Thursday, per the Detroit News' Josh Katzenstein:

Cooter on Lions RBs: We’re not going to give 100 percents of the reps to anybody. We’re going to split the responsibilities up as we have.

— Josh Katzenstein (@jkatzenstein) November 19, 2015

This is an excellent idea on its face. Optimize the particular specialties of certain running backs by placing them in their best respective positions to succeed.

Makes sense, right?

But then Cooter went on to explain the way he sees things as it relates to Joique Bell, per Paula Pasche of the Oakland Press:

#Lions Jim Bob Cooter on Joique Bell: He's a productive running back - there are certain run schemes with different guys ...

— Paula Pasche (@paulapasche) November 19, 2015

At this point, this has become one of those Facebook discussions where one person refuses to capitulate to the undeniable facts that have been presented. It's a stubbornness usually reserved for the playground but has somehow persevered into adulthood.

Weren't we all supposed to become smarter simply by virtue of becoming adults?

Detroit's Available Running Backs
Ameer Abdullah682403.51
Joique Bell441162.61
Theo Riddick20643.20
George Winn1000

The sad truth is that Bell's inspirational and awesome story has probably come to its end, at least for this season—if not for his career. He continually tried to bounce it outside against the Packers, and the defense had no problem adjusting to track him down.

Whatever burst he had before a series of leg injuries hasn't returned to the field with him. 

Hopefully, Cooter understands that sobering reality, as evinced by his juke move on a direct question about Bell's standing, per CBS Detroit's Ashley Scoby:

Jim Bob Cooter on Joique Bell's continued no. 1 spot: We like to give the ball to a lot of backs

— Ashley Scoby (@AshleyScoby) November 19, 2015

Bell could garner a few carries a game moving forward, but he shouldn't receive almost three times as many as Ameer Abdullah (14 to five against Green Bay). And those carries must come with strict instructions to keep it between the tackles and fall forward.

Furthermore, Detroit must feed its second-round pick early and often. He's the only one capable of making two or three guys miss deep in the backfield in an effort to turn a negative rush into a positive one, as he did twice against Green Bay.

Plus, his athleticism and vision have been proven by his work in the return game, via NFL Network's Rand Getlin:

#Lions rookie @AmeerGuapo leads the @NFL in kickoff return yardage with 670. He's averaging 31.9 (!) per return.

— Rand Getlin (@Rand_Getlin) November 16, 2015

Granted, Abdullah is Detroit's leading rusher on the season in both number of carries and yards. He's had a chance to take the lead role and was benched because of his four fumbles, per's Tim Twentyman:

Cooter admitted that ball security has limited Abdullah's role up to this point.

— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) November 19, 2015

Yet that's an issue for a team with a legitimate chance at the playoffs. Since the Lions don't play in the AFC South, they don't have a smoker's chance of winning the Boston Marathon.

In all seriousness, Abdullah is the only running back on the roster who can give Detroit a viable running game.

Theo Riddick is a great pass-catching complement who should receive just enough carries so that defenses can't predict it's a pass simply because he's on the field. The only argument for George Winn to steal snaps is if they're taken from Bell.

So, yes, Detroit needs to split carries, but it must start using the right players in the proper situations. Abdullah is capable of handling everything outside of the short-yardage situations. Split those between Winn and Bell as appropriate and let Riddick get two to three carries a game to keep defenses on their toes.

Otherwise, the 2-7 Lions could keep throwing the ball over 60 percent of the time and tell us that the ground game is close. That seems to be working well.

Brandon Alisoglu is a Detroit Lions Featured Columnist. He also co-hosts a Lions-centric podcastLions Central Radio. Yell at him on Twitter @BrandonAlisoglu.


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