Detroit Lions place emphasis on ‘efficiency’ in hopes of ‘getting our run game back’

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell, reflecting on a disastrous 37-23 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Christmas Eve, summarized the mistakes by pointing to a lack of aggressiveness, detail and discipline.

“There was a number of different things that showed up that were very uncharacteristic of how we’ve been playing,” Campbell said Monday.

What never showed up — once again — was an efficient running game from the offense, as the first-half deficit forced the Lions to employ an all-out attack through the air in search of a comeback. Irrespective of Saturday’s game script, though, the Lions have struggled to exude power and authority on the ground over the past eight weeks.

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The problem has developed into a trend, and it will be a point of emphasis for the Lions’ offense in practice this week ahead of Sunday’s must-win matchup against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field.

“We just talked about the defense,” Campbell said. “It’s about getting our run game back, too. It doesn’t mean we’re going to hand the ball off more, it means efficiency. We have to be better when we do run the ball.”

In Saturday’s loss, the Lions ran the ball 17 times for 45 yards, producing a season-worst 2.6 yards per carry. Eight of those yards occurred in the first quarter and 13 yards came in the second quarter.

The Panthers, meanwhile, exposed the Lions’ defense with several big runs from Chuba Hubbard and D’Onta Foreman to inflict a 17-point margin at halftime. Detroit’s defense, specifically against the run, took responsibility for the loss.

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Quarterback Jared Goff, who threw for 355 yards and three touchdowns (without an interception), paced the Lions with 15 rushing yards on three carries, followed by measly results from the top running backs: D’Andre Swift‘s 12 yards on four carries and Jamaal Williams‘ 11 yards on seven carries.

Receiver Kalif Raymond chipped in 8 yards on an end-around play.

“We have to get more chunks,” Campbell said. “We have to be better to where it’s second-and-6, second-and-5, second-and-4, (and) it’s not second-and-9, second-and-10 every time we hand the ball off. We have to be better.”

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This isn’t a new issue.

The Lions averaged 5.2 yards per carry through the first seven games of the season and were one of the best rushing offenses in the league, but since then — and despite a 6-2 record — have averaged 3.7 yards per carry in the past eight games.

They finished north of 4.0 yards per carry only twice during the eight-game stretch: Nov. 20 in a 31-18 win against the New York Giants and Dec. 11 in a 34-23 win against the Minnesota Vikings.

“The first thing everybody looks at is the (offensive line) because there’s five of them, and they’re always going to have a big hand in it,” Campbell said. “But it’s also your tight ends, your receivers and the way your backs run. Everybody’s got a hand in this run game.”

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There’s a lot on the Lions’ plate this week. The defense, which allowed 320 rushing yards to the Panthers, must be prepared to contain Bears quarterback Justin Fields. (He ran for 147 yards and two touchdowns against the Lions in Week 10.)

“This quarterback can run,” Campbell said. “We know exactly what he is. He’s dangerous. We know everything with the run game starts with him, so we have to improve our area.”

But the Bears’ run defense is one of their weaknesses.

And the Lions, armed with a reliable quarterback, would benefit from taking advantage on the ground if they want to avoid a shootout.

“It’s up for us to design a good run game,” Campbell said, “and it’s up for them to make it work and finish.”

More work coming soon

Receiver Jameson Williams, the No. 12 overall pick, has averaged 11.3 snaps through the first four games of his NFL career, catching one pass on five targets. He played 17% of the snaps in Saturday’s loss.

Campbell plans to give Williams more opportunities moving forward but didn’t reveal details.

“We’ll get him more reps,” Campbell said

Waiting to hear more

Safety DeShon Elliott, who ranks second on the team with 91 tackles, missed Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury. His status for Sunday’s game against the Bears is unclear at this point.

“I don’t have a clear answer on that,” Campbell said. “(Head athletic trainer) Kevin (Bastin) and I haven’t talked extensively yet on all of the injuries. I’ve got a general idea of guys, but I don’t know where he’s going to be at just yet.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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