The Detroit Lions have relied a lot on the right arm of quarterback Matthew Stafford since he entered the league in 2009.
Over that span, Detroit's rushing attack has ranked in the top 20 in the league just once (17th in 2013). They've ranked 28th or worse five times.
Stafford will take the ball and sling it 50 times a game if that's what it takes to win, but having more balance, and the ability to ice a game or win one on the ground, was something GM Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia wanted to try to add to the Lions' offense this offseason.
Stafford has some new weapons in that regard with the additions of running backs LeGarrette Blount and Kerryon Johnson and guard Frank Ragnow.
For a quarterback who's gotten used to having to carry most of the load on offense, Stafford likes what he's seeing from this revamped running back group heading into Monday night's season opener against the Jets.
"Yeah, they're super talented," he said this week. "We've got a bunch of talented guys, a bunch of guys that have different skillsets. We've got all different shapes and sizes back there and those guys are doing a good job for us."
Monday night will be a good test for that running back group and for the ability of the big guys upfront along the offensive line to open holes for the backs.
From 2015-17 the Jets' defense ranks seventh allowing just 100.1 rushing yards, fourth with a 3.79 average per carry and fifth with just 28 total rushing touchdowns allowed.
"I want us to run the ball efficiently and effectively," Stafford said of the run game in general. "I don't care if everybody's involved, (it) doesn't matter to me. I just want us to be as tough to defend as possible and that's what we're trying to be.
"I think it can be effective in a lot of areas. Obviously short yardage, goal line, four-minute, closing out ball games, all that kind of stuff. And then obviously, the more efficient you can be with it the first three quarters of the game, too, is a positive move. Getting a couple first downs a game, running the football would be huge."
Jets head coach Todd Bowles referred to Detroit's backfield as a "four-headed monster" on a conference call this week. On paper, it looks like the Lions have some versatility, experience and youthful playmaking ability amongst that group of ball carriers.
"We're excited to see what's going on," Blount said after practice Friday. "We're excited to see how it's going to go. We've been working hard. We've been grinding hard. There's no light at the end of the tunnel, man.
"We put our head down and we grind and grind and grind and prepare ourselves to the best of our ability and then we go out and showcase on Monday."
We'll see starting Monday if this revamped backfield can finally give Stafford some help in the form of a consistent rushing attack.
PATRICIA VS. BOWLES
With everything that will be new to Patricia coaching his first regular season game Monday at Ford Field, the opponent (Jets) and opposing head coach (Bowles) are familiar foes to Patricia.
The Patriots and Jets duked it out for years in the AFC East.
"Definitely familiar with some of the personnel," Patricia said this week about the Jets. "Some of the scheme will be similar but, again, Todd does a good job with the defense of keeping it moving so it's not really the same week-in, week-out. And with (Jeremy) Bates (OC) on the offensive side of the ball and (Rick) Dennison (o-line coach) coming in, I think that will look a little bit different."
Patricia, as the Patriots defensive coordinator, squared off against Bowles' Jets six times over the last three seasons. The Patriots were 5-1 in those contests. In the victories, Patricia's defense held New York to an average of 13 points and 75 rushing yards.
In Bowles' lone victory, Week 16 of the 2015 season, his Jets notched a 26-20 victory and put up 428 yards of offense, 143 of those on the ground.
"Obviously, I think Matt's out on his own, he can do a lot of things," Bowles said of Patricia in a conference call this week. "I don't know what he's done in the past, but he's very intelligent. I know he's a damn good football coach and he'll have some things up his sleeve and we'll have our work cut out for us."
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018.
The Lions claimed defensive end Romeo Okwara off waivers from the New York Giants Monday. Getting a close up look at him during the three days the Lions spent practicing with the Giants ahead of their second preseason game gave Detroit a better understanding of the player they were getting.
"I think the opportunity to get a look at a guy that has some good length, has good pad level, plays strong," Patricia said. "We got a good look at him here when we had a chance to work with those guys. So, a guy that maybe could do a couple different things for us from a multiple-level position. So, we'll get a good chance to look at him here for a little bit."
Okwara has good size and length (6-4, 272), and played a number of different roles with the Giants in his first two seasons in the league. He thinks he'll fit nicely into Detroit's multiple-front defense, but before he can do that he needs to get the playbook down.
"I definitely love the defense," Okwara said Friday. "It's very versatile, and that's how I like playing. It's definitely a fun defense to play in. I'm very excited to get to learn it and dive into the playbook."