Wed, 08 Dec 2021

NOTEBOOK: Lions yet to see full potential of run game

Detroit Lions
15 Oct 2021, 19:25 GMT+10

Tim Twentyman

Detroit entered this season with the mindset they had a 1A and 1B option at running back in D'Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams. The plan was to use both players, split carries and go with the hot hand when the opportunity presented itself.

Lions running backs coach and assistant head coach Duce Staley said early in training camp Swift and Williams were going to be his version of thunder and lightning.

Through five games, the plan has played out like the Lions had hoped, minus the record of course. Williams has 55 rushing attempts and Swift has 52. Swift has caught 29 passes and Williams 15.

Swift and Williams are the NFL's only running back tandem to have at least 175 rushing yards and 100 receiving yards each through Week 5. Detroit and Cleveland are the only teams in the NFL to have two running backs each with at least 325 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns this season.

But Staley says we still haven't seen the true potential of the thunder and lightning duo as he envisioned it.

"I like it, but of course we want more," Staley said. "We wish we could be in a situation where we can do that all game. Where we can have the thunder and lightning I talked about earlier in the year.

"Just the situation we've been in when you're behind you can't continue to stick with that mentality of running the ball. You kind of squeeze a few in here and there, but you're up against the clock, you're behind a little bit and you have to kind of speed things up and go to a different package."

To Staley's point, the Lions have trailed by double digits in the second half of every game this season. They haven't been able to use their run game as a weapon down the stretch to ice a game and wear down a defense.

Staley's hopeful they'll soon be in a position with a lead in the fourth quarter to be able to lean on the likely strength of this offense, which is their run blocking upfront and the rushing attack featuring Swift and Williams.

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ST. BROWN COMING ON

Rookie wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown has recorded 13 receptions for 135 yards combined in the last two games and seems to be building a nice rapport with quarterback Jared Goff. Some of that is out of necessity, due to injuries suffered by the Lions at receiver, but it's also been a conscious effort to get the fourth-round pick more involved after he started the season with just 10 targets and six receptions over the team's first three contests.

"Saint's done a great job and I think it's our job to get him involved more," Goff said this week. "It's on me, it's on how we're doing things. We need to get him the ball a little bit, and I think last week we did that (seven catches for 65 yards).

"He's a guy that as a rookie, he doesn't look like a rookie. He's stepped up and he's a guy that four or five years from now, I expect to be in the tops of the league of guys in the slot or even outside that can make those plays and do those things that you'd like to see him do."

BIG V OFF TO GOOD START

Last year was a tough one for Lions guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai. He missed the beginning of the season due to a broken foot and battled through injuries all season long, missing six games total.

Vaitai signed as a free agent last offseason to play right tackle, but ended up playing tackle and guard. After the Lions drafted Penei Sewell No. 7 overall this offseason, they asked Vaitai to make the permanent switch to guard, and it's been a flawless transition for him.

So far this year, Vaitai hasn't allowed a sack or been called for a penalty.

"After what happened last year, I've got a little chip on my shoulder," Vaitai said Thursday. "Wherever the coaches need me I'll be ready for it. I'm just trying to help the offense win a game."

The Lions have rushed 119 times for 515 yards (4.3 avg.) and four touchdowns this season. Of Detroit's 119 carries, more than half have been inside rushes. Vaitai, fellow guard Jonah Jackson and centers Frank Ragnow and now Evan Brown have played pretty well inside for Detroit.

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