O’HARA’S FINAL THOUGHTS: Johnson looking to run against stingy Eagles' defense

PHILADELPHIA – Lions-Eagles Final Thoughts: Kerryon Johnson takes over, tough running against the Eagles, Week 3 a step-up week and Random Thoughts on Jarrad Davis, Eagles overcoming injuries, Sticking with my pick and why, and more:

Kerryon Johnson suddenly has become more than the lead running back on the Detroit Lions’ depth chart.

He’s also the senior back in terms of service after one season and two games with the Lions. He’s the only back remaining who was on the 2018 active roster, and one of three who were with the team during the offseason program.

Rookie Ty Johnson, a sixth-round draft pick, and fullback Nick Bawden, a 2018 seventh-round pick who missed his rookie year with a knee injury, were also in the offseason program.

“It’s a little strange, but that’s the turnover in the league,” Johnson said. “A lot of people come in, and a lot of other guys are going out.

“I’m the only one here from last year, and the only one here from summer except for Ty (and Bawden). It’s weird like that. It is what it is.”

Kerryon Johnson has been untouched for a reason in the running back turnover that included the release earlier in the week of veteran C.J. Anderson. He was drafted in the second round last year to play a key role for the long term as a runner and receiving threat out of the backfield.

He has shown he can be an impact player in both roles. In 10 games as a rookie he rushed for 641 yards and three touchdowns, with an average of 5.4 yards per carry. He added 32 catches for 213 yards and one TD, with an average of 6.7 yards per carry.

He hasn’t broken a run of 10 or more yards in the first two games. He has 28 carries for 90 yards, and a 3.2-yard average. In last week’s win over the Chargers he ran 36 yards for a touchdown on a screen pass.

Johnson has faith that the Lions can crack an Eagles' defense that has been stingy against the run.

“Everybody gives up eventually,” Johnson said. “No matter how good the run defense is, you’re never perfect. This is a whole new week, a whole new offense they have to deal with.

“It’s all stuff we can fix.”

Run stat to note: Yards have been hard to come by for Johnson in the first two games – 49 against Arizona, 41 against the Chargers. The Eagles have given up 85 yards in the first two games, an average of 42.5 per game, and 2.8 per carry.

Good Lions, 2018: Teams should start to play their best ball right now, with the first two regular-season games getting them in shape after what amounts to four weeks of dance lessons in the preseason.

There is no guarantee of a repeat, but that was the case for the Lions last year. It was Week 3 last year when they started to play their best ball.

After starting 0-2, they went 3-1 in the next four games: a win at home over the Patriots, a road loss to the Cowboys on a final-play field goal, a win at home over the Packers and a road win over the Dolphins – who were 4-2 at the time.

That got them to 3-3, but the momentum fizzled fast. They went 3-7 the rest of the way.

Bottom line: It’s a different year, and the Lions should be a different and better team.

Random Thoughts:

Eagles soared: Injuries will limit their offense’s options, but it should not be forgotten what head coach Doug Pederson did in 2017 after quarterback Carson Wentz went out with an injury in Game 13. Nick Foles took over the rest of the way and led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl championship. Replacing a receiver or two – or more – is one thing, but it doesn’t match replacing a quarterback.

(And remember that the Bears beat the Lions last Thanksgiving with backup QB Chase Daniel.)

Caution flags are out. Take nothing for granted.

Jarrad Davis, rusher: Assuming he’s back, I wonder what he’ll add to the Lions pass rush after working in the offseason with a pass rush specialist to beat one-on-one matchups. He had six sacks last season mostly as a blitzer. The offseason work added a new dimension to his game.

Jarrad Davis, scramble stopper: I doubt that Chargers QB Philip Rivers would have strolled for 12 yards on third down last week if Davis had been in the game. There would have been some collision if Rivers didn’t slide.

Returns: Interested to see who’s back on punts and kickoffs. Jamal Agnew was replaced midway through last week’s game for a poor performance that included fumbling a punt that the Lions recovered. Catching the ball is Job 1. Everything comes after that.

Darren Sproles role: The Eagles’ 36-year-old running back has a limited role, but he can be dangerous – as he was in Week 1 vs. Washington. He led the Eagles in rushing with 47 yards on nine carries, had three catches for 16 yards and returned four punts for 46 yards. Sproles can’t carry a team, but he can be a difference-maker on a given play.

Sticking with my pick: After posting my pick in Friday’s Lions-Eagles Checklist – it was 27-23 Lions – I didn’t see much support for the pick. For example, Trey Wingo was the only member of ESPN’s Friday Panel who took the Lions. And I think I caught my neighbor shaking his head when we both were retrieving our trash containers Friday morning.

No matter. I like the Lions because it’s time for them to show their identity for 2019, and because they’ll take advantage of a wounded opponent instead of failing as they have in the past.

Pick: Lions 27, Eagles 23.

No change.

And good luck, Trey Wingo.

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