Barry Sanders says Lions' running back duo is 'tough to defend'

MIAMI – There are few running backs in the league anymore who carry the majority of the load in the running game for their teams. Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey and Ezekiel Elliott come to mind, but those are more of the exception than the rule around the league these days.

There were a half dozen running backs with at least 300 carries in a season 10 years ago. Henry and Elliott were the only two to reach 300 this year. More and more teams are using a running-back-by-committee approach, the best example being the Super Bowl bound San Francisco 49ers, who had three running backs finish within 14 carries of one another this season.

The Detroit Lions are expected to continue to utilize the talents of running backs Kerryon Johnson and Bo Scarbrough next season, a duo that complemented one another nicely to end the year. Lions Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders thinks Detroit's found a good duo moving forward.

"I think it's tough to defend," Sanders said on radio row at the Super Bowl Wednesday of having two good runners to throw at a defense. "I think for Matthew Stafford, it can only help to have a more balanced attack.

"It's a formula that we've seen work many times in this league. You'd think that'll be something that'll factor into every game next year and we have every reason to believe it'll net good results."

Sanders was at radio row Wednesday promoting Rocket Mortgage's Super Bowl Squares Sweepstakes.

When Johnson and Scarbrough got to share Detroit's backfield the final two weeks of the season vs. Denver and Green Bay, the results were good.

They each averaged better than 4.0 yards per attempt in those contests, and the Lions averaged 4.6 and 6.8 yards per carry as a team in those last two games. Detroit had 171 rushing yards Week 17 against the Packers.

It was a small sample size late in the year, but Sanders was certainly impressed with what he saw.

"It reminds you of just a lot of the great combos you've seen in this league," he said. "Like Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, to think of the most recent one that played in a Super Bowl. (Johnson and Scarbrough) is exactly what that is. You would think that would certainly be figured into next year."

Bradshaw and Jacobs shared the backfield in the Giants' improbable run to a Super Bowl championship in 2011. The two combined for 1,230 yards and 16 touchdowns that season. Bradshaw carried the ball 171 times that season and Jacobs 152.

"I thought they complement each other well because really they kind of do the same things," Lions running backs coach Kyle Caskey said last week of Johnson and Scarbrough. "They both have the ability to run like a big back, but they also have the ability to get out in space and do some things."

The Lions should like what they have in Johnson and Scarbrough, and be hopeful both can stay healthy in 2020 – that's been an issue particularly for Johnson his first two seasons.

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