ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions have talked for years about trying to achieve offensive balance. Not necessarily a 50-50 split -- in today’s NFL that’s likely unreasonable -- but something close enough to keep opponents from focusing too much on the run or the pass.
So far this year, that hasn’t happened. Not even close. Some of it has to do with double-digit deficits in the second half against the Jets and 49ers, forcing more throws to try and come back. But it still doesn’t completely explain the massive difference in ratio between the run and pass Detroit has.
This season, the Lions have had the highest percentage of dropbacks of any team in the NFL. More staggering, the 78.4 percent of their offensive snaps being dropbacks is the highest percent of any team through two games since at least 2001. This after the Lions overhauled the run game the past two seasons, spending free-agent and draft capital on the offensive line and running backs. The result? Detroit running backs have taken only 29 handoffs this season.
Instead, for the Lions, it has been mostly pass -- followed by pass, pass and pass some more.
“We certainly want to be balanced and have the ability to do both,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said last week. “So that whatever the situation in the game is, we have the option to use either the run or the pass as part of our offensive package. So, certainly [we] have a lot of work to do there. We’re working hard, the players are working extremely hard, and we’re all trying to make it better.”
Only three other teams have dropped back on 78 percent or more of their passes through two games since 2001: Washington in 2013 (78 percent) and 2016 (78.2 percent) and Tennessee in 2012 (78.2 percent). One thing is the same with all of those teams, too. All four of them -- the Lions, Titans and Redskins twice -- started the season 0-2.
None of the three prior teams made the playoffs. Only one, Washington in 2016, finished with a record over .500 at 8-7-1. It could have made the playoffs that season but lost in the season finale to the New York Giants, allowing both the Lions and Packers -- playing later that night -- to qualify for the postseason.
The 2012 Titans, on the way to a 6-10 season, lost their first two games to New England (34-13) and San Diego (38-10). Washington in 2013 lost to Philadelphia (33-27) and Green Bay (38-20) on its way to a 3-13 mark. That doesn't bode well for this year's Lions to rebound and make any sort of push for a playoff berth -- or even a .500 record.
None of the three teams, though, kept up the blistering pass pace, eventually finding a little more balance and landing between 63 and 65 percent dropbacks by season’s end. So there’s reason to think the Lions will come back to a more balanced reality. When told about the number Wednesday afternoon, Lions receiver Marvin Jones Jr. said he never thought about Detroit's offense in that way.
"I didn't know that," Jones said. "I just go out and do it."
But through two weeks, Detroit is on pace to have the most lopsided dropback/run ratio since at least 1950. By simplifying the formula based on available statistics, the highest single-season dropback percentage of all time belongs to the 2013 Atlanta Falcons at 68.7 percent. Atlanta went 4-12 that season. The next highest, the 2006 Lions, went 3-13 with a 68.4 dropback percentage. It’s then followed by the 2013 Browns (67.7), 1991 Houston Oilers (67.6) and 1990 Houston Oilers (67.4).
Of those teams, only the Oilers of the early '90s had winning records (9-7 in 1990, 11-5 in 1991), but they were running the pass-heavy-by-design run-and-shoot -- not the more balanced type of offenses of today’s NFL.
The Lions, as of now, would obliterate any of those marks even with the simplified formula (passes plus sacks divided by plays), sitting at 76.4 percent through two weeks. When asked if the Lions are running the ball enough, running back LeGarrette Blount at first didn't want to answer the question -- saying it's for other people to answer. When he then was asked if they were running the ball enough to be successful, Blount then said a little more on a general basis.
"I feel like we got to do a lot of things different because we aren't winning games," Blount said. "So whatever that may be."
It’s likely Detroit’s percentages will even out, particularly if the Lions can stay close in games or have leads late. But balance for the Lions? Right now? No, that isn’t close to happening.