Column: three factors that go into a potential Detroit Lions playoff appearance

D'Angelo Starks

Excited, depressed, underwhelmed, nervous and hopeful. What do these words have in common? They all could be used to describe Detroit Lions fans. The Lions have been an extremely average-at-best roller coaster so far this year, but at times they have flashed potential of a playoff team. 

Even with all of the ups and downs that have happened thus far, the team still sits at X-X and are well within striking distance of an NFC North title. There are several different factors that will play in to whether or not they make the playoffs.

1.  Kerryon Johnson

The most frustrating thing for me to watch so far this season has been the misuse of stud rookie running back Kerryon Johnson. Johnson broke the streak that every Lions fan was tired of hearing about and rushed for 100 yards in a game for the first time since Reggie Bush in 2013. The thing that makes it so frustrating is Johnson’s lack of touches. 

Johnson had 10 and 14 touches in the two games afterward. To put it simply, that is not nearly enough for him. Johnson averages 5.7 yards per carry while the running back taking carries from him, LaGarrette Blount, averages only 2.5 yards per carry. Todd Gurley, one of the best running backs in the NFL, averages 25 touches per game. Now, Johnson is not Todd Gurley, so closer to 20 touches a game would make more sense for him. If that happens, the Lions will have a functioning balanced offense that will be very hard to stop.

2.  Run Defense

The second most frustrating thing to watch with this team so far this season has been the run defense. The Lions currently rank 30th in the entire league in rushing yards allowed per game, giving up 145.8. Only the Broncos and the Cardinals give up more per game. 

The team is tied for second in yards allowed per carry, forfeiting more than 5.3 yards per rush. This is a major issue and not one that can be easily fixed because the team has a lack of impact players in their front seven. Ziggy Ansah has not played very much do to injury, A’Shawn Robinson has been largely ineffective and has seen his playing time fluctuate all season and Jarrad Davis has been good but inconsistent as can be expected with a young linebacker. 

The lone bright spot in the front seven has been the rookie fourth round draft pick Da’Shawn Hand. Hand has been making plays in every aspect of the game and the team needs the rest of the players on the front seven to match the play of Hand. If that happens, then the team should see the run defense improve.

3.  Schedule

Coming into this season, the Lions were expected to have one of the tougher schedules in the league, and after six weeks the gauntlet doesn’t seem to be getting easier. The Lions still have to play the Bears and Vikings twice, Rams, Seahawks, Panthers and there is still one more game against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Lambeau Field. 

The only games that seem to be certain victories over the next 11 weeks and those are games against the Bills and Cardinals. Those two teams are the only ones over that stretch that don’t have a record of at least .500. The schedule down the stretch is undoubtedly tough, but the games are winnable especially if they can figure out the running game with Johnson and the run defense.

The Lions have not had an ideal start to the season, but with a few minor tweaks they can get back on track and win some crucial games down the stretch that could lead to them securing their first NFC North championship ever. If the Lions fix the things addressed in this article, then that roller coaster ride will be going uphill fast and will become a lot more fun.