In Week 2, the Detroit Lions' running game wasn't good enough to exploit a San Francisco 49ers that was aligned dramatically to stop the pass. Things got only incrementally better upon Mikel Leshoure's debut in Week 3, and as a result, it's worth noting the Lions are once again the NFL's pass-happiest team.
The Lions' 547 passing attempts are 42 more than the league's next-most prolific team. Those attempts have put quarterback Matthew Stafford on pace to approach a 5,000-yard season for the second consecutive year, and at the very least indicates one thing: The Lions largely stopped trying to force the run after that Week 2 loss to the 49ers.
As we discussed at the time, the Lions would be better off with a more productive running game. But with Jahvid Best sidelined and Leshoure running hard but with little explosiveness, the Lions haven't been able to achieve a better balance.
In fact, based on research from ESPN Stats & Information, the 2012 Lions have joined last year's edition among the most imbalanced offenses in NFL history. The chart shows they are in the company of two classic "Run and Shoot" schemes -- the Houston Oilers of the early 1990's and the Atlanta Falcons of 1994 -- along with Mike Martz's pass-happy Lions offense in 2006.
What does this mean? On the positive side, the Lions smartly recognized that the strength of their offensive personnel is Stafford and a skilled receiving corps led by Calvin Johnson. On the other hand, we have gotten a better glimpse of the perils of imbalance even in a passing era.
The Lions' 4-8 record can be attributed to numerous factors, and an imbalanced offense is only one of them. But there have been at least a few games this season when the Lions would have had a better chance to win if they could have imposed their running game better. The 49ers matchup was one, and last Sunday's loss to the Indianapolis Colts was another. One of many opportunities the Lions missed to seal that game was Leshoure's inability to convert a first down on third-and-five in the fourth quarter.
Leshoure has grinded out 591 yards on 157 carries, but his longest run is 16 yards -- the most yardage and carries by any NFL running back this season without a single run of at least 20 yards. Perhaps Leshoure will re-gain some explosiveness as he gets further away from his August 2011 Achilles injury, but his 10-game window is probably enough to suggest the Lions will have to take yet another look at their running game this offseason.