| The Detroit News
Pondering who deserved the game ball after the Detroit Lions’ 26-23 win over Arizona Cardinals, your first though might be linebacker Jamie Collins, who forced a pair of turnovers. Or kicker Matt Prater, who made all four of his field goal attempts, including the game-winner. How about wide receiver Kenny Golladay, who came back from a two-game absence to lead the team in receiving, including an incredible touchdown grab?
No, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has a different name in mind: Running back Kerryon Johnson.
If you looked at the box score, or even if you watched the game, that choice might confuse you. Johnson only touched the ball three times, after all. But Bevell made sure to underscore all the small things Johnson executed without being featured in the offense.
“As you just mentioned, Adrian (Peterson) took a little bit more of the running load, but Kerryon really, to me, was player of the game,” Bevell said. “He was phenomenal in his protection pickups, in all the little detailed nuances that we needed, particularly on Jesse (James’) touchdown. He was a huge part of that play.
“His protection pick up, I mean there was one where they were picking in the middle, and he picks up basically both linebackers that were coming,” Bevell continued. “Had some physical plays there. Really, really strong when we handed him the ball. I mean, the two times down there in that red area, the second time we didn’t block the Mike linebacker, he ends up making that guy miss, makes a nice run for a first down.
On James’ touchdown, Johnson set a screen while running his own route, springing the tight end. As for pass protection, it often goes unnoticed, but it’s a required skill to carry the coveted label three-down back.
Detroit’s backfield rotation has been evershifting following the offseason additions of Peterson and rookie D’Andre Swift, and the playing time split against the Cardinals was the most-lopsided it’s been through three games. With 40 snaps, Peterson nearly doubled the total of Johnson (20) and Swift (six) combined.
And despite starting the first two games, Johnson has played the fewest snaps of the trio through three games.
Publicly, all three are saying the right things. To the man, they’ve said wins are more important than they’re playing time or role in the offense. That’s not lip service, according to position coach Kyle Caskey.
“It’s like anybody else, everybody wants their number called, everybody wants the ball,” Caskey said. “But I think they all understand, too, that we’re doing what we can to win. Everybody is in this thing to win. They’ve got a great attitude. It starts with Kerryon, really. The guy has been unbelievable this offseason. Any time anything comes up, he’s the first one to nip it in the bud if something were to come it.
“Nobody is upset about anything,” Caskey continued. “I think everybody wants the ball, but at the same time, they’re all in this thing together. They really get along. It’s probably the most-fun group I’ve had as a running backs coach.”