The Detroit Lions have tried for years in vain to fix their stagnant ground game, and with their work the last few seasons in the draft, they might have finally accomplished the mission.
Recently, Nate Burleson was asked about a burning question for an NFC North team on Good Morning Football, and for him, it revolved around the ground game for the Lions. How good can it be in 2020? According to Burleson, the answer is a special one that’s been a long time coming for Detroit fans.
It’s possible the Lions’ rushing attack can be better than the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears next season.
“They’ve been a team that has always focused on the pass game. They’ve been a team trying to figure out what their identity is. For the last 4 years since we’ve been doing the show, we’ve waited for the running game to take shape, just a little bit,” Burleson said. “They’ve been struggling with the running game since Barry Sanders retired. I think they’re starting to fix it. Kerryon Johnson showed some moments where he’s done some good things. What they did in the draft, getting D’Andre Swift, that was great for them to fix it. People love D’Andre Swift. It’s almost like him falling to 35 was great, it was the football gods blessing the Lions.”
As a result of Johnson and also Swift as well as the rest of the offense, Burleson believes the time is now for the Detroit rushing attack in 2020.
“I feel like this combination of running backs along with the wide receivers and tight ends they already have, let me make the statement. The Lions could have the best running game on the NFC North for a team who hasn’t had one in quite some time,” he said. “I’m a firm believer in the fact that what they’re building is going to show us that. I feel like the Lions are going to do it this year and be the best running game in the north.”
Detroit’s ground game has been a bottom feeder for years but this would be some development for the team. With the improvements the team made up front this offseason, it might also be reasonable to expect.
Lions Ground Game Still Represents Major Question
Seemingly not since the days of Barry Sanders have the Lions had a solid rushing attack, but over the past few years, they’ve taken steps to fix that. Just how successful can they be, and will their newest draft pick D’Andre Swift play a leading role? That’s the question.
Recently, NFL.com writer Marc Sessler asked a burning question of every team in the NFC. This time around, the question for Detroit revolved around whether or not the Lions have effectively changed the fortunes of their running game as of yet to change their identity.
Here’s his take:
“The Lions under Matt Patricia have talked about morphing into a white-knuckle, beat-you-up offense centered around a punishing ground game. Is that how you think about Detroit’s football squad? Me neither. Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn hope to change that with the addition of the second-round back out of Georgia. Comparing Swift to Frank Gore, draft analyst Lance Zierlein labeled Swift as “a cerebral runner who understands block timing and uses quick-cut agility and rare spatial awareness to read and react to defenses.” Detroit also houses Kerryon Johnson, a talented back who struggles to stay healthy. Throw Bo Scarbrough into the mix and the Lions have a capable stable. If Detroit is determined to become a ground-and-pound force, though, its fortunes boil down to Swift hitting the scene as a major headache for enemy defenders. If he thrives, the Lions might be on to something.”
Not only can the running backs help this out, the fact that the Lions managed to draft a few offensive linemen as well. Jonah Jackson and Logan Stenberg each figure to be important components of changing the team’s identity up front.
Safe to say adding a player like Swift can be huge, and if he can pack a punch and change the team’s fortunes, it seems safe to say their identity will change as well on offense in due time. That’s just what Matt Patricia and company want to see happen.
Lions Credited For Running Game Fixes
Following the draft finishing up, Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com took a look at some of the biggest themes from every team’s performance. When it came to the Lions, it was obvious there was a serious theme and it had everything to do with getting tougher in the trenches and improving what has been a severely weak running game.
“From the selection of running back D’Andre Swift this year and Kerryon Johnson in 2018 to the interior line picks that GM Bob Quinn has made in the last few years, the Lions have invested a lot of capital in improving their running game — but they have yet to see great results. Quinn needs that vision to come together this season. Swift is the type of talent who can put the team’s running game over the top.”
With Kerryon Johnson, Bo Scarbrough and now D’Andre Swift, the Lions have a loaded backfield of former SEC standouts. More than that, the team was able to add guards to their stable in Jonah Jackson as well as Logan Stenberg, affectionately known as “Mr. Nasty.” Those players will try and change the narrative that the team simply can’t run the ball. If a ground game is like a mindset, the Lions have changed their mind more than a bit.
Following the draft, general manager Bob Quinn admitted that his team wants to change how they are viewed and get more physical up front. That will now be the goal heading into 2020.
D’Andre Swift Stats
Arguably the best runner on the board and a player who many figured would go off the board in the first round, Swift is a hard charging back out of Georgia who was tough in his career playing in the SEC. With 2,885 yards and 20 touchdowns in his career, there is little doubting how well Swift would do at toting the rock and fitting in well within Detroit’s backfield situation.
Swift coming from the SEC will be huge for him in terms of being able to fit in seamlessly to the team. Georgia has put a lot of great runners into the league lately, and the hope for Swift is that he can join the squad and become the next runner that follows in the footsteps of players like Todd Gurley, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb. All of them have become great, and Swift could be next. He could help Detroit’s ground game over the top in the process.
That’s just what Burleson sees happening along the way this season.
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