It’s been 84 years and the Detroit Lions still haven’t been able to have a single rusher gain 100 yards in a game. Well, not quite that long — it’s “only” been 69 straight games, all the way back to Reggie Bush on Thanksgiving Day in 2013.
But the Lions’ struggles to run the ball go back even longer than that, and every year the Lions make attempts to fix their running game to no avail. This year was supposed to be different, though. They picked up two-time Super Bowl champ LeGarrette Blount in free agency, reuniting him with Matt Patricia. They spent another second-round draft pick on Kerryon Johnson, who had a promising preseason.
Yet, their futility on the ground continued in their season-opening 48-17 loss to the New York Jets, looking not the same as always but somehow worse.
The Lions gained just 39 yards on the ground and averaged 2.6 yards per carry. Here’s how they divvied out their carries (2015 second-round pick Ameer Abdullah was — yikes — a healthy scratch in this game).
- Theo Riddick: 4 carries, 20 yards
- Kerryon Johnson: 5 carries, 17 yards
- Matthew Stafford: 1 carry, 6 yards
- Matt Cassel: 1 carry, -1 yards
- LeGarrette Blount: 4 carries, -3 yards
Yes, their leading rusher was Riddick, who has about 1,000 more receiving yards in his career than he does rushing. Blount left in the third quarter with an injury, but he still ended up with negative yardage.
In recent years, Detroit has tried to invest serious assets into the offensive line. The Lions used first-round picks on Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow, and spent money on guys like T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner in free agency. Still, the Jets’ defensive line was able to manhandle the point of attack.
On just 15 rushing attempts, the Jets were able to nab three tackles in the backfield. This play with Steve McLendon blowing up the offensive line and Jamal Adams coming in for the finish is a pretty accurate summation of their attempt at running the ball.
Part of the reason why the Lions couldn’t really run the ball is because the game escaped them in the second half. The Jets had a three-minute sequence where they scored three touchdowns and ran away with the game in the third quarter.
But Detroit never had a coherent rushing attack before that. When the score was tied 17-17 early in the second half, the Lions had just nine carries for 18 yards. Right before halftime, facing second-and-goal from the Jets’ six-yard line, the Lions ran the ball with Riddick, who is decidedly not a power back. They settled for a field goal two plays later.
It’s just one game and things can get better, but this looked extremely similar to what the Lions have produced over the last decade. With the 49ers, Patriots, and Cowboys coming up on the schedule, they’ll have opportunities to get that elusive 100-yard runner. But given their track record it seems hard to fathom.