It isn’t unusual for an NFL team to feature two running backs, but the Lions could be utilizing as many as four Monday night when they meet the Jets in the season opener for both teams.
Jets coach Todd Bowles went so far as to describe the Lions’ backfield as a “four-headed monster” capable of causing a nightmare. LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah, and Kerryon Johnson offer a deep and versatile rotation of backs the Lions plan to use this year.
“In our backfield, we tried to get as much competition as possible,” said first-year head coach Matt Patricia, the former defensive coordinator for the Patriots. “I think all those guys do things really well. Each guy is a bit different which is good for us and gives us a variance to use them instead of having the four same guys that don’t affect the defense as much.”
Blount, who earned Super Bowl rings with the Patriots and Eagles, signed a one-year, $4.5 million free-agent contract during the offseason and brings experience and power to the lineup. Riddick, in his sixth season with the Lions, and Abdullah, in his fourth year, have been the established dual-threat with Riddick doing much of his damage as a receiver. Johnson is the second-round pick who rushed for nearly 1,400 yards at Auburn last year.
Patricia like the versatility the group offers.
“We’ll make sure it’s not predictable where you can find a run-pass keys based on the personnel that’s out there,” he said. “With our backfield those guys can do one [run the ball] or the other [catch the ball]. I think they do both very well. I think it puts a bind on the defense when you can threaten them with players that can do both.”
Don’t expect Blount to catch many balls. He has rushed for 1,927 yards and 20 touchdowns the last two seasons while earning Lombardi Trophies with the Patriots and the Eagles. At age 31, he welcomes the help a deep list of running backs provides.
“We have a really dynamic room with a lot of really good playmakers,” Blount said. “That’s what I’m excited about. I’m excited to see how it’s going to go. We’ve been grinding hard with our heads down to prepare ourselves to the best of our ability.”
The Lions need a good running game to complement quarterback Matt Stafford. Detroit had just two games with more than 100 yards rushing last year and ranked 32nd in the league with 1,221 total rushing yards on the season. Abdullah led the team with 552 yards on 165 carries and four touchdowns. An upgrade was needed, but the Lions may have approached overkill. Will there be enough footballs to go around?
“We’re worried about winning games right now,” Blount said. “We’re not looking at the touches at this point.”
The uncertainty of how the Lions will use their backfield has the Jets expecting the unexpected.
“It’s the first game. You have to expect the unexpected,” Bowles said. “We’ll go in and try to read our keys and play a good football game.”
One of the’ Jets strengths is supposed to be its defensive line, led by end Leonard Williams and tackle Steve McLendon. But it will be the first NFL game for rookie defensive lineman Nathan Shepherd. Linebackers Darron Lee and Avery Williamson will have to offer run support. The Jets were 24th in the league against the run last year, something that must improve, especially with a rookie quarterback running the offense.
Stop the Lions running game and force Stafford to become one dimensional is the obvious game plan even against four running backs.
“We’ve got to do our best to get Stafford off his rhythm,” safety Jamal Adams said. “He has a lot of get targets and weapons he can get the ball to. Hopefully, we can slow those guys down.”
The Jets are hoping the Lions four-headed monster doesn’t turn into a Monday night terror.
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