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O'HARA: What we learned from Week 7

Barry Sanders is a measuring stick for all running backs who have come after him, especially whoever happens to be the latest hot rookie in Detroit.

There is no "next Barry Sanders." He was beyond compare for the way he produced yards and highlights in his 10 seasons with the Detroit Lions.

But what we learned in the Lions' 32-21 road win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday is that when the Lions and one of their backs have a big game running the ball, a comparison often is made to Sanders.

It's fair to compare the 248 yards the Lions rushed for as a team to what the Lions did in a game during Barry's career. And after rookie Kerryon Johnson's 158-yard effort, it's fair to rate where he stands compared to what Sanders had done at the same time as a rookie in 1989.

Among the other things we learned in Sunday's Lions-Dolphins game includes the following: How Sanders keeps a close eye on the Lions, and when he speaks, even briefly on social media, people listen; unsung heroes – offensive linemen – can be the stars of the game individually and as a group; and the race is on in the NFC North after six weeks, but it isn't close to being decided – just like it wasn't when the Bears were riding high at 3-1.

We start with Kerryon Johnson:

Barry comparison: It's valid to compare the rushing stats of Johnson and Sanders for their first six games.

Johnson has 69 carries for 444 yards, one touchdown and an average of 6.4 yards per carry. He's had high rushing games of 101 yards vs. the Patriots and Sunday's 158-yard jewel against the Dolphins.

Sanders had 82 carries for 416 yards, three touchdowns and an average of 5.04 yards per carry. He had a high game of 128 yards against the Bears in Week 3.

The bottom line: Johnson has 28 more yards, and his average per carry is more than a yard higher. Sanders has a 3-1 advantage in rushing touchdowns. Sanders did not play in Week 6 because of an injury.

He wound up playing 15 games, and what he did in the final nine was a breathtaking display of running brilliance. He rushed for 1,054 yards – an average of 117 yards per game, to finish with 1,470 yards for 15 games.

Johnson needs to rush for 1,026 yards in the last 10 games to tie Sanders' rookie total. It's not impossible, but it's not likely.

There is no next Barry Sanders. He was one of a kind.

But Kerryon Johnson is doing just fine in his own right.

Barry ball: He posted a compliment for Johnson after Sunday's performance: "Great to see from this young man."

And he also liked how Johnson had his workload increase to a season high of 19 carries, with two catches for 21 yards.

"Love to see them calling (Johnson's) number."

Good stuff from Sanders – and for Johnson to know that an all-time great has an eye on him.

On the line: Week by week, the offensive line continues to improve and become more cohesive as one of the team's strengths. It's been a six-man unit, with Kenny Wiggins filling in as needed at right guard for T.J. Lang.

The same way defense travels and can carry the load on a day when the offense is struggling, a solid offensive line can function in any circumstance and situation. That was the case Sunday. Against a front seven that was difficult to block, it led the way for the running game and a nearly faultless performance by quarterback Matthew Stafford.

The offensive linemen were well aware of the mandate from GM Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia for their unit to perform better as part of their plan to build a tougher, more physical team.

They're also aware of stats that reflect on their performance. The Lions were last in the league in rushing last year with 76.3 yards per game, and tied for last with an average of 3.4 yards per carry.

After Sunday's game they're 11th in rushing yards per game (122.3) and tied for fourth in average per carry (4.9).

"Everybody believes in the run game, and we obviously took a step forward today," Lang said. "Now it's up to us to make sure we can do it week in and week out, and it's not just a one-time thing."

In the race: The Bears were the new powerhouse in the NFC North, with a 3-1 won-loss record and Khalil Mack terrorizing offenses. That was then.

The Bears have lost their last two games to drop to 3-3, and Mack has been ineffective because of an ankle injury, with just three tackles and nothing else in those three games.

The Lions have awakened to win two straight to get to 3-3. Their three wins have been over the Packers, Patriots and Dolphins. All three have beaten the Bears.

The Lions and Bears are looking up at the Vikings (4-2-1) and Packers (3-2-1), but neither team is out of sight in the standings.

Things change fast – as we've always known.

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