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Football Outsiders: ‘Not unrealistic’ for Lions to have top-16 rushing attack

Is this the year the Lions running game finally turns it around?

NFL: Detroit Lions at Indianapolis Colts Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

With the return of Ameer Abdullah’s health, one of the most anticipated storylines for the Detroit Lions’ upcoming season is whether the team can finally develop a rushing attack. The Lions aren’t likely to turn into a team that relies heavily on the run, but for the past two decades, Detroit hasn’t even been able to threaten defenses with a legitimate running game.

Many believe this has stunted the Lions’ offense and Matthew Stafford’s effectiveness. Without the threat of a running game, play-action becomes less effective, distance on third downs become longer and defenses get much more aggressive.

But how much of a turnaround can we really expect from the Lions in one season? Last year, the Lions’ running game ranked just 25th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. The Lions did revamp their offensive line, but injuries have put into question whether Detroit will truly have a better front five than last year.

To clear up some confusion, we asked Scott Kacsmar what Lions fans can realistically expect out of Abdullah and the run offense in 2017.

Jeremy: Many Lions fans are expecting (hoping for) a big turnaround in the running game with a revamped offensive line and a healthy Ameer Abdullah. What are realistic expectations for this Lions running game that finished 25th in DVOA last year? Is a jump to the top half of the league unrealistic?

Scott: In the book we projected Abdullah to rush for 671 yards, but the expectations are never really high for the Lions in the running game. We have grown accustomed to this being a pass-happy offense, and a team that plays in a lot of close games or shootouts where the passing game has to take over. I like Abdullah and would love to see what he can do with a full, healthy season, but we’re just not sure if the Lions are ever going to utilize him as a workhorse, or if he’ll just continue getting injured as part of this committee approach. It’s also unfortunate that Taylor Decker is injured, casting uncertainty on the important left tackle position for this offense. Still, if Abdullah can stay healthy, it’s not unrealistic for Detroit to have a top 16 rushing offense by DVOA, but perhaps not by yards just due to the team’s offensive identity.

Thanks again to Scott for answering our questions. Tomorrow, we turn to the defense.

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