The new and improved Detroit Lions run game was the most intriguing thing to watch for entering the new 2018 season. The additions of LeGarrette Blount and Kerryon Johnson were supposed to reinvigorate a miserable running game. We have now seen two games of the new running game at work and today we will take a look at how the Lions have distributed their carries between their running backs, and where on the field the backs have had the most success.
Ameer Abdullah has been inactive for the first two games of the season, meaning that carries are being shared by Johnson, Blount and Theo Riddick. Blount has been the listed starter for both of the Lions opening games. Due to an injury in the first game and ejection in the second, it was Johnson that took on the most carries in the latter stages of both games. Riddick seems to have been pigeonholed into his receiver role and is getting limited carries. Johnson and Blount have almost equal carries on the season with 13 and 12 respectively.
While Johnson has almost equal touches to Blount he has done a lot more with the opportunities he’s been given.
Johnson has 60 yards on the season, towering over the yardage totals of his two teammates. While none out of the group have even eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the season, the rookie is showing early signs that he may be able to succeed. Four yards per carry seems to be the minimum that any running back needs to be considered a viable contributor and Johnson has reached that mark so far.
The rookie has been much more efficient than Blount. While a lot of this probably feeds more into his style of play compared to Blount (we will get to this later) Johnson’s efficient numbers to start out make him look like a huge upgrade from Abdullah last season.
Detroit brought in Blount to be a power runner that would help them out on short third and fourth downs. While he hasn’t been put to use much in goal line situations just yet—as the Lions haven’t had any—he has already shown off his great power running style between the tackles. Over half of his carries have been straight up the middle so far.
Blount also rarely ever stretches defenses. It seems like the Lions will want to use him as a pure power back between the tackles.
It is hard to judge Blount so far. His two games were night and day, as the Lions run blocking was awful in Week 1 against the Jets but he had adequate space in Week 2 against the 49ers. He has been inefficient running right up the gut and to his left so far and his incredibly high YPC to the right is a matter of small sample size.
The running back’s style and usage sets him up to be relatively inefficient. While the Lions obviously want a running back set to get around 40 percent of the team’s carries to hit that 4.0 mark, they may be fine if Johnson lives up to expectations.
The Lions seem to be easing the rookie into the action so far. While Johnson leads the team in carries at the moment, they seem to have only been in replacement of Blount when he has to leave the game due to an unforeseen circumstance. Johnson got garbage time action against the Jets and was a huge part of the Lions almost-comeback against the 49ers.
Detroit is using Johnson as a complement to Blount. While Blount gets a majority of his carries between the tackles Johnson does a majority of his work on the outside.
Johnson does a lot of zone running to the edge where his burst and vision get put to use. They use him to stretch defenses attack teams on the edge. He has been very efficient on stretch runs so far and that should make Detroit excited for what he can do the rest of the season.
While he has not gotten enough carries to truly stand out yet, Johnson has been the best back of the bunch. If you add in his ability as a pass catcher and blocker he is the most dynamic running back on the roster. It Is very realistic to imagine that Johnson could be taking all of the first and second down snaps from Blount by the end of the season.
Going forward it is likely that Johnson sees more carries on a week-to-week basis before he takes over as a full-time starter. If everyone stays healthy it does not look like either Riddick or Abdullah will siphon off a large portion of carries anytime soon and Detroit may want to keep Blount fresh for goal-line opportunities. The issues the Lions have had in the run game are still far from fixed but at least they have taken a step in the right direction this season—something you can’t say about the rest of the team.