The answer will reveal itself eventually, but the question is starting to be asked with more concern with each passing week -- do the Lions need to run the ball to be a legitimate playoff contender?
Coach Jim Schwartz answered the question with a baseball analogy on Monday.
"If you are a pitcher that has an unhittable fastball, you can't just keep going with it," he said. "You need to develop a change-up or a curve ball. Whether you are throwing it 60 times a game or 10 times a game, you need your other pitches. We need our run game."
The Lions rank 26th in rushing yards per game (78.3) and 29th in yards per carry (2.8). Jahvid Best was the team's leading rusher Sunday, with 14 yards on 12 carries. Yet, the Lions rank ninth in total offense, averaging 400 yards per game, and fourth in scoring offense (33.7).
"Basically, (tight end) Brandon Pettigrew was our running game," Schwartz said of Pettigrew's 11 catches for 112 yards. "We started to spread them out more and we went to short, control passes. Of his 11 catches only one was down the seam. They were mostly ball control passes and that was our run game. The way they were rushing up front, with the front seven, really, we needed that."
Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan are both fond of saying that it doesn't matter how you move the ball, it only matters that you move the ball and ultimately score.
But Schwartz said on Monday that the goal is to improve the running game, not abandon it.
"We can be a lot better and I think we will be a lot better," he said.
The bar is set fairly low for what would constitute a "productive" run game for the Lions. They don't need to roll up 200 yards a game on the ground. They just need the defenses to recognize the threat of it so that the play-action has some value for quarterback Matthew Stafford.
"Our biggest problem in the run game was taking lost-yardage plays," Schwartz said. "We had nine lost-yardage plays on Sunday. That puts you behind the 8-ball. What you are hoping for when you run it on first down, is to be facing a second-and-7 or a second-and-8. Well, we were facing way too many second-and-13s.
"Jahvid had a couple of good runs but the lost-yardage plays take away from that and his average doesn't look that good."
His best run of the day netted three yards and it came with 65 seconds left in regulation, in a tie game, with the Lions backed up to their own 3.
"Taking a safety right there would not have been good way for that game to end," Schwartz dead-panned. "He had nothing at the point of attack, but he bounced it outside, broke a tackle and got it out to the 3. That was a huge play."
If great things are ever going to happen with the Lions' run game, there's going to have to be improvement in a lot of different areas.
"It's not all on the running backs," Schwartz said. "We had poor blocking at the point of attack on a couple. On a couple we blocked poorly on the backside and a couple were poorly blocked on the perimeter. We can get better in every facet."
- Coach Jim Schwartz was overheard on the network broadcast (as well as throughout the press box via the referee's microphone) chewing out the officiating crew after the game-winning field goal Sunday. Apparently a couple of the officials thought they were playing a playoff game because they tried to clear the field so the Vikings could take possession. "I had to remind them it was a regular-season game," Schwartz said. "They were going to get it right. The referee (Ron Winter) knew right away, but he had a couple of whistles and needed to listen to his guys."
- Schwartz on whether Sunday's win was the biggest in his tenure with the Lions: "Our biggest win hasn't come yet."
- LT Jeff Backus' 163rd straight start will not be going on his career highlight reel - especially not the final drive in regulation. "What was probably (most) disappointing for Jeff was the last series (in regulation)," Schwartz said. "He had the two false starts and an allowed sack. But the rest of the time he was playing against a really good player (DE Jared Allen) and he was battling. Our quarterback got hit seven times and sacked five times. Two were on Jeff. But he gets a lot of attention because he's a left tackle. Just in general terms, Jeff can play better and he will play better."
- DT Ndamukong Suh had a busy day Sunday. He was on the field for 91 percent of the defensive snaps. He produced a sack, a quarterback hit, six hurries and he deflected a pass.
- RT Gosder Cherilus was benched in favor of Corey Hilliard after just two series Sunday, though neither had much success containing Vikings DE Brian Robison. Schwartz would not say what the plan was at that position going forward, but it could end up being a weekly battle. "We need to be more effective at that position," he said. "I will just leave it at that."
- CB Aaron Berry, who has been playing right cornerback in the nickel package while starting RCB Eric Wright moves into the slot, was knocked out of the game by a groin injury. Brandon McDonald played nickel back in his place. Berry's status will be revealed on Wednesday.
- P Ryan Donahue, a rookie, enjoyed kicking in the climate-controlled Mall of America Field Sunday. His average hang time on seven punts was 4.65. His average yardage was 46.4.
- LB Isaiah Ekejiuba, a leader on the coverage units, injured his shoulder in the first quarter. He could be out a while. "He didn't finish the game," Schwartz said. "That's never a great sign."
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