Skip to main content

O'HARA'S FINAL THOUGHTS: Lions looking for help at RB on short week

Lions-Bears Final Thoughts: Thanksgiving has the Lions starting the holiday season hoping for help at running back; looking back at how they did it before in similar situations; how the Bears handle being in the spotlight and Random Thoughts -- change might not be the answer in a rematch; preparing for a quarterback who has barely played and sticking with my pick:

Off the top: Zach Zenner has been an emergency replacement before. He was the running back the Detroit Lions turned to late in the 2016 season, when they were making a playoff run that ended in them surviving a swoon to make the postseason as a wild card with a 9-7 won-loss record.

Then, like now, injuries hit the Lions at running back. Ameer Abdullah went out early with a foot injury. Theo Riddick went out late with a wrist injury.

The Lions were one of the surprise teams, riding a five-game winning streak for a 9-4 record that had them on top of the NFC North with four games left.

Unfortunately, the Lions sustained an injury that they couldn't overcome – a broken finger on Matthew Stafford's right (passing) hand that robbed him of strength and accuracy. The Lions ended the regular season with three straight losses. They lost on the road to Seattle in the wild card round.

Zenner started the last four games, plus the playoff loss. He'd also played semi regularly before that. In the last six games he carried 52 times for 224 yards, three touchdowns and an average of 4.4 yards per carry.

Nobody on this roster matches the breakaway ability to get through creases and accelerate the way rookie Kerryon Johnson does.

But if Zenner is called on to carry the load for any period, I doubt the Lions would be disappointed if he gives the offense the steady production he had two years ago.

1993, replacing Barry: First of all, nobody replaces Barry Sanders. There hasn't been another runner like him – in Detroit or anywhere else – since he retired before the 1999 season.

But the Lions had to play the last five games in 1993 when he went out with a knee injury.

The lead on a story in one local newspaper read "The Franchise Limps" when Sanders went down. It almost limped – and collapsed. The Lions had started to slump before he got hurt and continued the slide to 7-5 after a 7-2 start.

The Lions used a combination of Eric Lynch and Derrick Moore and won three of the last four games to finish 10-6 and win the old NFC Central. The season ended in one of the most painful losses in franchise history when Packers wide receiver Sterling Sharpe was left alone in the end zone to catch the game-winning pass in the final minute.

2011, last hurrah: Kevin Smith was fairly productive as the Lions' third-round draft pick in 2008, but he was out of football when they called him for help in the backfield.

He signed in Week 10 of 2011 and played sparingly in his first game. He had the game of his life the next week in a win over Carolina. Smith had 140 yards rushing, 61 receiving and scored three touchdowns. He was named the NFC offensive player of the week.

The Lions went on to make the playoffs as a wild card with a 10-6 record. Smith didn't do much after that one big game, but at least he had a hand in them making the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

Bears revival: They're one of the NFL's glamor teams, and in a much different way than the touchdown machines like the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams.

The Bears are led by their defense, but with enough offense that they aren't considered a one-dimensional team. After four straight last-place finishes in the NFC North, the attention the first-place Bears are getting could be a distraction.

It's happened to other teams, but the Bears seem intent on validating themselves as playoff contenders.

'Out whole model all year long is just one week at a time," head coach Matt Nagy said this week. "We talked about poison in the noise, and whether that's critics or whether that's a lot of praise. We don't care either way."

Random thoughts:

On changing the plan: Just wondering what might confuse an opponent more in the second game in 12 days. Would it be changing the offense – or running the same plays from the previous game, with the opponent expecting something new?

The realistic answer today, as head coach Matt Patricia said Tuesday, is that there were a lot of plays left on the call sheet that the Lions could use in the first game when they got behind 26-0. And the same for the Bears, who were protecting that lead.

Special teams: I don't remember the Lions recovering an onside kick in two straight games. Nick Bellore recovered one when the Lions were trying to get back in the game in the previous game against the Bears. Zenner recovered one last week against Carolina that let the Lions run out the clock.

QB Chase: If Bears starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky can't play because of a shoulder injury, how do the Lions prepare to face backup Chase Daniel, who has thrown three passes in the last four years? As Patricia explained, they prepare to stop the offensive system that Nagy picked up as an assistant under current Chiefs head coach Andy Reid.

On the run: The Lions' offense is better off when it gets LeGarrette Blount in situations where he's most effective. That's short yardage and goal line, not carrying on first and 10.

Sticking with my pick: Time, travel and the tradition of starting our holiday season with the Thanksgiving Day game have more to do with this pick than strict football analysis.

Lions 19, Bears 12.

Related Content