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Monday, May 16, 2011
Leshoure-Best: Carries based on scheme?

By Kevin Seifert

Last week's SportsNation chat included a question that I imagine we'll hit regularly over the next year or so: How will the Detroit Lions split carries between their two tailbacks, Jahvid Best and rookie Mikel Leshoure? Here was that exchange:
Scott Linehan (Detroit)

Jahvid Best
The Packers kept Lions running back Jahvid Best bottled up in their two meetings last season.
How are they going to split carries in Detroit? 170 again for Best and 150 for LeShoure. Best 4.4 YPC assuming healthy toes and LeShoure 4.2 YPC. Sound good?

Kevin Seifert (2:48 PM)

Not sure anyone cares about the YPC, but I wonder how radical it would be to give Leshoure more of the carries to bruise people up and use Best on third downs and in other situations...

Ultimately, the answer is going to depend on a number of factors. The most important is the presumption that both players are healthy. I know the Lions and other teams have noted how important it is to have a two-back system in the current NFL. But the price the Lions paid for Leshoure -- third- and fourth-round picks to move back into the second round -- is enough to give a conspiracy theorist cause for concern about Best's toe injuries. After all, Lions coach Jim Schwartz lived through the decline of Tennessee Titans tailback Eddie George, who like Best suffered multiple turf toe injuries in his career.

For the moment, however, let's assume Best and Leshoure are at full strength when (and if) the 2011 season begins. ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton offered one way to evaluate the situation: Leshoure is best equipped to face 3-4 defenses, while Best might be better against the 4-3.

As the theory goes, a big back has a better chance of breaking the arm tackles he will face against a 3-4 defense that makes its linemen responsible for two gaps. Within the NFC North, then, Leshoure might be the Lions' answer to the Green Bay Packers.

Playing against the Packers' 3-4 defense last season, Best gained 88 yards on 25 carries over two games. In the latter, a 7-3 Lions victory at Ford Field, backup Maurice Morris rolled to a team-high 51 yards on 11 carries.

Depending on what direction some new defensive coordinators go, the Lions could face a 3-4 defense in a half-dozen or so games. Plenty of factors will determine the Best-Leshoure split, but defensive scheme is a good place to start.