By: Will Burchfield
After carving up a feeble Colts defense for 116 rushing yards in Week 1, the Lions’ ground game will get its first true test of the season in Sunday’s home-opener versus the Titans.
In sizing up the Tennessee defense, one characteristic stands out.
“Being able to stop the run, no question,” said Matthew Stafford. “These guys are a physical front, that’s always been a huge hallmark of (head coach Mike Mularkey) wherever he is. Those guys play hard, they play physical.”
The Titans lived up to that reputation against the Vikings in Week 1, holding Adrian Peterson to just 31 yards on 19 carries. The seven-time Pro Bowler didn’t record a single rush of ten yards or more.
“That gives you a pretty good indication that they’re really good up front,” said Jim Caldwell. “Minnesota can run the ball with the best of them and they’re built to run the ball. For (the Titans) to be able to contain arguably one of the best rushers the game’s ever known and keep him at bay, it tells you a little something about the structure there and the personnel they have, too.”
Caldwell pointed to defensive end Jurrel Casey and linebacker Brian Orakpo as two Titans who could pose problems for the Lions offense.
“Casey presents a little different challenge because he is so powerful,” Caldwell said. “Orakpo’s a guy that’s been around and played very, very well for them.”
“But they have a good front overall. Obviously Dick LeBeau’s been coaching defense for a long time, so he’ll have those guys in the best possible position to give you the most problems.”
Lebeau, Tennessee’s 79-year-old defensive coordinator, shares Mularkey’s penchant for shutting down the run.
“It’s sort of been known around the league that he makes it really difficult to run on. I think it’s sort of (Tennessee’s) philosophy around there. I think it’s something that they think is really important. So I think they’re going to put a lot of resources into making it really tough on us to run it,” said Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter.
The Lions rushing attack fulfilled Cooter’s credo of being “effective and efficient” against the Colts. Both Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick averaged over five yards per carry. The Titans defense, meanwhile, held Peterson and the Vikings to just 2.3 yards per carry. On Sunday, something’s gotta give.
Rookie left tackle Taylor Decker likes the Lions’ chances.
“They do have good personnel up front and they are disruptive, talented, but if we go out and execute what we do, good things will come of that. Again, I’m going to rely on the coaches to maintain a balance, put us in the proper situations to gain yardage and just execute my technique when I’m told,” Decker said.
There’s no doubt the Lions excelled in the running game in Week 1. Whether that was a reflection of a team strength or a weak opponent remains unclear. Sunday’s matchup with the Titans will go a long way in providing an answer.
“Tennessee is a really physical front, they do a really good job against the run,” Stafford reiterated. “It’s a challenge for us – something we’re looking at, and trying to find a way to attack it.”