Lions-Dolphins Final Thoughts: The running game a real weapon in the Lions' offense; Ameer Abdullah's real value; Brock Osweiler's real problem (interceptions); sticking with my pick and Random Thoughts – Kerryon, Gore and more.
The five games the Detroit Lions played before last week's bye do not represent a large sample size or guarantee anything from game to game – including today's -- but there was enough evidence to show that the run game is no longer an afterthought in the offense.
Two key stats show progress from last season: 97.2 yards per game compared to a league low of 76.3, and 4.3 yards per carry compared to 3.4, which tied for the league's worst.
Those stats are skewed low somewhat because of how the Lions were forced to abandon the run when they faced big second-half deficits in losses to the Jets, 49ers and Cowboys.
For head coach Matt Patricia, who came from New England where no phase of the game was unimportant, having an effective running game is to be expected.
"My take on football just in general, the run game always has to be a part of the game," Patricia said. "In my head, my vision, it's run, pass – all that stuff should work together all the time.
"We're going to continue to work hard at it every single week to make sure that it's part of a balanced offense, which is what you need. When you get in those games, it might not necessarily work out where you can stay balanced again, depending on how the flow of the game goes.
"But you always want to go into a game that way, to make sure that both of those avenues are handled correctly."
Ameer Abdullah's value: Abdullah does a lot of things, and he does them well – run the ball, catch the ball out of the backfield, return kickoffs. Above all, he keeps his head in the game and is always ready to play.
He's been an insurance policy as an extra running back, and he could give the Lions a good return if he's called on today. Nothing he does well or contributes should be a surprise.
Abdullah stats to note: As a rookie in 2015 Abdullah led the NFL in kickoffs (37) and kickoff return yards (1,077), and his average of 29.1 yards was second highest in the league for any player with 15 or more returns. He had four returns of 40 or more yards, second most in the league, and 33 of at least 20 – by far the most.
Abdullah's been active for one game this season – the win over the Packers – and his only kickoff return went for 30 yards.
Brock Osweiler: He gave the Dolphins a surprising lift as the emergency starter in last week's overtime win over the Chicago Bears, but don't expect a repeat of his performance last week – 380 yards passing and three touchdowns – except for the two interceptions. In his 26 career starts, including Sunday's, Osweiler has 29 touchdown passes against 28 interceptions.
On Kerryon Johnson: The rookie running back's workload could increase if the Lions have a lead in the second half and the offense is rolling.
Johnson averaged 10 carries a game in the first five games – 50 for 286 yards and a TD. He had double-digit carries in two games, and the Lions won both – 16 carries for 101 yards vs. the Patriots, 12-70 vs. the Packers.
However, experience works both ways for a young running back. The more carries Johnson gets, the more he'll learn to adjust to what defenses are trying to do. But it's the same for the defense. They'll get a line on him. Who adjusts better wins the chess match. Odds should favor the runner.
On Frank Gore, career status: He's a good player and a great story for the way he continues to grind out yards at the age of 35 and in his 14th season. He rushed for 101 yards in the Dolphins' win over the Bears. That gave him 14,329 for his career, fourth most in NFL history, but there's never a peep about him being worthy of the Hall of Fame.
On Frank Gore vs. the Lions: A grinder running back shouldn't beat the Lions today. Regardless of the circumstances, weather or any other factor, the Lions should jump on the Dolphins from the start and force Osweiler to beat them.
Sticking with my pick: The Lions got steadily better in the first five games, and they look reasonably healthy coming out of the bye. This game is set up for them to win to get to .500. They're favored on the road for a reason – because they're the better team. So play like it.
Prediction: Lions 26, Dolphins 24.