Will the steps Bob Quinn has taken to fix the Detroit Lions running game work?

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 16: Tion Green #38 of the Detroit Lions runs the ball against Eddie Jackson #39 of the Chicago Bears during the first half at Ford Field on December 16, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 16: Tion Green #38 of the Detroit Lions runs the ball against Eddie Jackson #39 of the Chicago Bears during the first half at Ford Field on December 16, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Lions had the worst running game in the NFL in 2017. General manager Bob Quinn has taken a lot of steps in the right direction in 2018.

The Detroit Lions have compiled a 9-7 record in each of the last two seasons despite having some extremely obvious and exploitable roster holes. In 2016 the Lions had no linebackers that should start in the NFL. In 2017 the Lions had no linebackers that were ready to start in the NFL. Will the Lions have linebackers that actually deserve to be on the field in 2018?

The Lions pass rush has also left a lot to be desired in each of the last two seasons. Ziggy Ansah compiled 12 sacks in 2017. Nine came in three games, and most of the others involved little or no impact from the Lions franchised defensive end. The Lions running backs were, to a man, without exception, in every situation, terrible in both of the last two seasons as well. The Lions have not had a competent defensive tackle group since 2014.

They don’t pay me enough to lie to you. I have some serious concerns about the 2018 off-season. Bob Quinn, for his entire tenure, has taken the path of trying to find free agents that can do more than their previous teams have asked of them. In some cases like Marvin Jones jr. it has paid off. In many others, Akeem Spence for example, it has turned out that the player simply did not have more to give. Which side will Devon Kennard and Christian Jones fall on?

No roster is perfect. Even the Superbowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles had exploitable holes in their roster construction. None of those holes were nearly as obvious or important as those in Quinn’s island of misfit players. The Lions GM has made some moves to plug up the holes, but the question is, will it be enough?

Say what you want about Jim Caldwell, he has the highest winning percentage of any modern era Lions head coach. He did that despite only having an above average roster in 1/4 of his seasons. Head coach Matt Patricia and his crew of Syracuse (are they a football powerhouse?) alum have their work cut out for them. The biggest problem the Lions had last season was the running game.

The first thing the Lions have done in the offseason is to not double down on bad bets along the O-line. Travis Swanson played like a starter three years ago but has had injury issues since. Previous regimes would have given Swanson another offseason to come back healthy. They likely would have held his starting spot for him. What Bob Quinn did was sign several players who performed as well as, or better than, Swanson last year. Kenny Wiggins and Wesley Johnson have both performed as NFL starters at the same level as Swanson in their previous positions.

Quinn was not done there, however. In the Draft, he added Frank Ragnow in the first round, and Tyrell Crosby in the fifth. Crosby is unlikely to see any time on the field. He does ensure that Joe Dahl will be able to focus completely on his switch to guard. Crosby will compete for a swing tackle backup role with Corey Robinson and the surprisingly mediocre (I mean that in a good way) Brian Mihalik. Last year a single injury at a starting offensive line position meant that Quinn had to go dumpster diving and dig out players like Zac Kerin to actually play. This year the Lions have with depth, and that competition will serve them well.

The second reason for optimism regarding the running game is that Quinn did not repeat his mistake at running back. In 2017 Quinn had faith in Ameer Abdullah. So much faith that he didn’t bring in any competition or even a competent backup. The Lions did not even bring in a short yardage specialist to take that load off Abdullah’s shoulders. The Lions did not even take a flyer on a day three prospect in one of the most loaded RB drafts in a decade. Quinn screwed up.

This year Quinn drafted Kerryon Johnson in the second round. The Lions also brought aboard a LeGarrette Blount to handle short-yardage duties. The Lions built their running back depth from the top down. They did so to the point that we are unsure what if any role Abdullah has with the team.

Ron Prince was the only coach to immediately lose his job with Jim Caldwell. The man in charge of implementing the least effective, most poorly thought out running game in the NFL, was shown the door. In his place, the Lions brought aboard Jeff Davidson.

Davidson was an offensive coordinator in the NFL from 2006-2010. He was in charge of the 2300 yard rushing season shared by Johnathan Stewart and Deangelo Williams in 2009. Both running backs reached the 1000 yard mark. That has not happened since and seems unlikely to happen again. He was also, more recently, the offensive line coach for the best per game production Adrian Peterson, Melvin Gordon,  and C.J. Anderson have had to date. Jeff Davidson was a very good hire.

Next: Lions roster preview: defensive end

Running backs need the linemen in front of them to open holes. The linemen need the running backs to identify those holes and exploit them. All of the players need the coaches to design plays that they can run. The coaches also make sure everyone understands their part within the greater concept, not just their own part. New running backs, new linemen, and new coaches have all come aboard to fix the Lions biggest problem. Whether they were the right linemen, backs, and coaches remains to be seen. All signs are positive so far.