Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett was asked about Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson in a conference call Wednesday. One of the things Garrett said stood out to him was Johnson's ability to break tackles and gain yards after contact.
Johnson is averaging 3.14 yards after contact this season.
For some backs, the ability to elude tacklers and fall forward is a natural ability. For Johnson, it was learned out of necessity.
"In my opinion, falling forward is the safest way to get tackled," the rookie running back said. "If you're standing up or going backwards people land on you and nobody wants that. If you're standing straight up people swipe your ankles and bodies are on the ground.
"In my opinion, falling forward, just getting a good body lean, it's easier to take the hits that way, and as you know, you're gaining more yards at the end."
Johnson was more of a straight-up runner when he first arrived at Auburn, but an ankle injury he suffered his sophomore season while running upright prompted him to change his style.
From that point forward, Johnson said he made it an emphasis to have a lower center of gravity.
"After a while, it becomes normal, but for some running backs like myself it took me a while (to change running styles), especially the taller you get," said Johnson, who is 5-foot-11 and 206 pounds. "You have to keep thinking about it and thinking about it and just get yourself to do it every play."
The change in style has certainly benefitted Johnson. He was the SEC Offensive Player of the Year as a junior at Auburn, and he's the Lions' leading rusher through three games with 161 yards and a 5.6 average per rush.
LEIGHTON VANDER ESCH PREP
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones confirmed Tuesday that linebacker Sean Lee will miss game time with an injury to his left hamstring.
Lee, Dallas' best linebacker, missed five games last year because of a hamstring injury and 10 games in his career because of it.
Without their defensive leader, the Cowboys are expected to turn to the rookie Leighton Vander Esch to man the middle of their defense. He filled in for Lee after he got hurt against Seattle last week and recorded 11 tackles on 33 snaps. He leads the Cowboys with 18 solo tackles on the year.
The super athletic 6-foot-4, 255-pound Vander Esch is a player Patricia said the Lions took a close look at coming out college this offseason. He was drafted 19th overall by the Cowboys. The Lions selected Frank Ragnow with the 20th pick.
"A big, long, linebacker with a real athletic skillset," Patricia said of Vander Esch. "(He) does a good job of reading zone coverage. Real good run player, he's fast enough to fill and get downhill and then like I said, is a good enough space player with his length, which is kind of unusual to be that long and athletic like that to be able to eat up that much space in a lot of the zone schemes that they do.
"Pretty unique skillset for a player like that. You really can see his development for him to step right in and play well was obviously an attribute for him."
Still, losing a player of Lee's caliber is a sting for a Dallas defense ranked third in total defense and seventh in points allowed.
READ OPTION THREAT
They don't a lot of it, but when the Cowboys do utilize the read-option threat with quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott, it can put a lot of pressure on the defense.
The Cowboys were very successful using it in their win over the Giants Week 2, but didn't use it as much in last week's loss to Seattle.
Prescott is an athletic quarterback and good runner when he takes off. He's the team's second leading rusher behind Elliott, averaging 6.1 yards per carry.
"It's an element that sometimes you see and sometimes you don't," Patricia said of the read option in Dallas' offense. "But when they do run it and they run it effectively, their win percentage just goes way up. It's kind of a duel threat there to handle in the run game. So, that'll be a big challenge for us this week."