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As Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell’s seat becomes hotter by the week, inversely is the quality of the team’s running game. Once running back Ameer Abdullah was put on injured reserve due to a foot injury, the Lions running game started becoming an utter disaster as Theo Riddick’s declining play has shown you why third-down backs that only catch the football are the most useless players on football teams.
After rushing for 45 yards on seven carries and a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1, Riddick has given the Lions a miserable 77 yards on thirty-two carries to go along with his 94 receiving yards on just fifteen catches.
Such a performance combined with your hopelessness make you want to frustratingly ask a rhetorical question like “who are they going to replace him with?” Except, we have to look at the flaws of the passing game as it is supposed to open things up for the running game. Golden Tate has been the team’s biggest disappointment, and you might as well conclude that he is the worst wide receiver in football. He is averaging 6.8 yards per catch, a rate that is far worse than Riddick’s 7.9, and, yet, he is getting the third highest number of targets.
With his 6.8 average, no offense can expand, and, with everyone always pointing out the flaws of the team’s head coach, it may not be a bad idea to accuse Caldwell of fearing to hurt the feelings of Tate and quarterback Matthew Stafford.
None of this looks surprising as the embattled head coach can come off as someone who is not tough enough, appears willing to do everything to please his players, and, ultimately, creates detriments for his team. With Tate and the running game producing the way they are, they might as well scrap Tate from the game plan regardless of how he feels and, at least, try to be a predominantly running team.
Backup rookie running back Dwayne Washington has outperformed Riddick by averaging 4.7 yards per carry in each game Riddick has started and was a receiver that turned into a tailback while attending the University of Washington and fullback Zach Zenner has averaged more yards per carry than Riddick in his two-season career.
Sure, Washington only had 6 yards on two carries against the Chicago Bears this past Sunday while Zenner has only played five offensive snaps, all of which came from the same game. But you cannot judge a back on two carries in one game and the plan featuring Tate and Riddick as it is not working. Plus, the continuation of Riddick and Tate’s use is senseless as long as players behind them, (Anquan Boldin, Washington, and Zenner) average more as receivers and rushers.
Frankly, such a change would be bold but not hurtful at this time as the Lions need something of a running complement to Marvin Jones and Eric Ebron, are 1-3, and rank 13th in time of possession by keeping the ball 30 minutes and 24 seconds per game. With Washington and Zenner running more, the Lions will keep the ball more and, therefore, increase their chances of winning. From 2013 till 2015, teams that have possessed the ball for at least 31 minutes per game are 75 percent likely to have a winning record.
Besides, by having Zenner play more while Tate stays benched, Detroit can keep its running attack in place and have Washington and Riddick rotate as Riddick’s backfield receiving game is better than Tate’s on the perimeter.
Caldwell is not that unfamiliar with bold decisions as he had to replace Joe Lombardi with Jim Bob Cooter at offensive coordinator and, himself, succeed Cam Cameron at the same position in the final month of the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl-winning regular season. Right now, Caldwell cannot afford to play it safe as his contract has one more full season left and current boss, general manager Bob Quinn, is his third in less than one calendar year.
Regardless, bold moves such as the ones mentioned above just might shake up the team for its own good as they do consist of some common sense, to say the least. Most crucially, when its chosen leader, Stafford, cannot play to elite levels as he can cost the team games the way he did in Week 4, there is no sense in pleasing people, especially when most people in Detroit would be pleased to see Caldwell leave now.