ALLEN PARK — Lions coach Matt Patricia does not seem concerned that Kerryon Johnson only had nine carries in Sunday’s 26-24 loss at the Cowboys.
The previous week — in a win over the Patriots — the rookie running back carried the ball 16 times for 101 yards, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
It seemed like it was his NFL coming out party.
On the first play from the line of scrimmage in Dallas on Sunday, Johnson scampered for 32 yards. Was it the start of another 100-yard game?
Johnson got the ball five more times in the first half, but only had three second-half carries. His grand total was nine carries for 55 yards, averaging 6.1 yards per carry.
That 6.1 average is key — that’s a good number for most running backs. It was the exact same average as Cowboys’ running back Ezekiel Elliott who sliced and diced the Lions’ defense finishing with 25 carries for 152 yards. (He also had four catches for 88 yards.)
Patricia’s first question at his Monday press conference concerned Johnson’s workload or lack of it.
“I think we have a lot of good running backs and I think we try to use them appropriately. I think Kerryon played a significant amount of the game — 20 snaps of 55 — that’s a good amount,’’ Patricia said. “Plus we have two other running backs, we had a couple two-minute drives and other personnel packages and things like that. There were quite a bit of reps for Kerryon.’’
LeGarrette Blount, a short-yardage specialist, had seven carries for 12 yards, for a 1.7 yards per carry average.
Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter is responsible for calling the offense during the games so Johnson’s number of carries were likely mostly his decision, although Patricia said it was “a staff decision.”
The rookie seemed wise beyond his years when asked about his workload last week. He didn’t petition for more carries, instead he seemed happy to be part of the running back by committee philosophy.
Wear and tear on running backs is a concern. There is no magic number for carries and it changes each game, but when a guy is effective running the ball in the Lions’ offense perhaps make it a point to get him the ball.
“We do look at studies on full seasons and when guys are at the end of the season especially running backs, especially that position you’ll find a lot of teams where guys earlier in the season were at a high productive level but by the time they get to the end of the season the wear and tear at that position is pretty extreme,’’ Patricia said.
“You get to the end of the year those guys aren’t out there as much, so you take a look at it from a big picture standpoint and game-by-game standpoint and play-by-play standpoint. We’re obviously trying to compete at a high level. So we want to have our best players out there at all times when we can,’’ Patricia said. “We feel we have a really good strong running back group – they’re all outstanding players. We’re going to try to continue to try to improve them just like we are at every position.’’
That’s all good and sounds fine, but if the Lions (1-3) don’t win now, it won’t matter that much how they play later in the season.