Tuesday, Dec 06, 2016
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Opinion

Lions' offense really missing Stewart's input

DETROIT - Now maybe James Stewart's critics will open their eyes, hearts and minds.

Now maybe they'll fully comprehend Stewart's value to the Detroit Lions, and how ineffective the Lions' running attack has become in his absence.

Maybe it has taken depreciation of Detroit's ground game to bring appreciation for Stewart's ability to carry the offense.

Now maybe people will soften their view of Stewart. Appreciate him for being a workhorse instead of being ready for the glue factory.

This is already starting to get old, but the Lions' offense has a lot of room for growth and development.

A suspect running game offered no relief yesterday in Detroit's 23-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field. The Lions amassed 77 rushing yards and averaged 3.0 yards per carry.

Stewart didn't have breakaway speed, but he was a workhorse who averaged 4.4 yards in gaining 1,021 yards with four touchdowns last season. He also caught 46 passes for 333 yards and two TDs.

Since losing Stewart to a season-ending shoulder injury in the exhibition finale against Buffalo, Detroit's offensive coaches haven't gotten very deep into their playbook because the Lions' three running backs by committee have been ineffective.

Shawn Bryson led Detroit yesterday with 17 carries for 49 yards and a touchdown. Olandis Gary rushed five times for eight yards. Avon Coburne, who didn't run the ball from scrimmage, caught two passes for 21 yards.

“I'd like the cream to come to the top one of these days,” coach Steve Mariucci said of the replacements. “Until then, we're sharing the load.”

Mariucci made no promises. There are no more trades up his sleeves. The Lions are stuck with Bryson, Gary and Coburne - for better or worse.

Lack of a healthy ground game destroyed Detroit's offensive rhythm yesterday. And giving second-year quarterback Joey Harrington the green light to attempt 42 passes against the Vikings was like giving matches to a 3-year-old.

Minnesota figured out Harrington, who was intercepted three times in the red zone. He tossed two fourth-quarter interceptions during Detroit's aborted comeback when he forced throws to receivers who were tightly covered.

Harrington's mistakes hurt the Lions in a close game. His inexperience showed when the Lions needed his leadership.

Faced with second-and-11 from the Minnesota 29, Harrington sighted Az-Zahir Hakim with a step on his man near the end zone. However, Brian Russell intercepted Harrington at the 2. Minnesota drove 98 yards in just under three minutes for the go-ahead touchdown, a lead the Vikings never relinquished.

Since tossing a career-high four touchdowns and no interceptions in the season-opening win against Arizona, Harrington has thrown a total of six interceptions and no touchdowns in losses against Green Bay and Minnesota.

“I made a couple of bad decisions and that's what hurt me,” said Harrington, who was 24-of-42 for 235 yards against Minnesota. “Sometimes things open up for you and sometimes they don't.”

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