I’ve never been a firm believer in the two-pronged running game in the NFL. Most likely because I grew up watching the Detroit Lions’ Barry Sanders, the Buffalo Bills’ Thurman Thomas and the Dallas Cowboys’ Emmitt Smith battle it out for the league lead in rushing every year on teams that only sometimes featured a fullback on short yardage or in the extinct I-Formation. Especially for the Lions, who for the better part of a decade relied solely on Sanders to keep them relevant, even if only in the highlight reels. Now with Reggie Bush and Joique Bell both showing they can be work horses, as much as that term still applies today or could apply to a two-back system, the Lions running game is perhaps the best it’s been in 15 years.
Also making a strong showing is the offensive line, which has been mediocre for what seems like forever, and often contributed to some of the spectacular runs that Sanders pulled off, but for all the wrong reasons. Both Bush and Bell bring similar aggressive and ever-churning styles, but their differences complement each other nicely. Bush brings pure open field speed, great moves on screens out in the flats, and good vision. Bell can power through defenders, fall forward on almost every run, and block well on passing plays. Out of the backfield, both have shown great hands and the ability to make plays after the catch.
Bush and Bell also bring mental toughness, competiveness, and discipline to the game, which often lacks in the Lions’ young stars. They seem like team guys, and don’t care about stacking the stat sheet, which can be attributed to their past. Bush, after being one of the most exciting college football players in history and winning the Heisman, went on to an injury riddled, subpar professional career. Bell also bounced around in mediocrity after graduating from the football powerhouse of Wayne State University outside of Detroit. Maybe it’s the home roots that make him so passionate with the ball. Perhaps Bush knows this might be one of his last chances to be like the player who once considered flying seven yards through the air to tap the pylon from out of bounds to finish a long run with a score as merely commonplace.
If both Bush and Bell stay healthy, not only is it important for their careers, but it’s arguably the most important aspect of the Lions offense this season and many seasons to come.