They’re a Ford-owned product that doesn’t run, but the head mechanic promises this will change. No franchise has provided less ground support to its starting quarterback than what the Lions have given Matthew Stafford since he entered the NFL in 2009. Detroit running backs have produced only seven individual 100-yard performances during Stafford’s 125 career starts, the
They’re a Ford-owned product that doesn’t run, but the head mechanic promises this will change.
No franchise has provided less ground support to its starting quarterback than what the Lions have given Matthew Stafford since he entered the NFL in 2009. Detroit running backs have produced only seven individual 100-yard performances during Stafford’s 125 career starts, the last one coming by Reggie Bush during the 2013 season.
Detroit’s collective production is just as putrid. The low point of the Stafford era came in 2017, when the Lions ranked last in average rushing yards per game (76.3) and per carry (3.36).
Whose fault is this?
“I think blame can get passed all around the organization and it starts with me,” Lions general manager Bob Quinn told co-host Gil Brandt and me Monday night on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “I’m in charge of delivering the players and hiring the head coach.
“If anyone wants to point a finger as to why the running game did not work last year, they can point it at me.”
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The problems began last offseason with a flawed premise.
Quinn believed Detroit’s core group of running backs — Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner, Dwayne Washington and Tion Green — would be good enough to generate a credible rushing threat if nothing else. Quinn had witnessed first-hand that a running back-by-committee approach can thrive during his time working in New England’s personnel department before becoming Detroit’s general manager in 2016.
The Lions never came close to enjoying that kind of success. A 49-year-old Barry Sanders showed more elusiveness playing dodgeball in a 2017 Quicken Loans commercial than any member of Detroit’s showed did in a game.
A rusher who can potentially serve as Detroit’s bell cow is high on Quinn’s offseason priority list.
“I’m sure we’re going to add someone to the group there,” he said.
Quinn also felt an offensive line bolstered by the pricey signings of free agent guard T.J. Lang and right tackle Rick Wagner would pave the way for improvement. But that plan began to crumble when left tackle Taylor Decker suffered a torn labrum during the offseason and Quinn failed to find an adequate replacement. More injuries across the line followed, which mitigated the positive impact made when Decker returned in Week 10.
“We had 10 different combinations starting,” Quinn said. “That probably didn’t help things.”
Neither did some less-obvious issues.
“When you talk about running the football, it’s the whole system,” Quinn said. “It’s the tight ends. It’s the receivers. Are they getting downfield to get the second-level blocks? Is the quarterback making the right checks at the line of scrimmage to get us in the right plays? A lot of things go into the running game.”
That includes coaching. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and running backs coach David Walker are being retained, but changes were recently made at two other staff positions critical in the run game with new assistants hired to handle the offensive line (Jeff Davidson) and tight ends (Chris White).
The 2017 Lions still finished 9-7 despite their rushing woes, but that record wasn’t good enough to save the job of head coach Jim Caldwell. Quinn’s comments about last season paint a picture about why the change was made.
“There were a lot of good points and a lot of disappointing games where I thought we had a really good chance to win close games and we couldn’t,” Quinn said. “We really didn’t perform really well in the clutch situations.
“I really think our season boiled down to a couple of games that could have gone either way and we ended up on the wrong side of the slate.”
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It’s now on Quinn and new head coach Matt Patricia to get the Lions in position to win their first playoff game since the 1991 season. That starts with providing the kind of quality ground attack needed to take pressure off Stafford and Detroit’s defense from having to carry too much of the load.
“I promise our players and staff that I’m going to be leading the charge to fix that,” Quinn said.
Or in this case, applying some Fix-a-Flat to a running game with deflated wheels.
Alex Marvez can be heard from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET Tuesday through Thursday on SiriusXM NFL Radio.