By: Will Burchfield
Jim Caldwell isn’t one to gloat, but the words “I told you so” were on his lips.
The Lions rushed for 138 yards in their Week 2 victory over the Giants, buoyed by the backfield tandem of Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick. It wasn’t an electric performance, but it was proof of what Caldwell has preached for a long time: That duo is more than capable of doing the job.
“I think I’ve told you all along, when 21’s (Abdullah) on the field and 25 (Riddick) is healthy, our running game has always been respectable, ” Caldwell said on Thursday. “We are not a team that’s going to run the ball 300 yards in a game, it’s not a wishbone. We just want it to be respectable and I think that’s what we were on Monday.”
It was a bounce-back effort after the Lions were held to 82 yards on the ground in Week 1. Most of the legwork in Week 2 was done by Abdullah, who notched a career-high 86 yards on 17 carries. Detractors might say the team’s rushing stats were inflated by Abdullah’s 34-yard run in the fourth quarter, but Caldwell doesn’t really care.
“It always tickled me from time to time when everybody would say, ‘Well, if you take out this run, you only got this number of yards.’ Well, you’re right, but you can’t do that. It’s all part of it,” Caldwell said. “You can do it if you want to write something that is skewed one way or another in terms of persuading someone to be cautious — we’re coaches, we’re cautious about it. We want to make certain that we see it more than one time, but I do think that we’re getting better.”
It would have been hard to get worse, of course. The Lions ran for just 3.7 yards per carry last year, 30th in the NFL, and didn’t look all that different in the season-opener. But they didn’t back down against a formidable defensive front in New York, and their commitment to the run paid off.
“I was feeling good about the run game,” said offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. “We weren’t hitting five, six, seven yards every single play, we had a few more minuses than we would like, but all in all it felt like the guys were doing a good job up front and the backs were finding the right spots. That’s a big thing as the game goes on for us to get a feel.”
For the Lions, the passing game has become more or less a constant. Even in a muted performance against the Giants, Matthew Stafford threw for two touchdowns. When the rushing attack can carry some of the load, Detroit’s offense grows by leaps and bounds.
The challenge, ahead of a Week 3 matchup with the Falcons, will be turning a performance into a trend. Cutting down on the number of wasted attempts would be a good place to start. Of the Lions’ 32 carries versus the Giants, 13 went for 1 yard or less. (A good number of those, it should be noted, came in the closing minutes when Detroit was running out the clock.)
“We had a good game rushing, but there’s a lot to clean up. Like I said, some zero runs, some minus runs I want to clean up, so we’re far from a finished product in anything that we do,” said Cooter. “I’m not going to kick my feet up on the desk on any facet of our offense and say, ‘Well, we don’t need to work on it. We have it figured out.’ I think we’re still trying to get better.”
They’re not trying to move mountains. But if the rushing attack can take another step forward in Week 3 against the NFC champs, its effort in Week 2 will look even better in hindsight.
Said Caldwell, “What we’re working to do is improve upon that and make certain that our running game is respectable against a great front that we have to face — linebackers that can run and tackle and a secondary that’s outstanding.”