The Lions' NFL-best rushing attack has Bill Belichick on notice


It's been 18 years since the Lions had a top-10 rushing attack in yards per carry. It's been 24 years since they had a top-10 rushing attack in yards per game. Entering Sunday's game against the Patriots, they rank in the top 10 in both. In fact, the Lions are averaging more yards per carry (5.9) than anyone in the NFL and more than they ever averaged when they were handing the ball to a guy named Barry.

"They’ve got the running game going in Detroit as good or better than anybody in the league," Bill Belichick said Wednesday.

One more time, for the people in the back: "They’ve got the running game going in Detroit as good or better than anybody in the league."

And yet -- because there's always a yet with this team -- the Lions are also allowing more yards per carry (5.6) than anyone in the NFL and more than they ever allowed when they handed their defense to a guy named Patricia. They have finally found the sun, in the middle of a nuclear winter.

Still, that run game is worth beholding. The Lions entered last week's game against the Seahawks without both of their starting guards, including Pro Bowler Jonah Jackson, and their starting running back and most explosive offensive player in D'Andre Swift and still churned up 145 yards, 5.8 yards per carry and two touchdowns on the ground. (Not to be outdone, their defense gave up 235 yards, 7.1 yards per carry and three touchdowns on the ground.) The NFL's best rushing attack is the foundation of the NFL's best offense.

"They do a number of things well," Belichick said. "They use an extra offensive lineman probably as much as any team in the league. Their backs are good. They run a lot of gap schemes. They marry up the runs and play-actions well, so if you (try to) stop the run, it’s hard to stop the play action. They do a good job of hitting across the board the width of the running game: outside, a lot of off-tackle plays, inside cut-back plays, things like that.

"They have a good scheme, a good balanced attack and they set it up so that if you’re stopping one thing, you can’t stop the complementary play that goes with it, whether it’s a complementary run or complementary pass."

With 164 rushing yards per game, the Lions rank sixth in the NFL. That's a big reason why they also rank fifth in passing yards and why Jared Goff, dare we say it, is playing at an MVP level. Goff lit it up last week with a receiving core of spare parts because an offensive line anchored by Frank Ragnow, Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell forced the Seahawks to respect the run. Jamaal Williams' best game as a Lion was highlighted by a 51-yard touchdown, the Lions' fourth run of 40-plus yards this season.

"They execute well and their backs are good, they make a lot of yards on their own," said Belichick. "Some of the plays are not blocked for the amount of yardage they get. The backs go and break tackles or make guys miss at level two. A couple of those 50-yard gains could have been eight, could have been 10, but the running or tackling, however you want to look at it, led to a lot of extra yards. So tackling is going to be a big issue in this game."

Belichick and the Patriots will do all they can to take away the Lions' strength. It might not matter. The Pats are allowing 5.1 yards per carry, fifth worst in the NFL, and gave up 5.8 last week to the Packers. Whether or not the Lions get Swift (ankle, shoulder) and Jackson (finger) back, they have the recipe and the ingredients they need to keep running it.

"Ragnow, one of the best centers in the league, Sewell, a high pick at tackle, Decker, they got a good foundation on that offensive line," said Belichick.

"Those guys are really keeping everything efficient for us, because that’s really where I believe it starts," Dan Campbell said Wednesday. "And then Jamaal has just been – Jamaal is what Jamaal is. He’s steady, and he gets better the more you give him."

At long last, the Lions have found a running game. If only they could find a defense to go with it.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Nic Antaya / Stringer