Lions getting tougher in short yardage

Detroit Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones (11) celebrates with running back LeGarrette Blount (29) after making a touchdown catch during the second quarter against the Green Bay Packers.Photo: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Sports Xchange

Six months after Bob Quinn called out his team for not being tough enough in specialty situations last season, the Detroit Lions have one of the best short-yardage offenses in the NFL.

The Lions have converted all five of their third- or fourth-and-1 running plays through the season's first five games, and their offseason investments in the running back and offensive line positions seem to be paying off.

"That's an important situation in these close games, in these tight games," offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. "One that our guys are doing a nice job of executing their role, executing their job each week. That's been a productive thing for our offense, keeping us on the field, creating first downs and sort of keeping us out there to keep going. It's been a positive."

While rookie Kerryon Johnson has emerged as the Lions' unquestioned No. 1 running back, veteran LeGarrette Blount has been the go-to back in red-zone and short-yard situations.

The 250-pound Blount has converted five of six rushes of one yard to go - he was stopped for no gain on a second-and-1 play against the Green Bay Packers in Week 5, then gained six yards on the next snap - and he's scored a pair of touchdowns on 1-yard runs.

Last year, the Lions converted just 7 of 14 third- or fourth-and-1 runs and ranked near the bottom of the league in goal-to-go percentage, converting 70.8 percent of those drives into touchdowns.

Along with Blount, who's averaging just 2.5 yards per carry for the season, the Lions have gotten improved play from an offensive line that's had four of its five starters on the field for every snap this year.

Rookie left guard Frank Ragnow, after a rough start, has solidified the interior of the line, and the Lions have gotten better blocking from the wide receiver and tight end positions.

This week, they face a Miami Dolphins team that leads the league in goal-to-go defensive percentage (36.4) and has stopped six of 11 third- or fourth-and-1 runs.

"We need to keep improving, keep working on it, keep it a positive as we go forward," Cooter said. "There'll be ups and downs as we go through the year, different challenges every defense sort of makes you face. So we'll keep working on it, keep working to improve and we'll try to keep things headed in the right direction."

SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead series, 7-4, but the Lions have won two straight. One memorable meeting between these two teams came on Thanksgiving 2006, when former Lions quarterback Joey Harrington threw three touchdown passes against his old team to lead the Dolphins to a 27-10 victory.