Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 5/23/12
It's just the running game...

That has become the excuse of late. People keep pointing to the Giants, Packers and the Patriots last year saying that the days of needing a running game are over. All you need is that elite quarterback and you're set.

While to some extent this is true, really, they aren't the standard for offense. The standard last year was the New Orleans Saints. No one ever found a way to stop that offense.

In fact, had it not been for an amazing disappearing act on the part of the defense at San Francisco, it's doubtful they would have lost the NFC Championship or the Super Bowl. That is the standard. That is what the Lions are shooting for.

The passing game is right there. Now the Lions need the running game to step up.

The Lions have three horses in the stable. Mikel Leshoure was sidelined with an Achilles injury last year. Jahvid Best once again had concussion issues. Kevin Smith suffered from the same recurring leg injuries that have plagued his career. So which one needs to rise above it all?

All three.

Mikel Leshoure may come back from injury to old form but first he has to deal with the consequences of poor off-field decision making. That is likely to cost in terms of games played. Secondly, the NFL is brutal to running backs as the Lions' recent history can attest. Even if Leshoure does come back healthy, it is unsure how long he will be able to stay that way.

Jahvid Best is a terrific change of pace back. As much as he may want to deny it, he is not an every-down back. With infrequent use, he is devastating. As a workhorse, he gets devastated. He has a position with the Lions and a job description that works with his skill set. He needs to be content with that. Instead of looking for more touches, he needs to work on making his few touches more impactful.

Kevin Smith is another back who could use a lighter load. He has good vision, pounds north and south, and doesn't go down easy. The problem is that when he goes down, he tends to stay down. Leg problems have stunted his production throughout his career. He is another player that needs to accept the fact that he is not an every-down back. But the Carolina game last year was a spectacle of what the man can do when not on crutches.

Each of these players has unique skills. Alone, each of them shows promise, but raises serious doubts as to durability. However if they are willing to play together and allow themselves the chance to stay healthy, this backfield will be scary. With the eyes of the NFL on Matt Stafford, this collective has the chance to lead the league in yardage, touches, and touchdowns. That triple crown would hoist the Lions into the discussion with the 2011 New Orleans Saints for most devastating offense.

But to have that kind of success, the Lions really need all three backs alive and running.

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