Barry Sanders and Herman Moore were a model of offensive balance

Posted Mar 22, 2013

Defenses were forced to respect both the run and the pass game when Barry Sanders and Herman Moore shared the field

From 1994 to 1997, Lions fans enjoyed unprecedented offensive success in the form of Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders and wide receiver Herman Moore.
Barry Sanders
RB Barry Sanders (Photo: AP Images)

Over that four-year stretch, Sanders rushed for more than 1,500 yards in each of those seasons and Moore racked up more than 1,100 receiving yards each year.

The Lions had three winnings seasons and made a playoff appearance in 1995, though they lost to the Eagles.

The combination of having a big-play threat in the run game with Sanders and in the pass game with Moore was a lot for defenses to handle. It forced a lot of teams to change the way they had to play the Lions.

"Oh yeah, they had to (change). They had to guess," Sanders told of the way both he and Moore affected the defense. "They had to guess a lot of times. Sometimes they'd load the box, then other times they certainly had to double Herman.

"You have to go and talk to Tony Dungy and all the defensive coordinators that played against us. Bill Parcells and all those guys. Certainly that happened and sometimes they'd guess right – most of the time they'd guess wrong.

"I think (Moore's) the only guy that I can think of that I played with that they would have had to double. So that definitely makes a tremendous difference."

Current Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson has been getting the "Barry Sanders treatment" from defenses going on three and four years now. Teams have double- and triple-teamed the All-Pro receiver, played triangle coverage with a cornerback, linebacker and safety spying him and even put two guys at the line of scrimmage to try and jam him.

The Lions are hopeful the signing of running back Reggie Bush -- and the explosive element he can bring to the run game -- will force defenses to respect both facets of the Lions offense, similarly to the way opponents had to in the mid 90's with Sanders and Moore.

"As a receiver, you enjoyed it because it meant there was less coverage in the secondary that (other receivers and I) would have face," Moore said of playing alongside one of the greatest running backs of all time.

"It was amazing that when teams would try to stack the box and prevent Barry from getting to the second (level) – he was still able to do that."

Moore said defenses never played the Lions the same way they played other teams and that it was always tough to prepare for an opponent by watching film because they never got the same looks.

"We would know that teams would play other opponents that didn't have the dynamics that we had offensively," Moore said.

"They would play a certain scheme up to that point. Then when we would play them, it was all bets were off. We would see everything from all-out blitz packages to where they just played really soft and tried to play more of a preventative defensive set to keep us from being an explosive offense.

"Practice was a little bit tougher because it was all about our discipline. We had to be disciplined in what we did and not worry so much about what the opponent would do, but just be prepared for what may come our way."

Opponents are now doing the same thing to this current Lions team, but with the sole focus of taking away Johnson and the passing attack. There's little respect for the run game that Moore enjoyed.

Teams who don't typically play two-deep safety shells with minimal men in the box currently employ that strategy against the Lions because they don't fear the big-play out of the run game.

The Lions had league-low four runs of 20-plus yards in 2012.

Bush brings the big-play threat back into the Lions offense and Sanders says it will change the way teams defend the Lions.

"I don't know that we could have chosen or picked a better fit -- theoretically -- for our offense," Sanders said of Bush.

"We saw how the results from the little time that (Calvin) had Jahvid, how well the team was performing and we hope that Reggie can add that same dimension."

Johnson had nine touchdowns over the first five and a half games of the 2011 season before Best was lost for the rest of the season to a concussion. The Lions were 5-0 before Best was injured.

The Lions simply want defenses to have to play them more straight up or be forced to pick a strategy and guess it's the right one – like defenses had to do against Sanders and Moore when they had both aspects of the Lions offense humming.