Tue, 24 Nov 2020

NOTEBOOK: Lions' run game off to a solid start

Detroit Lions
23 Oct 2020, 19:25 GMT+10

Tim Twentyman

The Detroit Lions have rushed for 587 rushing yards through their first five contests, which is the most since the 696 they had at this point in the 1998 season when Barry Sanders was toting the rock. Detroit's 117.4 rushing yards per game this season rank 15th in the league.

Veteran Adrian Peterson and rookie D'Andre Swift have become a nice one-two punch in Detroit's backfield, with third-year back Kerryon Johnson carving out a productive role on third down.

Detroit's ability to be more balanced of offense has given Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell some options on the call sheet, and if Detroit can continue to get this kind of consistency from its running game, things will continue to open up in the passing game.

"I think as an offense, you always want to have balance, you always want to be able to run the ball and use the play-action game, and obviously mix of the drop-back and the quick game to complement all of that on early downs," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said.

"I think the more you can do that, the harder it is for the defense to defend all of those different plays. Certainly game plan-wise, it opens up some stuff for you."

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has never really had a steady and consistent rushing attack behind him throughout his tenure. He knows what that dynamic could mean moving forward, just in terms of opening up opportunities in the passing game and the play-action passing game.

"It helps us control the clock, control the game," Stafford said of the production he's seen so far in the run game. "It's a huge benefit to our guys up front. I mean, they're winning the line of scrimmage. They did a good job last week (Detroit rushed for 180 yards vs. Jacksonville).

"This team we're playing this week, their front is really, really good. Really aggressive ... attack ... stunt, pirate and all that stuff. So, we're going to have to do a really good job upfront to handle those guys, but I know the better the run game goes the better our offense will be and they've done a really nice job early on in the season."

Atlanta is currently fifth in the NFL in run defense. They're one of only five teams in the league holding opponents under 100.0 rushing yards per game (97.2).

This will be a good test this week to see if Detroit can continue to be effective running the football.

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O-LINE PLAY

The offensive line has done a nice job all season opening up lanes for those Detroit rushers, and have generally played pretty good football upfront all the way around to start this season.

Detroit's got the highest run-block grade from Pro Football Focus heading into Week 7. That grade also includes the tight ends, receivers and running backs in terms of all-round team blocking for the run, but that grade is still a credit to the big guys up front.

Detroit ranks 11th (by PFF) as a pass blocking unit.

Could this be one of the better units Stafford's played behind in his tenure?

Left tackle Taylor Decker is playing some of the best football of his career. Center Frank Ragnow has established himself among a small group of players at the top of the position within the league. Rookie guard Jonah Jackson looks to be a nice early find in the third round of this year's draft.

Talent and depth. That's what any offensive line group hopes to have, and the depth part certainly showed up last week in Jacksonville, when the Lions had to play eight different offensive linemen. They still accumulated over 400 yards of offense and 180 rushing yards.

"It was impressive that everybody came through like that (last week)," veteran guard Joe Dahl said this week. "There were some crazy things that happened in the game and I think that everybody stepped up. I think that's kind of the strength of our group is how deep we are and how kind of talented everyone is."

COLEMAN BACK TO PRACTICE

Starting nickel cornerback Justin Coleman returned to practice Thursday for the first time since injuring his hamstring Week 1 vs. Chicago.

The Lions haven't activated Coleman off IR yet. They've just begun the 21-day window they have to make that an option. It's unclear if Coleman is in a position to be activated to the 53-man roster and play this week in Atlanta after so much time off and only two practices to prepare, but it's certainly a good trend toward potentially playing next week vs. Indianapolis at Ford Field.

Coleman is Detroit's best nickel corner and arguably one of the team's most consistent cover corners overall.

MERCEDES-BENZ STADIUM

I believe the Falcons have 90 minutes before kickoff to decide whether this week's game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be played under a roof or with the roof open.

"Well, certainly the roof being open and closed is interesting for us," Patricia said. "Just what does it impact, from sun or rain or wind? That will be interesting stuff that we're looking at from that standpoint.

"And then sometimes, we look at the month. Sometimes, what does it look like in October versus September, and kind of as you push along, things change with that. I think all that's part of the game and part of understanding the environment that you're going to play in from that aspect."

The early weather report for Atlanta Sunday is 79 degrees and partly cloudy with a 20 percent chance of precipitation and 4 mph winds.

PLAYOFF PERCENTAGES

Since 1990, teams that begin the year 3-3 have made the playoffs 35.6 percent of the time, according to NFL Media Research. Teams that begin the year 2-4 have made the playoffs less than 10 percent of the time (9.5).

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