32 Questions in 32 Days: Detroit Lions

Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush

Aug 9, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA;Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush (21) runs the ball in the first quarter of a preseason game against the New York Jets at Ford Field. Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

As we count down to the NFL season, XN Sports will be bringing you 32 questions in 32 days. Each day, we’ll feature one of the most important questions for a different NFL team heading into the opening weekend of the league.

Today’s feature team and question?

The Detroit Lions – Can Reggie Bush give Detroit the running game it needs?

Last season, quarterback Matthew Stafford again proved he’s among the league’s elite quarterbacks. His stats dropped off from his insane 2011 season when he amassed 41 touchdowns and more than 5,000 yards, but Stafford was hardly a pushover. The fourth-year quarterback had only 20 touchdown passes on the season, but still racked up nearly 5,000 yards. With 33 interceptions over the past two years, Stafford could stand to cut back on the picks. Make no mistake, though – he’s one of the NFL’s premier signal callers.

Detroit’s aerial attack was one of the best in the league in 2012. Averaging 308 yards per contest, the Lions ranked second in the NFL behind only Drew Brees’ New Orleans Saints. Where the franchise struggled, however, was in the running game.

The Lions expected that 2011 second-round draft pick Mikel Leshoure would be ready to handle the rigors of an NFL running back and turned him loose, giving him the starting job. Unfortunately, despite the threat of one of the league’s best passing quarterbacks, Leshoure still found the going tough. The back rushed for a modest 798 yards on 215 carries, averaging only 3.7 yards per attempt. His nine touchdowns were also overshadowed a bit by his three lost fumbles. Leshoure wasn’t terrible but Detroit didn’t have much behind him. Joique Bell was second on the team with 414 yards but production came to an abrupt halt after that as Lions mainstay Kevin Smith was third-string and averaged only 3.6 yards per carry on very limited carries.

Add it all up and it was a recipe for a below average backfield. The trio led the team to a modest 101 yards per game, ranking the Lions in the bottom third of the NFL. Stafford’s good, but without the threat of a real running attack, teams will learn to simply drop back into coverage and gobble up one of his many interceptions.

Detroit had to do something this year and they did, adding veteran running back Reggie Bush. Can Bush be the answer in the backfield the team needs?

Bush has been roundly criticized since coming into the league, despite being one of the best all-purpose backs at times. The problem earlier in his career was that all of the balls he caught in the backfield only helped to balance out his very average rushing ability. Bush had 161 catches in his first two seasons, but averaged only 3.7 yards per carry on the ground. In essence, he became more known for catching screen passes and exciting kick returns than taking handoffs – and that made him somewhat limited.

Over the past couple of years, though, that’s began to change.

While Bush is catching fewer balls, he’s become a better all-around running back. Instead of averaging 80 catches a year as he did in his first two seasons, Bush has caught only 39 per year in 2011 and 2012. However, he’s also averaged over 1,000 yards on the ground each of the past two years – far and away the most he’s ever had. Bush is also not only running for more total yards, but his per attempt average has skyrocketed to the tune of 4.7 yards per rush in the past two seasons. The change in his game hasn’t kept him out of the end zone, either. His 15 rushing and receiving touchdowns over those past two seasons have been the most he’s had at any other two-year stretch in his career.

A knock on Bush in the past has been his inability to stay healthy. He missed a whopping 20 games from 2007 – 2010 for various reasons, but has played in all but one in 2011 – 2012. Bush is healthy and his production has been there despite getting a bit older.

The Lions are as close to a perfect fit for Bush as can be reasonably found. On a pass-first team, Bush doesn’t need to be over-utilized. He’s handled a sizable load over the past two years, but could be even more effective if he doesn’t need to be relied upon too much.

Look for Bush to add just the spark needed to Detroit’s offense this season.

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Anson Whaley is a freelance writer with more than 16 years of experience. He is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and a current member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA). Mr. Whaley has also been a credentialed member of the media for various events.
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