GREEN BAY — The Detroit Lions already overcame one significant loss this offseason with the retirement of six-time Pro Bowl receiver Calvin Johnson.
On Wednesday morning, the Lions’ offense took another hit when starting running back Ameer Abdullah was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury.
A second-round pick in 2015, the 5-foot-9, 203-pound running back was off to a strong start with 18 carries for 101 yards (5.6 yards per carry) after leading Detroit’s balanced rushing attack as a rookie a year ago.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell said during his conference call with Green Bay media that Abdullah’s injury will put more on the shoulders of a running game that comprises Theo Riddick, rookie Dwayne Washington and Zach Zenner.
Riddick, a fourth-year veteran who recently signed a contract extension with the Lions, likely will see the biggest increase in playing time.
“The backs kind of split a lot of time depending on the situation,” Caldwell said. “Those two guys have similar traits, so we’ll just see how to spread those carries around a little bit more much like we’ve had to do without Calvin. You’re going to see the ball go a few more places. You’re going to see the ball get spread around a little bit more.”
With a similar build as Abdullah, Riddick (5-9, 201) isn’t a traditional between-the-tackles runner, but has been effective in recording 18 carries for 82 yards and nine catches for 91 yards this season.
“I thought Theo did a really nice job the first two weeks of the season when we handed him the ball,” quarterback Matt Stafford said. “Some of his runs probably look a little more unconventional than other guys, but he does a nice job of gaining yards and that’s what it’s all about at that position.”
Washington (6-1, 223), a seventh-round pick out of Washington, is the biggest back on the Lions’ roster and projects as short-yardage option that could complement Riddick’s scat tendencies.
Washington received only four carries in Sunday’s 16-15 loss to Tennessee, but he busted a 28-yard run at the start of the third quarter.
Both Caldwell and Stafford praised the Packers’ defensive front and a run defense that’s held Jacksonville and Minnesota to only a league-best 78 rushing yards in the first two games combined.
The Packers’ rotations at both outside and inside linebacker have helped neutralize backs, while the defensive line has been gap sound.
It’s uncertain whether Green Bay will have veteran nose tackle Letroy Guion available for Sunday, but defensive lineman Mike Daniels is off to a strong start with five tackles (three for a loss), five quarterback hits and a sack.
“There’s no question they probably have one of the best inside guys around,” said Caldwell of Daniels. “He does a tremendous job in terms of getting off the ball, knocking you back and making things uncomfortable for you. Daniels is pretty quick.”
Under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, the Lions’ passing game hasn’t missed a step despite Johnson’s retirement. While Stafford lost his No. 1 target, he’s been spreading the ball around so far this season.
Receiver Marvin Jones Jr., signed as a free agent this offseason from Cincinnati, leads the Lions with 203 receiving yards, seventh most in the NFL this season.
Tight end Eric Ebron, a first-round pick in 2014, also has become more involved in the offense with nine catches for 99 yards and a touchdown.
After weathering the loss of Johnson, Detroit is hoping to take a similar approach to how its running game handles Abdullah’s departure.
“We have talented guys up and down our roster no matter what happens with guys on our team,” Stafford said. “We expect everybody to be ready to play and play well.”
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