O'Hara: The Lions aren't overlooking the running game on either side of the ball

Posted Oct 17, 2012

"It was not overlooked by the Lions that in last week’s overtime victory over the Eagles how they dominated the running game on both sides of the line of scrimmage."

The importance of a bed-rock element of football – the running game – isn’t being overlooked by the Lions when 21st Century pass offenses are led by quarterbacks who light up a secondary like they’re playing an arcade full of video games with a universal joy stick.

It was not overlooked by the Lions that in last week’s overtime victory over the Eagles how they dominated the running game on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

On offense, Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell led a running game that produced 138 yards and let the Lions control the line of scrimmage and keep the Eagles’ pass rush off quarterback Matthew Stafford.

On 45 drop-backs, Stafford was never sacked, and the Eagles had only four hits on him.

Stafford struggled through the worst three quarters since his rookie season in 2009, passing for only 91 yards. In the fourth quarter and overtime, he passed for 221 yards and led a 17-point outburst in the fourth quarter to tie the game and send it into overtime.

Jason Hanson won it with a field goal in overtime.

It was just the opposite for the Eagles. They went into the game ranked 10th in the league with an average of 132.2 yards rushing per game and eighth with an average of 4.4 yards per carry.

The front seven destroyed the Eagles’ running game. Their tailbacks were held to 26 yards on 19 carries. An end around by DeSean Jackson early in the game lost 14 yards when Cliff Avril sniffed out the play as though he’d heard it called in the huddle and trapped Jackson for the loss.

Only quarterback Michael Vick was able to gain any ground with his legs, and he did that to get away from the pass rush. Vick ran nine times on designed pass plays and gained 59 yards.

Philly’s final total was 29 carries for 71 yards – an average of 2.4 yards per attempt.

Finding running room against the Lions was as hard as a pro athlete on a losing team in Philly finding friendly faces in the hostile crowd. It wasn’t happening.

Six runs by the Eagles’ tailbacks lost yardage and two other were stopped for no gain.

Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch brings an old-school mentality to football. He studies hard, practices hard and plays hard.

His priority on game day is old-school: stop the run.

“Even though we’re in a passing league, if a team can run the ball on you and pass, you’re in for a long day,” Tulloch said. “If we can stop the run the way we have so far, it gives us a chance going into the fourth quarter.

“For the most part this year, we’ve done a good job of slowing it down. If a team runs the ball on you and is getting five, six, seven yards a pop for four quarters, you’re mentally done. You think, ‘What else do we have to do?’”

The Lions have done well against three backs with glowing resumes. Stephen Jackson of the Rams had 53 yards on 21 carries, Chris Johnson of the Titans 24 on 14 carries and LeSean McCoy of the Eagles 22 on 14 carries.

The combined total for three of the NFL’s best backs was 99 yards on 49 carries.

Adrian Peterson of the Vikings was the only back to go over 100 yards, and he barely made it, netting 102 on 21 runs.

Frank Gore of the 49ers had a good game, with 89 yards on 17 carries.

Winning the battle in the trenches isn’t only about statistics. Emotions and confidence are part of the equation.

There’s an old theory in football about the difference between giving up a touchdown on a long pass play as opposed to having the ball run down your throat on a long drive.

The defense doesn’t get beaten up physically on a long touchdown play. It can be attributed to a broken coverage or a missed assignment.

But a long drive creates a sense of physical superiority. In the warrior mentality, there’s a clear winner and loser.

“You can fix it if it’s a big play,” said defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch. “Obviously, there’s a missed fit, or somebody messed up technique-wise. If a team can constantly run the ball, pick up yards, pick up first downs and move the chains, maybe you’re just not good enough.

“If it’s consistently four, five, six yards a carry on the ground, you’re just not good enough. You need to be better physically.”

Monday night in Chicago will be a test for the Lions to see where they stand against one of the NFL’s most physical teams.

The Bears’ defense ranks No. 1 against the run, allowing 65.8 yards per game, and 10th on offense, with an average of 123.6.

It could be a return to the old Black and Blue division – a night of old-school football.