Lions Kerryon Johnson on meeting Barry Sanders, gaining 101 yards and more

Rookie averages 5.6 yards per carry

ALLEN PARK — For a rookie just three games into the season, running back Kerryon Johnson has quickly become a fan favorite.

Diehard Lions fans have been looking, hoping, praying for a running back to believe in for years.

Of course, Barry Sanders set the gold standard. He averaged 99.8 yards per game during his 10-year career with the Lions that ended in 1998.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Johnson is not being compared to the Hall of Famer. That is just way too much to put on the rookie’s shoulders. His talent and fearlessness is impressive so far, let’s leave it at that.

And, of course, Johnson broke the nearly 5-year-old streak of not having a 100-yard rusher in a game with his 101-yard effort in the win over the Patriots on Sunday. His longest run was 15 yards, he did it the old-fashioned way by just grinding the yards out, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.

Five thoughts from Johnson on Wednesday:

1. As it happens, Johnson is big fan of Barry Sanders. And, yes, he has met him. He walked up to Sanders and introduced himself a month ago. “He’s a good dude. I think people would agree, very quiet, soft-spoken. He’s just talking about ‘Hey this is our time to get it going’ and that’s what we’re trying to do,’’ Johnson said. “He was my favorite running back growing up. Barry is one of those where you question if he even needed an O-line at times. I used to try to move like him but my body doesn’t move like that.

“I used to watch his highlights a lot of time, my dad really enjoyed watching him play. It was crazy meeting him you’re like this is really the guy who did this, know what I’m saying? It’s impressive,’’ Johnson said.

2. Johnson credits his teammates with helping him pick up the NFL game so far. LeGarrette Blount is at the top of the list. “LG is very funny, but I think the best thing he’s taught me, he’s played nine years, three Super Bowl rings. He’s taught me how the game works, how to be a good running back in this league,’’ Johnson said. “There’s a lot of things you can do in college that you can’t do in the NFL, that’s on the field and off the field —    ` taking care of your body, learning the playbook. … He’s taught me a lot. I don’t know if I’d be so advanced right now or at the point right now without him or Theo (Riddick) or anyone else in the (running back) room.’’

3. Johnson is averaging 5.6 yards per carry. After his 101-yard game, fans are crying to let him have more touches. The rookie is not clamoring for more work. “This game is too physical for one back. The way I see it, I think over 16-17 weeks, that’s how I see it. Maybe for two weeks you can do it, four or five, but after a while it will catch up,’’ Johnson said. “Maybe next year it will catch up. Longevity is what we’re looking for, we’re trying to win games over the whole season. The way you do that is by having multiple guys take carries, multiple guys having great games, that’s just how you do it.’’

4. It’s no accident that he often falls forward when he is tackled. “In my opinion falling forward is the safest way to get tackled. If you’re standing up or going backward, people can land on you and no one wants that,’’ Johnson said. “If you’re standing straight up, people can swipe your ankles or something, bodies are flying, bodies on the ground, In my opinion, falling forward, you get a good body lean, it’s easier to take the hits that way and, as you know, you’re gaining more yards at the end.’’

5. He was not concentrating on getting to the 100-yard mark on Sunday, but appreciated that the fans were keeping track. “It was crazy excitement, it was unbelievable,’’ Johnson said. “It’s nice to give them that, they come to every game, they come and cheer their hearts out.’’

Detroit Lions’ Ziggy Ansah absent from practice again; Roberts also out

Defensive end has missed last 2 games

ALLEN PARK — Ziggy Ansah once again did not practice on Wednesday.

The Lions defensive end, who has a wonky shoulder, was able to practice on a limited basis all last week. It appeared he was trending to be active Sunday against the Patriots, but instead missed his second straight game. Romeo Okwara started in his place the past two weeks.

It’s unknown if he had a setback at practice last week but it seems like a possibility.

Coach Matt Patricia would not address Ansah’s injury specifically on Wednesday morning. “As far as I’m concerned, whoever’s out there and ready to go, we’re ready to go. It doesn’t really matter for us. So, week-in and week-out, if the guys are healthy and they can go out there and help us win, that’s what they’re going to do,” Patricia said in his Wednesday press conference.

“Ziggy’s great. He’s working extremely hard and he’s doing everything we’re asking him to do and I have the utmost respect for his work ethic and what he’s trying to do to help us in all those situations. But so is everybody,” Patricia said. “Everybody has to be ready to go whether you’re active or inactive or you’re out there for a play and you get hurt, or somebody else has to step in, it doesn’t matter. It’s about team football, team defense. And that’s our focus.”

Ansah, a first-round pick in 2013, has been fighting injuries for the past few seasons, although he played in 14 games in 2017 (12 sacks) and 13 in 2016 (2 sacks). His best season was 2015 when he was played all 16 games, finished with 14.5 sacks (third in hte NFL) and was elected to the Pro Bowl.

Tight end Michael Roberts (knee) also did not practice. Roberts apparently injured his knee in practice last week. He was a full participant last Wednesday and Thursday, then was limited on Friday and was inactive for Sunday’s game.

The Lions (1-2), coming off a big win over the Patriots, will play at the Dallas Cowboys (1-2) at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

 

Detroit Lions’ offensive line plays best game in win over Patriots

Run game exploded; Stafford sacked just once

ALLEN PARK — Without a smart and strong offensive line, the Lions run game was going nowhere this season.

The O-line played its best game early this season in the 26-10 win over the Patriots on Sunday night at Ford Field.

The Lions rushed for 159 yards and rookie Kerryon Johnson became the first Lions player to reach 100 yards in a game since Reggie Bush scampered for 117 yards on Nov. 28, 2013.

“That’s obviously a critical part of every football game, I think (the line) did a great job up front, definitely very difficult against that defense and the multiple looks they’ll give you,’’ coach Matt Patricia said on Monday. “They were spinning the dial pretty good last night with a couple different looks — four-man rushes, five-man looks, six-man looks and I think those guys did a great job up font of recognizing that stuff, getting on the same page, executing their blocks well. There were a couple plays they could have done better, but I thought we had good movement at the line of scrimmage which is most important.’’

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

Pro Football Focus’ analysis of the line: “(They) performed exceptionally well against New England. Not a single starting lineman graded below a 65 and three of them graded at 70 or better.’’

Ragnow, who allowed seven pressures the previous week to the 49ers, came back with a “dominant performance.” He didn’t allow a single pressure against the Patriots, per Pro Football Focus.

The Lions O-line features two first-round picks — Taylor Decker (2016) and Frank Ragnow, a rookie. Also center Graham Glasgow was a third-round pick in 2016.

Right guard T.J. Lang returned after missing the previous game with a back injury. Lang, who signed as a free agent in 2017, proved he’s still got something in the tank because the line was more effective with him than the previous week with Kenny Wiggins.

Right tackle Rick Wagner, who was also signed as a free agent in 2017,  quietly had a good game.

Not only did they open lanes for the running backs, they also gave Matthew Stafford plenty of time in the pocket. It’s possible more time than he’s ever had consistently for four quarters. He was sacked just once.

Immediately after the game, Stafford couldn’t say enough about the line’s play.

Stafford has been sacked on just 2.2 percent of pass attempts (3/138) this season which is the best in the NFL. The league average is 6.6 percent, per Josh Norris of Rotoworld.