(ALLEN PARK, MI) -- Most observers wouldn't put Lions' running back James Stewart and the NFL's leading rusher, Priest Holmes, together in the same sentence. But a look inside the numbers show that Stewart compares favorably with Holmes and almost every other standout back in the NFL.
Stewart, who has compiled just 206 yards rushing, is averaging 4.7 yards per carry. That puts him on par with the best in the league, including Holmes, who is averaging 4.9 per carry.
In fact, a look at the top 10 rushing leaders in the league show Stewart's per carry average is as good or better than seven of the top 10 including the Saints' Deuce McAllister, the Bengals' Corey Dillon, the Panthers' Lamar Smith, the Jaguars' Fred Taylor, the Colts' Edgerrin James, the Ravens' Jamal Lewis and the Bills' Travis Henry.
The problem is the Stewart hasn't gotten the carries. The eight-year veteran has just 44 attempts, compared to 120 for Holmes and over 100 for six of the top ten rushing leaders.
Some of that can be chalked up to a strained left knee ligament that cost Stewart a game (the opening loss to Miami) and to the bye week, but it's clear that Stewart can be a factor for the Lions -- if he can stay healthy and get a bigger work load.
While Detroit tried very hard to sign former Tampa Bay scat back Warrick Dunn to a free agent contract, Stewart has put up the numbers, despite not having the speed and elusiveness of the smaller backs favored by the west coast offense teams.
Stewart is not the prototypical west-coast offensive type running back, but he's proven he can be effective both running and catching the ball. Another factor is that Stewart is more effective later in the game. After he had a few carries, Stewart appears to run 'downhill'.
The statistics don't lie. In the first and second quarters of games, Stewart averages 4.8 yards per carry, but in the fourth quarter, Stewart production increases considerably to 5.2 yards per carry. That is a huge number.
Pundits say that Stewart is too often injured to be relied upon as an every day back. In fact, Stewart has played in all sixteen games just twice during his eight year career. Those same pundits believe that Detroit needs a younger, more durable back.
Stewart says his critics don't see the whole story.
"It's very hard for a running back in this league. That's why we don't last long," said Stewart. "That why you don't see guys go on playing 15 or 20 years. We take the most pounding out of everybody. We're getting hit all the time. Obviously, sooner or later, some things are going to break down."
Others point to the fact that Stewart has only eclipsed the 1,000 mark once in his career and that the Lions attempts to lure Dunn, Ricky Watters and others show that Stewart doesn't have what it takes to be "the man."
"If I was going to be offended, I would have been offended a long time ago," Stewart said. " If he [coach Marty Mornhinweg] feels like he needs depth or he feels like he needs somebody else, Marty's got to do what Marty's got to do. He's got to coach the team."
But critics can't ignore Stewart's impressive average per carry and his ability to catch the ball and run with it. Stewart has eight catches (tied for second on the team) for 56 yards, a 7.0 yards per catch average. But the most exciting was a catch in the Green Bay Packers loss when Stewart caught a short pass from Harrington, cut back inside the middle of the Packers defense and rumbled 52 yards for a touchdown.
Maybe Stewart isn't the answer in the long-term for Detroit. But the numbers say Stewart isn't a bad horse to ride in the interim.