RANCH EXCLUSIVE: On The Run

IRVING, TX. - Detroit running game concerns LB Bradie James, Parcells.

It seems like every year, when NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue walks to the podium at the NFL Draft to announce the Detroit Lions' first pick, he's always calling the name of a wide receiver.

And as the Cowboys get ready to face the Lions this Sunday, there's no doubt that Detroit's big wide receivers -- Roy Williams, Charles Rogers and Mike Williams -- have the Cowboys' attention. But to listen to Dallas head coach Bill Parcells and linebacker Bradie James tell it, ignoring the Lions' running game could prove very costly.

Parcells called the Lions' trio of running backs -- Kevin James, Artose Pinner and Shawn Bryson -- is as about good as any in the NFL, in part because of the way Detroit head coach Steve Mariucci rotates them.

"Kevin Jones is the lead guy, and he's very talented," Parcells said, "and Pinner and Bryson are very effective changes of pace."

James said that while playing the Lions means preparing for three ball carriers, that doesn't necessarily mean the preparation is any more difficult than it is for a team with one primary back who handles the majority (or all) of the carries for a team.

"It's not harder," James said, "because you know what you're going to get. Kevin Jones is a great runner, a really good talent. Artose Pinner is a really effective change-of-pace guy, and Bryson is a good runner and a really good blocker. If you blitz when he's in there, he can knock you out. He's one of the best blockers in the league. He's kind of like (Washington's) Clinton Portis -- people don't think of Portis as a blocker, but he can really hit you, and when Bryson hits you, he can make you eat your teeth."

James said he expects the Lions to mix up two-back sets with single-back sets, which they will use when they bring three and four wide receivers into the game.

With all the offensive talent Detroit has acquired in recent years, skeptics have questioned why the Lions haven't put up more points. But James said they are capable of doing just that.

"The thing about football is that it's definitely a team sport," he said. "Once everybody (on the Detroit offense) realizes their roles, they'll start gelling. In their last game (Sunday's 29-21 win over Arizona), that's the closest they've been in a while to gelling.

They're really close.

"You look at that offense, and they've got good players at every position, especially at the skill positions. If (quarterback Jeff) Garcia is healthy, I expect he'll play, but whether he or (Joey) Harrington is in there really doesn't matter, because they play a very similar style. It's not like last week, when (Mike) McMahon came in for Donovan (McNabb) -- those guys are really different players. But Garcia and Harrington do a lot of the same things, so it really doesn't matter which one plays."

James said the Detroit wideouts are the "scariest" part of the Lions' offense, but said the key will be limiting the effectiveness of the Detroit ground game.

"We have to shut down the run," he said. "If we don't stop the run, we don't have a chance. If you allow a team to run, you don't have a chance to be effective."

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