The Detroit Lions are hoping “Netflix” airs a re-run this Sunday.
With D’Andre Swift expected to miss his third straight game with a shoulder injury and Jamaal Williams still on the reserve/COVID-19 list, practice squad running back Craig Reynolds appears to be in line for another lead role in the Lions backfield.
Reynolds, nicknamed “Netflix” after Lions running backs coach Duce Staley joked that’s what he was home watching while waiting for an opportunity when the Lions signed him as a street free agent this summer, is coming off a career-best 83-yard rushing day on 11 carries in a loss to the Denver Broncos.
The Lions (1-11-1) host the Arizona Cardinals (10-3) this week.
“The way Craig ran on Sunday was the way he’s been practicing,” Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said. “He was not a surprise to anyone. That’s just who he is. Duce Staley, his coach, calls him ‘Netflix’ because he was home watching Netflix one day, and the next night he was scoring touchdowns. That’s just Craig. We love him.”
The Lions rank 17th in the NFL in rushing at 110.5 yards per game and could finish the season with a run game that ranks in the top half of the NFL for the first time since Barry Sanders’ final season of 1998.
Swift leads the Lions with 555 yards and 140 carries in 11 games, but most impressively the Lions have been able to thrive on the ground all season despite a revolving door of personnel.
Williams, the Lions’ second-leading rusher with 459 yards on 110 carries, missed two games with a thigh injury earlier this season and a third with COVID last week.
Backup running backs Reynolds, Godwin Igwebuike and Jermar Jefferson all average north of 6 yards per carry in limited action.
And the Lions have gotten good play from an offensive line that has been without Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow most of the season and was down left tackle Taylor Decker for eight games.
“I feel like when we can run the football for four quarters, we can run the football on anyone,” Lynn said. “I felt that way from Day 1 and we don’t always have our starters in. Our backups will come in and they’ve done a heck of a job. That’s just something that we have to do better as an offense is staying on the field, doing better on third downs so that we can get more opportunities.”
Lynn said the Lions are running a more simplified version of the scheme he used as run game coordinator with the Buffalo Bills in 2015, when Buffalo led the NFL in rushing offense.
The Bills had a mobile quarterback that season in Tyrod Taylor that helped their numbers, and while the Lions don’t have the same element under center in Jared Goff, Lynn said it’s players who are fueling the Lions’ rushing resurgence now.
“The concepts to me is how you execute the concepts, and then it’s the matchups,” he said. “We’re looking for matchups, getting this guy on that guy. I’ve actually had to scale back. When I was in Buffalo, I had a mobile quarterback. Not to say that J.G.’s not a mobile guy, but we did a lot more things when I was in Buffalo. Here, you’re lining up, you’re running your power game and you’re trying to marry it with your run-action game. But our guys are big, they’re athletic and if they can lean on you for four quarters, man, they can wear you down.”
While Reynolds is in line to start Sunday against the Cardinals, Staley said Jefferson, the Lions’ seventh-round pick, could play a more prominent role in the game plan as well.
Jefferson has 65 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 10 carries this season. Last week, while battling an ankle injury and after missing a day of practice with the flu, he played just three snaps and did not have a carry.
“There’s a good chance you do (see him more this week),” Staley said. “And of course last week, being sick like that and having something that was kind of bothering him a little bit, being out of the building for that one day so wasn’t able to get the full game plan. I was able to go over it with him again, but you kind of like him being a part of it so he can get those reps. But this week it’s different. This week it’s different, so hopefully you’ll be able to see him.”