The Detroit Lions are riding high at 3-1, and among many positives through a quarter of the season, the team may finally have a running back that they can rely upon after years of mediocrity out of the backfield.
The Lions are averaging nearly 25 points per game (24.8), and are allowing only 17.5 a game.
Kicker Matt Prater has been nearly perfect (8-of-9 on field-goal attempts), and had connected on an NFL-record seven straight attempts from at least 55 yards out prior to Sunday’s game vs. the Minnesota Vikings.
Through four games, Prater’s also already made four field goals of 55 yards or longer, which is a single-season record.
Rookie Jamal Agnew has already returned a punt for a touchdown.
Defensive ends Ezekiel Ansah and Anthony Zettel have recorded three and four sacks, respectively.
Safety Glover Quin and cornerback Darius Slay both have two picks. Quin has also forced two fumbles.
But on top of all those positives, early season indications are that the Lions might have a back in Ameer Abdullah who can give them at least 80 yards a game or more.
While that may not sound too impressive, remember this: prior to the Lions’ Week 2 victory over the New York Giants, they had lacked a running back that had rushed for 80 or more yards in a game since Wayne State (Mich.) product Joique Bell rushed for 83 in December of 2014 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Lions fans, that is not a mistype.
It had been three seasons since a Detroit back had accumulated at least 80 yards on the ground in a contest prior to Abdullah rushing for 86 vs. the “G-Men.”
You may be saying to yourself that Abdullah’s performance against the Giants was not a productive enough performance to convince the Lions that they have a reliable No. 1 back.
I full-heartedly agree.
Abdullah had to top the performance before there could be even a whisper of the Nebraska product and third-year pro warranting reliable No. 1 back status.
Enter this past Sunday, the Lions’ fourth regular season contest of 2017, against the Vikings.
The Vikings have an elite run defense, and hadn’t allowed a rushing TD all season until Abdullah came into town.
The 24-year-old rushed 20 times for a career-high 94 yards and a score before exiting with a minor ankle injury early in the fourth quarter.
He was well on his way to a 100-yard day on the ground, which would’ve been a notable achievement for the Lions.
The Lions haven’t had a 100-yard rusher since Reggie Bush accumulated 117 yards on 20 carries on Thanksgiving in 2013 vs. the Green Bay Packers.
It’s been so long since it last happened that Lions head man Jim Caldwell, in his fourth year on the job, still hasn’t witnessed a Detroit back go for 100 yards. It’s a sad reality that played a role in the Lions having to settle for a wild card spot in the playoffs last season.
And as a “punishment” for not winning the NFC North crown, the Lions had to play the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field (home of the “12th Man”). To the surprise of few Lions fans, Caldwell’s squad laid an egg, and lost to the Seahawks, 26-6. In the game, the Lions, (without injured Abdullah) only mustered 49 total rushing yards.
The Lions were 9-4 last season before losing the division to the Packers and backing their way into the playoffs. Abdullah might’ve been a difference-maker down the stretch, and helped the Lions win their first division crown since 1993, when the division was known as the NFC Central and Pro Football Hall of Famer Barry Sanders was still making defenders look silly.
But enough about last season.
Abdullah, if he puts the ankle injury behind him and remains healthy, can be a difference-maker this season.
And he might just be what separates the Lions from the Packers, especially if the early signs of him becoming a reliable No. 1 back are indicative of even greater things to come.