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Football Outsiders Q&A Part 2: How much can the Detroit Lions’ running game improve in one year?

The Lions running game is improved, but how improved?

NFL: Detroit Lions at Oakland Raiders Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

The post-Barry Sanders Detroit Lions and a running game go together like oil and vinegar. Try as they might every season, but the Lions just cannot seem to establish the run. They’ve tried back after back and even offensive lineman after offensive lineman, but nothing seems to work.

However, there finally seems to be some hope in Detroit. The Lions have a slew of talented backs headed into 2018, and many believe general manager Bob Quinn added the final piece of the offensive line puzzle by drafting Arkansas center/guard Frank Ragnow with his first-round pick this year.

Throw in a brand-new, experienced offensive line coach and an exciting rookie running back and there’s reasonable justification to be excited about a running game in Detroit.

But how high should expectations be after finishing as the league’s worst rushing attack over the past three years? How high could this running attack rank in 2018?

To answer these questions, we went back to Football Outsiders’ Scott Kacsmar for some answers. If you missed Part 1 of our interview about head coach Matt Patricia’s bend-don’t-break defense, check it out there.

Question 2. The Lions finally have some optimism surrounding their running game. What are realistic expectations for improvement in one offseason?

Kacsmar: Kerryon Johnson was an exciting draft pick, and LeGarrette Blount seems to produce everywhere he goes except for Pittsburgh. The backs always get the headlines, but this was really more of an offensive line issue. The line ranked 21st or worse in adjusted line yards in every direction (left end, left tackle, mid/guard, right tackle, right end). No one had good rushing statistics behind that line last season.

You have to hope that Taylor Decker stays healthy at left tackle, and that rookie Frank Ragnow is as good as advertised. They’re a much better line on paper this year, but it’s also true that players like T.J. Lang and Ricky Wagner are just better suited in pass protection. It’s still going to be more about Matthew Stafford and the receivers, but Detroit definitely needs to see a boost in the running game. Too many resources have gone into the offensive line and backfield for things to not improve there.

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Wednesday’s topic: Can the Lions’ defense succeed without a pass rush?