Ameer Abdullah was inactive for the second straight week on Sunday, and the reasoning isn’t all that clear. The Detroit Lions are in the middle of a desperate playoff run, and it would seem like the team would want one of their bigger threats out there on the field. Granted, Abdullah’s play had not been up to par over the past few weeks, but from a pure talent standpoint, you’d be hard pressed to find a better back on the roster.
Then Ian Rapoport dropped a bombshell, saying that Abdullah was healthy enough to play, but the Lions were merely benching him.
#Lions RB Ameer Abdullah (neck, questionable) is not expected to play today, source said, though it's more for play than injury reasons. Detroit is trying other players to improve the run game.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 10, 2017
Could that possible be true or was the injury more severe than Rapoport is letting on? Here’s what we know:
What reporters are saying
Ian Rapoport hasn’t exactly been the strongest source on Lions injury news. He falsely reported that Eric Ebron suffered an Achilles injury during last year’s mock game when it was only an ankle sprain. Just this year, he reported the Lions were expected to get Jarrad Davis back for the Vikings game in Minnesota, but hours later, Davis was declared inactive.
However, Rapoport isn’t the only one who was told Abdullah was cleared medically to play this week against the Buccaneers. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, who has a spotless record reporting on the Lions, was told the same thing.
Ameer Abdullah is available to play today if the Lions want him on the field. Neck injury is not keeping him out.. https://t.co/76lyv5XCra— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) December 10, 2017
So some anonymous source told Lions reporters that Abdullah was healthy enough to play. But...
What Jim Caldwell said
The Detroit Lions head coach was asked about NFL Network’s report, and Caldwell seemed to imply that the injury had something to do with their decision.
“We don’t go into details about everything, but obviously he’s still nursing an injury,” Caldwell said according to DetroitLions.com. “But he’s coming along. I think he’ll be ready to go here shortly."
That seems pretty clear that the Lions were being cautious with Abdullah and that we can expect him to play soon.
But that seems to directly contradict the reporting out there. So what is going on? Here are three theories.
Theory #1: Caldwell is being misleading in an effort to protect his player
Jim Caldwell has never been one to throw his players under the bus. I’m not sure you’ll ever see him directly proclaim that he benched a player. If you remember last year when the Lions very clearly benched Golden Tate in the second half against the Bears in Week 4 after a miscommunication caused a late interception, this is what Caldwell said of the decision:
“We move him around quite a bit. We gave Andre an opportunity. Andre obviously deserves—and it was our plan beforehand—then he came back in.”
So we have precedent of Caldwell being, at the very least, misleading about a player’s situation in order to protect him. That could certainly be what’s going on.
Theory #2: The media has false information
Reporters get things wrong. It happens from time to time. It’s part of the reason why “fake news” is a thing right now.
And if it were just Rapoport claiming that Abdullah was essentially benched, then I may believe that this could have simply been erroneous reporting. However, Birkett is as solid of a Lions news resource as there is. I don’t think the media has this one wrong. Instead, I think this is what really happened:
Theory #3: Abdullah was healthy enough, but not healthy
Just because Ameer Abdullah was reportedly cleared to play does not mean he was anywhere near 100 percent. Neck injuries are fickle and prone to reinjury. Jarrad Davis missed at least one game due to a neck injury this year, despite being cleared from concussion protocol.
Here’s how I see it: The Lions really liked the matchup that Theo Riddick provided against a weak Buccaneers defense. That notion turned out to be very true, as Riddick scored twice on the ground and hauled in six catches for 64 yards.
Seeing that mismatch and a not-100 percent Abdullah, they probably figured there was no reason to push Abdullah into the lineup. Riddick is a similar back, and he’s much healthier. Why not give Abdullah an extra week of rest?
One of the prevailing theories was that Abdullah was benched so that the Lions could “see what they have” in other backs like Tion Green. However, that didn’t appear to be the case on Sunday. Green was hardly part of the gameplan, seeing just 13 offensive snaps and five carries. Both of those numbers were way down from last week.
So if Abdullah was truly benched, why? To me, the only thing that really makes sense is that they like the way Theo Riddick is playing and they didn’t mind giving Abdullah one more week to recover.
Based on Caldwell’s comments, I think we can expect Abdullah to come back to the lineup, perhaps as soon as next week. It’s obviously not clear what his role with the team is anymore, as Caldwell also refused to call Abdullah his No. 1 back—something the team has never shied away from in the past.
But to call this a true benching seems like a reach. I think Abdullah will play again in 2017 and have a somewhat significant role going forward.