It’s been a question plaguing Detroit Lions fans ever since the retirement of Barry Sanders. What can the team do in order to have a stable running game, and why hasn’t it played out consistently over the years?
According to the man himself, it revolves around more than just the position. Recently, Sanders sat down with Heavy ahead of the 2021 season, and was asked his take on the team’s classic struggles at the spot he made famous in the Motor City.
Sanders was quick to remind that football remains a team sport, and other things have gone wrong over the same span that have contributed to the problems on the field.
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“Honestly, our problems have been in a lot of other places,” Sanders told Heavy. “If you look at the last couple years, you look at defensive yards, how we’ve been the worst and second-to-worst in the NFL. If you’re telling me that teams can come in and say ‘OK, we’re going to be able to put up 400 yards of offense against this team,’ that’s pretty much what teams have been averaging against the Lions the last few years. That’s not acceptable.”
On the other side of the ball, Sanders admitted the Lions haven’t been that great either, and when combined with a bad defense, the problems have been compounded. Plus, Detroit had a superstar wide receiver to use as a crutch for their offense and a changing league to deal with at the time.
“Offensively, we’ve been kind of near the middle-of-the-pack, so if you’re middle-of-the-pack offensively and last defensively, that math just doesn’t add up,” he said. “I think also, really the league changed as well as far as running the ball and the emphasis on running. Obviously, we also had one of the league’s best wide receivers in Calvin Johnson and there wasn’t much of a need to run the ball.”
Still, at this point, Sanders knows the focus needs to be more on the future than the past, and what the team can do to flip the script moving forward for good.
“My mind is, we’ve got to shore things up now with what we have and hopefully, we’ll start that this year,” he said.
The positive news? Sanders believes the Lions could have the right guy to help in doing just that in running back D’Andre Swift.
Sanders Thinks Swift Can Be ‘Very Valuable’ for Lions
With Swift starring at times during his rookie year in 2020 to the tune of 878 all-purpose yards and 10 total touchdowns, it’s looked as if the Lions have one of the next potential solid running backs in the league. Sanders sees those traits within the runner too, and thinks he could be poised to have a big season running the ball as a result of what he has already done, providing he can take the right steps in his development.
“I think the time between your first year and second year, you normally really get a chance to see what kind of a player a guy is going to be. Because a lot of guys come in and make a big splash, and some guys continue on from that or some guys fade away. It will depend on how much work, time and effort he’s put in this offseason readying himself. What I saw last year, I saw a guy who really adjusted well to the pro game, he still showed good speed, the ability to elude tacklers and make plays. So I think he can be very valuable in that offense for Jared Goff.”
In relation to Goff, Sanders admitted he’s bullish on the new quarterback’s role with the team moving forward, especially given he will be paired with Swift, a player Sanders thinks he can grow with in the future.
“I just love how young those two players are. That can really be a nice combination, two very stable pieces for our offense going forward for a lot of years,” Sanders explained.
Seeing if Swift can evolve into a great running back with Goff by his side will be very interesting for fans to monitor starting this season.
Sanders Excited for ‘Fun’ New 2021 Pepsi Promotion
During the start of a new season, there is a lot of optimism for everyone from players to fans, and that is also true for former players like Sanders. What has helped that along even more this season is his partnership with Pepsi, which has taken another exciting turn for 2021.
Sanders’ latest endeavor with the brand titled “Made for Lions Watching” adds a special wrinkle to the new year. The Hall of Famer paired with Pepsi in order to help fans prepare in the best way possible for their tailgating and game-day experiences, and he spoke passionately about the campaign, which includes a miniature version of himself in a commercial coming to offer motivation and advice to football party planners.
“It’s been great for me to team up with Pepsi for this “Made for Lions Watching” campaign,” Sanders told Heavy. “We’re just celebrating all those loyal fans out there and how they prep for game day with the best food and Pepsi. There’s no better combo than Pepsi, food and football, so we created a lot of content with the little virtual reality mini-Barry just virtually coming to fans’ living room and helping them in their kitchen for whatever their preparations are for game day. It was a fun thing for me to do teaming up with Pepsi.”
Here’s a look at the new ad:
Fans can visit MadeForLionsWatching.com where they can get recipes, VR content from Sanders himself and a chance to enter sweepstakes where they can win team gear, experiences and a signed helmet from Sanders.
Hopefully, Lions fans will have plenty to cheer about at home, in Ford Field and around the tailgates this fall. As Sanders knows, Swift could hold a key to plenty of that excitement as a key piece for the team’s offense both now and in the future.