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Evaluating Lions' 3 Best Rushing Games in 2021

Read more on the Detroit Lions' three best rushing games from the 2021 season.

Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell took over offensive play-calling duties during Week 10 of last season (against the Pittsburgh Steelers), and he immediately went old school.

Campbell got back to his mentor Bill Parcells’ early roots in the NFC East, when he coached the New York Giants back in the 1980s and early 1990s.

I grew up watching those teams in that division play smash-mouth football, as Parcells made runners like Joe Morris and O.J. Anderson household names in two different Super Bowls.

Right when Campbell seized the offensive reins, he stayed true to his roots. 

Which three games did the Lions have their best production on the ground?

The best game was, you guessed it, the Pittsburgh game.

1.) Lions 16, Steelers 16 (OT)

Date: November 14, 2021 

Venue: Heinz Field

Detroit rushing yards: 229 (39 carries)

Average number of yards per rush: 5.9 yards

It was fun to re-watch. Detroit pounded the rock. The Lions took it to one of the most staunch and physical football teams in the NFL.

Lions running back D'Andre Swift led the way with 33 carries for 130 yards, and reserves Jermar Jefferson and Godwin Igwebuike chipped in with big touchdown runs.

The most impressive thing in this game wasn’t the rushing totals. Instead, it was Campbell’s commitment to the run.

Deep in the second quarter, with 1:54 left, the announcer on Fox commented that quarterback Jared Goff had only thrown six passes up to that point in the game.

Campbell stayed true to the run, and when Igwebuike ripped off that stunning 42-yarder on the ground, again the Fox commentator pointed out how Detroit’s offensive linemen were staying with their blocks.

Campbell kept calling run plays all the way up to the end of the game. He only deviated from it at the end of the fourth quarter and at the end of overtime, when Detroit had to throw the ball to attempt to get into scoring position.

Two more things stood out: Goff showed play-action motion a lot when he did pass, and for the most part, the Lions ran it up the middle and right into the heart of the Steelers' defense.

2.) Browns 13, Lions 10

Date: November 21, 2021 

Venue: FirstEnergy Stadium 

Detroit rushing yards: 168 yards (23 carries)

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Average number of yards per rush: 7.3 yards

If you look at the date of the game, ironically Detroit had its second-best team rushing game after its best one a week earlier (Week 10 against the Steelers). 

The only difference was that Lions backup QB Tim Boyle started this game. However, it did not change Campbell’s philosophy of pounding it right up the gut.

Once again, Swift led the charge on the ground, picking up 136 yards on 14 carries. Backup Jamaal Williams added 11 yards on seven attempts, and even fullback Jason Cabinda got into the act, gaining 21 yards on two carries.

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While the first half of the game didn’t look quite like the Pittsburgh game, Campbell got back to the ground-and-pound in the second half.

Campbell repeatedly handed the football off to Swift down, 13-10, at the end of the game, instead of attempting to pass.

That’s how this game ended, and once again, there was a fair amount of play-action when Goff threw the ball.

3.) Rams 28, Lions 19

Date: October 24, 2021

Venue: SoFi Stadium

Detroit rushing yards: 137 yards (28 carries)

Average number of yards per rush: 4.9 yards

Emotions were high, as Goff returned to play his old team.

In this one, Williams (12 carries/57 yards) and Swift (13 rushes/48 yards) shared the workhorse duties.

Detroit kept chipping away and actually still had the lead, 19-17, at the end of the third quarter.

Once the Rams went up, 25-19, in the fourth, the Lions started to panic, and got away from the run a little bit more, especially after Swift recorded a nice 11-yard scamper that was called back because of holding.

Detroit wasn’t as aggressive pounding the ball up the middle in this one. It ran a little bit more east and west, but of course, Campbell wasn’t calling the plays yet, either.

The Lions did, however, deploy a good amount of play-action pass.

Now, you may ask: Are there any takeaways from these three games?

Yes, all three games were on the road. The Lions' signal-callers featured a lot of play-action when they did throw, and the team ran the ball 23-plus times in each matchup.

The big takeaway, however, was that the more committed the Lions were to running up the middle, the better the results were.