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NOTEBOOK: Lions sticking with hot hand approach in backfield

Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn and running backs coach Duce Staley both talked Thursday about strongly believing in the "hot hand" philosophy to divvying up carries in the backfield.

As a result, Detroit's backfield carries have been almost evenly split on the year between D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams.

Williams, who is coming off a strong game in Chicago last week, leads the way on the ground with 42 carries for 187 yards and two touchdowns. That comes out to a 4.5 yard average per carry.

Swift's carried the ball 41 times for 139 yards (3.4 average) and a score. Swift's done more damage as a receiver, catching 23 balls for 199 yards and a touchdown. Williams has 13 receptions for 93 yards.

"It just gives you equal opportunities where either dude to get hot and just keep rolling with it and give our team the best chance to win," Williams said Thursday.

"Just going in every game just trying to do my best every time I get the opportunity to get the ball. Just being on the field helping my team make positive plays. Just having fun."

Lynn, Staley and head coach Dan Campbell talked about this setup back in the spring after Williams signed a two-year free-agent deal in Detroit. The Lions liked their complementary styles. It gives them a way to keep both backs fresh, but while still having the opportunity to ride one in a particular week if they get hot.

Williams' 4.5 yard average per rush is top 15 in the NFL among backs with at least 40 carries. Detroit has had to abandon the run in every game so far this season. They've trailed in the second half and had to throw to get back in it.

Williams said we haven't seen the best of him yet, and he can't wait for the week when the Lions have a late lead and turn to him, Swift and the run game.

"I feel like I'm learning and catching onto things quick," Williams said of the evaluation of his play so far. "I feel like now I can start using my ninja instincts a little bit knowing where to go."


Detroit's defense has done some good things through four games. They're second in the NFL in third-down defense, and have shown an ability to rush the passer (nine sacks).

But one thing that keeps showing up every week as a problem area is allowing big plays. Detroit's allowed 23 plays (19 pass, four rush) of 20-plus yards to opponents in four games. Only Miami has allowed more (25).

"That's the one area that we've got to look at, and as coaches, too," defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said Thursday. "How do we get these guys in situations to where they're not giving up these big plays?' I was always told by Bill Parcells, 'How many times do we've got to get hit in the face with a skunk before you smell it?' And that's a true statement.

"So, we have to do something also to be able to help these guys and we have done some things now, for the player and coach, the players have got to execute, the coach have got to put them in positions to where they can execute and be at their best."


It's been a rough year and a half for veteran outside linebacker Trey Flowers. He was limited to just seven games last year after injuring his forearm in early November. A knee injury suffered Week 2 in Green Bay this year has prevented him from playing the last two Lions contests.

So it's been good to see the defensive captain back on the practice field this week as he's trending toward making a return to game action Sunday in Minnesota.

"I take pride in this game, just playing this game," Flowers said Thursday. "To go out there and be able to compete."

Flowers' return is good timing for Detroit following the tough news this week that fellow outside linebacker Romeo Okwara is done for the year after suffering an Achilles injury in Chicago last week.

Flowers said it will take a group effort between himself, Charles Harris, Austin Bryant and Julian Okwara to keep things rolling on the edge without Romeo. Detroit's nine sacks on the year are tied for 13th in the NFL, just one outside the top 10, and half of those have come from Harris (3.0), Bryant (1.0) and Flowers (0.5), so the expectation is for Detroit's edge rush to stay potent.


Something to keep in mind this week as the Lions hit the road to take on Minnesota looking for their first victory of the year: Road teams are a combined 33-31 this season (.516 win percentage), which is the sixth highest win percentage by road teams through the first four weeks of a season since the NFL merger, per NFL Research.

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