It's been the major argument for the last four years. The Detroit Lions need more production out of their running game. With Matthew Stafford now locked up by a new contract extension and Calvin Johnson without a top name running mate, that notion has never been more true.
That's why this season more than any other, the pressure will be on a trio of running backs to help out their bigger named offensive teammates. Mikel Leshoure, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell each need to deliver in their own unique roles to take the heat off Stafford and Johnson. The Lions can resemble the 2009 New Orleans Saints, if only they're able to replicate the contributions Pierre Thomas, Bush and Mike Bell made during that season.
Beside the fact that Detroit's defense has the potential to be just as good as the Saints' was, offensively, the parallels are also eerily similar between the two teams. In Drew Brees, New Orleans had a big armed quarterback who hadn't won an important playoff game or lived up to his contract in the minds of many. They had Marques Colston, a receiver with big game potential who Johnson is arguably better than. Behind Colston, a group of decent second options existed in Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem and Lance Moore, any of which could be seen as equal to Nate Burleson, Ryan Broyles or Corey Fuller.
Why was the Saints' attack more potent overall? Out of the backfield, the team could inflict multiple types of damage and routinely did. Bush, playing the same role he will for the Lions, was a slasher who could catch passes and make defenses miss while forcing teams to respect him carrying the ball, too. Thomas was the straight ahead runner with the bulldozer mentality. Bell, an unknown player who could do a tiny bit of both, often played a valuable role both ways when teams forgot him while trying to key up on everybody else.
The movie is being cast as the 2013 Lions attempt to reprise the success the 2009 Saints had offensively. Here's how the all-important starring roles in the backfield should play out next season.
Mikel Leshoure as Pierre Thomas: The punisher. The Lions have a major need for a bulldozer, especially in the tough NFC North division. New Orleans could get away with using Thomas a bit more out of the backfield as a receiver, but Detroit needs Leshoure to pound the ball at defenses a bit more. With solid hands, Leshoure can certainly play up to Thomas's level as a receiver, too. By the way, both attended the University of Illinois.
Reggie Bush as himself: The slasher. Detroit is fortunate to have one of the main cast members from the first movie also starring in their film. Bush can be the same man he was in New Orleans for the Lions, flying around the backfield, catching screens, running the ball and even, perhaps, lining up at wide receiver. If he plays the same way he did for the Saints, Detroit's offense will surely see the benefits, especially with Johnson occupying plenty of attention.
Joique Bell as Mike Bell: The underrated. Neither Bell, Joique or Mike, will be completely respected by defenses. With the bigger name talent that surrounds them, why would they be? Still, each has underrated tools, and can be an asset in the running and passing game. Certainly, as he showed in 2012, the Lions' Bell can be this guy. With Leshoure and Bush occupying attention, Bell can quietly burn teams when given the chance.
As the season begins, the offensive parallels between the 2013 Lions and the 2009 Saints will be interesting to monitor, especially as it relates to the running game. If the team is able to be as opportunistic as New Orleans was defensively that year (45 takeaways), certainly, they should have the perfect opportunity to become their football doppelganger.
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