The Vikings have been struggling against the run in recent weeks, allowing a 100-yard rusher in each of the last four games, but they may have the cure to their problem coming Sunday to the Metrodome when they face the Detroit Lions. Few teams run as rarely as the Lions, who have built themselves into a playoff contender as a passing team with a revolving door at running back.
Through the first half of their 2012 season, the Lions have run 576 plays. Of those, only 202 (35.1 percent) have been rushing plays – and even that is lessened when you factor in that 21 rushes of those rushes were by quarterbacks (we know Matthew Stafford doesn't get designed running plays).
Yet, it doesn't stop there. Of the remaining 181 rushes, 13 of them have been reverses to wide receivers. When all of those runs are stripped away, it has left just 168 rushing attempts by Lions running backs.
Most teams tend to run most often on first downs, but not the Lions. In 227 first-and-10 plays, the Lions have dropped to pass 128 times, while running 109 times. The numbers drop even more on second and third down. Of their 576 offensive plays, only 170 (29.5 percent) have been handoffs to running backs – the lowest percentage in the NFL.
Perhaps the biggest reasons for that have been the failed expectations entrusted to the Lions running backs. In 2010, the Lions swung a trade with the Vikings to get back into the end of the first round of the draft and select running back Jahvid Best. He came to the NFL with a history of concussions and that has plagued him throughout his short NFL career. Blessed with exceptional burst, it has been his injury history that has kept him sidelined more than being on the field. He was supposed to be the primary rusher in the Lions attack but hasn't played all season due to post-concussion symptoms. He has been shut down for the season and many believe his NFL career may be over.
Mikel Leshoure was supposed to be the thunder in the Lions Thunder-and-Lightning backfield, but thanks to off-field issues, he was suspended the first two games of the season. During his suspension, former Lions starter Kevin Smith was signed off the street and responded fairly well, rushing 29 times for 115 yards and a touchdown. However, once Leshoure returned, in the six games since, Smith has rushed just four times for 9 yards.
While Leshoure has been the primary back, after rushing 26 times for 100 yards and a touchdown against Tennessee in his first game, he has averaged just 13 carries a game for just 55 yards a game and has a season-long run of just 16 yards. No. 2 back Joique Bell, who was on the practice squad last year, hasn't been much better, rushing 43 times for 189 yards and going for more than 25 yards just twice all season.
As a team, the Lions have a season-long rush of just 19 yards – the only team in the league that hasn't had a 20-yard run all season. To put that in perspective, 25 of the NFL's other 31 teams have at least one run of 40 yards or more – more than double what the Lions have been able to achieve.
Much of the Vikings' woes over the last four games, in which they have seen their record drop from 4-1 to 5-4 and dropped from the sixth-ranked rush defense after five games to the 18th-ranked run defense through nine games, can be directly attributed to not being able to stop the run. If the Vikings are to make a legitimate playoff run, they will have to stop that bleeding in run defense. Fortunately for the Vikings, the Lions would appear on the surface to be the perfect team to end that defensive slide.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Perfect timing: Lions brutal with the run
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