Generally speaking, there is a fair amount of concern about the Detroit Lions’ running game heading into the 2012 season. Running back Jahvid Best is on the PUP list due to the concussion he suffered early last season, and, as is typical with concussions, his return date remains unclear, even if head coach Jim Schwartz and company believe he will be ready to play in week seven.
Meanwhile, running back Mikel Leshoure will miss the first two games of the season thanks to a suspension stemming from two offseason arrests related to marijuana. That leaves the Lions shorthanded at that position headed into the regular season opener against the St. Louis Rams. Kevin Smith will presumably start, while Keiland Williams will likely be the primary backup. However, while Detroit may have reason to fret when they play San Francisco in week two, the Lions should not be concerned about their matchup against the Rams.
Last season, which Leshoure missed in its entirety while Best missed most of the year, the Lions decided against finding running game and instead decided to let Matthew Stafford air it out, which made sense considering the quality of the Lions’ receiving corps. Stafford threw the ball 663 times en route to 5,038 yards passing. The Lions should have no problem throwing the ball against the Rams. Their defense is on the rise, but they are without defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, and they have a long way to go based on last season’s numbers. The Rams, by Football Outsider’s advanced statistics, ranked 21st in defense last season. They were decent against the pass, ranking 14th, and they added some good pieces to their secondary this offseason. Still, can they match up with Detroit’s passing game? That feels unlikely.
However, against the run they were 27th and for a lot of the season they were dead last. Meanwhile, after joining the Lions midseason, running back Kevin Smith ran pretty well, rushing 72 times for 356 yards and four touchdowns. His average yards per carry was 4.9, which is a good total. Admittedly, he boosted his numbers against Carolina’s terrible rush defense, as the Panthers finished last in that area of the game according to Football Outsiders. Nevertheless, Smith has shown himself to be a pretty good running back when healthy. The issue for him has always been health, as his ankle injury in Detroit’s third preseason game indicated.
Despite that, Smith should be good to go for Detroit’s season opener on Sunday. The Lions won’t likely ask too much of him, but when he gets the ball, he shouldn’t have much of an issue going up against the Rams’ defense. Smith should at least be able to do enough to keep St. Louis honest, which is really all the Lions need. Detroit has playoff hopes, and they can’t afford to blow a game at home against the Rams. Not having Best or Leshoure hurts, but what Detroit does have in the running game should suffice for at least this contest.
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Chris has been a diehard Detroit Lions fan through the good (Barry Sanders) and the bad (Matt Millen) and that love has led him to take jobs writing about sports, including as a fantasy sports “expert.” His work can be found on Examiner.com.