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3 Ways Lions Can Best Utilize Running Backs in 2022

Read more on the three ways the Detroit Lions can best utilize their running backs in 2022.

There is no question the Lions need to improve their rushing attack in the upcoming season.

In 2021, the Lions’ rushing attack ranked No. 18 (110.9 yards per game). It was not great, and it was not terrible.

Being in the middle of the pack is not as good as it might sound, either.

It was part of a bigger equation that resulted in a 3-13-1 campaign. 

Detroit has to find a way to get better on the ground, which means not doing the same thing it did in 2021. It also means expecting different (and better) results, with a lot of the same personnel.

The headliners in Detroit at running back are D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams.

There was also a late-season surprise in Craig Reynolds, who also factors in.

Where the three of them will land on this team’s depth chart will sort itself out in training camp and the preseason. Their performances and health will determine that, as opening week nears.

In terms of raw statistics from last season, expect Swift to be listed as the starter going into camp, Williams to be listed as his backup and Reynolds to be listed as the No. 3 back. 

Outside of the offensive line blocking better, the backs running harder and dropping less passes, there are three ways Detroit can better utilize these three aforementioned backs in 2022.

1.) The offense needs to become better moving the ball through the air.

This is the surefire way to open up the run game more. It will take moving the ball better through the air than Detroit did last season.

In 2021, the Lions ranked just No. 18 as a passing attack. 

The recent addition of rookie speedster Jameson Williams and everyone being healthy should move the air and run game meter.

Having a legitimate receiver who can take the top off a defense like Williams can do wonders for this offense, and it will naturally make the running lanes far less congested at the line of scrimmage.

Sending Williams vertical will command defenses to follow him with a corner and safety support, which will also make things less congested for Swift when he gets the ball thrown to him underneath.

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Last season, Detroit didn’t have a deep passing game. Defenses were able to suffocate the Lions in the short-to-intermediate levels of the field. 

Taking several shots deep every game will do a lot to utilize these backs better in every aspect.

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2.) Line up in 20-personnel, with both Swift and Williams on the field at the same time.

This personnel grouping, 20 personnel, features two backs either lined up in the “I formation" (if the QB is lined up directly under center), or flanking the signal-caller (if the QB is lined up in shotgun). 

The advantage of Detroit going into this personnel grouping is it would keep opposing defenses off-balance.

It is a formation that is not used a whole lot in the league, either, which naturally will make defenses feel uncomfortable. 

Swift is more of the receiving back, and Williams is more of the sledgehammer runner, between the tackles. Having both on the field at the same time will force defenses to have to play the run and the pass possibilities every time Detroit lines up in this formation.

This will keep defenses guessing and give Detroit a slight advantage. It is like having a “two-headed monster” in the backfield. 

This formation can also get Swift outside into passing routes facing less defenders, while also causing the opposition to respect the possibility of Williams running up the gut instead.

Many different things could be done to help both Swift and Williams be better utilized out of this personnel grouping.

3.) Keep Swift and Williams fresher by subbing in Reynolds more often.

The more players who are known to touch the ball for Detroit during a game gives opposing defensive coordinators and their defenses more to prepare for, which is another way to create a gameday advantage.

Keeping Swift and Williams fresher will yield even better results for them when they do get their touches.

Having Swift, Williams and Reynolds share in the workload also fosters more healthy competition, which will only further push these backs to be more productive in 2022.