| Detroit Free Press
Can Detroit Lions get back to .500 at Carolina? Our guys break it down
Free Press sports writers Dave Birkett and Carlos Monarrez preview Sunday’s Detroit Lions game against the Carolina Panthers.
Adrian Peterson was in lockstep with just about everyone else when he learned the Detroit Lions were replacing him with D’Andre Swift as their starting running back.
“I was like, you guys should have did this two or three weeks ago,” Peterson said Friday.
Swift made his first career start in his ninth NFL game last week against Washington and totaled 149 impressive yards from scrimmage in a 30-27 Lions victory.
Peterson saw limited work for the fourth straight week — he has not played more than 20 snaps since an Oct. 18 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars — but with Swift ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers because of a brain injury, will be back atop the Lions’ running back rotation again.
Running backs coach Kyle Caskey said Friday that Peterson will start against the Panthers, and that Kerryon Johnson will share the workload in Swift’s absence, with Jonathan Williams mixed in.
“Honestly, for me, it is what it is,” Peterson said. “I’ve been fortunate to start for every team I’ve played for. To be coming in as a backup, I don’t really have an issue with it. Know why they drafted this young guy, but it’s kind of how it is.”
Peterson, a likely first ballot Hall of Famer when he retires, and Swift have been heading in opposite directions since the Lions signed Peterson as a free agent in early September.
Peterson led the Lions with 93 yards rushing on 14 carries in a season-opening loss to the Chicago Bears and replaced Johnson as starter two weeks later, but has not topped 40 yards in a game since Sept. 27.
Swift, meanwhile, had a breakout 116-yard rushing game against the Jaguars, but played as a reserve, splitting time with Peterson and Johnson, until last week.
He leads the Lions with six touchdowns on the season — four of them rushing — and is averaging nearly a full yard per carry (4.7) more than Peterson (3.8) and Johnson (3.7).
So why did it take so long for the Lions to make Swift their starter?
“If you look at snap counts, yeah, Adrian started the games, but really D’Andre was taking the bulk of the snaps and it just didn’t happen to be the first snap of the game,” Caskey said. “I do get that there’s a process to that, ‘Why don’t (you) just do it?’ But again, you got to remember, the kid didn’t have an offseason, didn’t have a preseason, missed all of training camp pretty much and just there’s a process to getting him up and ready for everything that’s going to be thrown at him in that role and it just felt right last week. It felt like it was the time, and unfortunately this happened.”
Swift, a second-round pick out of Georgia, missed the bulk of training camp with a hip injury, which was at least partially the impetus for the Lions’ acquiring of Peterson.
Still, Peterson said he saw Swift’s talent early on, and figured it was only a matter of time before the rookie took over as starter.
“It didn’t take me long at all,” he said. “Just seeing the talent that he has, the ability as well. And you look at the Detroit Lions, they’ve never been a team that really ran, ran the ball. It’s been, you’ve got Matthew Stafford back there and some amazing, talented receivers, so it’s always been a team that’s kind of relied on passing the ball.
“So for me, my mindset was being able to contribute from that aspect and when there’s a need for us to pound the ball down someone’s throat, then we’d have the ability to do that as well.”
The Lions have not done much pounding of the ball this season. They rank 25th in rushing yards per game and 23rd in red zone efficiency, but have the chance to change that Sunday against a Panthers team that has held just two of its 10 opponents below 115 yards rushing this year.
Peterson said he is not looking at Sunday’s game as a chance to prove he deserves the starting job again, only as an opportunity for the Lions (4-5) to get a much-needed win
“I understand the business that I’m part of,” he said. “So in my mind it never was anything that I did to lose a spot. It was more so what this kid was doing and what we’re doing offensively as far as play calling. So it made sense to me.
“I’m here to try to win. That’s my main objective. Of course, I want to play. I’m a competitor. So when I heard the news (Swift was out), the first thing was like, ‘What’s going on?’ My concern is for his health, so it kind of threw me off. But then after that it’s like, ‘Hey, OK, the young guy’s down and as a running back room we’ve got to step up and handle our job.'”