The Minnesota Vikings had already done what no team has ever done before, opened the season by blowing two double digit half time leads, but against the Detroit Lions they took it further. In fact they went above and beyond, blowing a 20-0 lead before losing in overtime and almost giftwrapping the Lions a dream 3-0 start. The Vikings had 3-0 in their hands this season and have thrown it away to sit 0-3, which is tough to take for the fans and the tension appeared to be within the team as well. The two head coaches now have wildly different tasks in the coming months. In Minnesota Leslie Frazier in his first year as Vikings’ head coach has to stop this team from imploding and careering towards a top 5 draft pick. In contrast, Detroit HC Jim Schwartz must keep the Lions’ feet on the ground if they are to sustain a playoff push.
Detroit – Three Things of Note
1) The ultimate vertical threat?
Calvin Johnson may have been kept quiet for much of the game but on two plays he showed precisely why he is arguably the most dangerous receiver in the league right now. A combination of solid coverage from the Vikings’ defensive backs and pressure from their DEs conspired to keep him quiet but on his downfield shots he made game changing plays. Two touchdowns to help bring the Lions’ back from the 20 point deficit and the reception that set up their overtime game winner were the key plays in this game. Both receptions saw him beat at least acceptable coverage but that isn’t good enough to cover Johnson at the present time, a true difference maker.
2) Strength to the left
To be clear we’re talking about defense here, not offense. Run defense may again have not been at its strongest from Ndamukong Suh in this game, but once again he and Cliff Avril combined to provide a terrifying pass rush threat to the quarterback’s open side. One may be more heralded than the other but these two really do combine well to give opposing offensive co-coordinators headaches. You can’t game plan for one without the other hurting you and that was the case in this game. Anthony Herrera simply couldn’t live with Suh one on one and Phil Loadholt couldn’t handle Avril either as the two combined for two sacks, two hits and nine pressures. The Vikings simply couldn’t give one of these two help without being at greater threat of punishment from the other Lion.
3) Bringing it in the Middle
The Lions found a starting a MLB two years ago, bringing Larry Foote back to Detroit but last season really struggled after Foote departed for Pittsburgh. In the shape of Stephen Tulloch however Jim Schwartz has invested wisely, going with what he knows. Tulloch flourished in Tennessee after Schwartz left but the Lions’ head coach knew the player Tulloch was and Detroit are seeing that benefit this season. Tulloch graded positively in both run defense (+3.8) and pass coverage this weekend (+1.7), his highest grade this season for each discipline. Tulloch registered six stops in the game and showed just why he is one of the best downhill middle linebackers in the league.
Minnesota – Three Things of Note
1) Pressure off the edge
If the left side of the Lions’ defensive line caused the Vikings headaches on offense then the Minnesota defensive end pairing of Jared Allen and Brian Robison did that and more to the Detroit offense. Allen and Robison were terrors to the Lions’ offense in both run and pass games as they combined for a +4.2 grade in run defense and registered five sacks, two hits and six pressures in pass rush. Whoever the Lions’ lined up at tackle they simply couldn’t live with this pairing and played a large part in limiting the Lions’ vertical threat in this game as Stafford simply didn’t have time to set and throw deep.
One of the few Vikings’ defenders to grade positively in coverage in this game was second year CB Chris Cook. The former Virginia Cavalier is the Viking defensive back most physically suited to covering Johnson and aside from being beaten on a jump ball for a touchdown Cook acquitted himself extremely well in this game. Cook adjusted well on a deep pass to Johnson in zone coverage, breaking up the pass with a diving pass defense to force a field goal attempt on a 3rd-down in the 4th quarter. Big physical receivers are becoming a common theme around the league and whilst the Vikings are well stocked with players suited to covering the smaller slot receivers, Cook could see a big role moving forwards against the bigger receivers out wide.
3) Henderson family values
The Lions’ propensity for spreading the ball out meant that we saw very little of the younger of the Henderson brothers in this game, with Erin Henderson only registering nine snaps and missed out on a start for the first time this season. However even in that limited action we saw from him that he is a very similar player to his brother and that the combination of EJ and Erin gives the Vikings a strong presence in run defense at the second level. With one half of the Williams wall now departed and the Vikings struggling to replace Pat Williams, life won’t be quite so easy for Vikings linebackers to flow to the ball but EJ and Erin are still punishing linebackers against the run. This was older brother EJ Henderson’s first positively graded run defense game of the season. Against a spread out offense by the Lions you only get glimpses, but against more “conventional” offenses and in combination with Chad Greenway the Vikings’ linebacker corps looks like it will continue to be a strength in run defense in 2011.
● Remi Ayodele’s anonymous start to the season continued for the Vikings. The former New Orleans Saints has now played 59 defensive snaps without recording a tackle or a pressure.
● Donovan McNabb attempted only one pass over 20 yards in the entire game; a shot downfield for Bernard Berrian which was overthrown and could have won the Vikings the game late in the 4th quarter.
● For the first time since week 15 last season, Brandon Pettigrew didn’t drop a pass in a game. Pettigrew caught 11 of the 12 passes thrown his way in this game.
PFF Game Ball
Jared Alled and Brain Robison, DE, Minnesota Vikings
It may have come in a losing effort but the Vikings’ defensive ends were a class apart from the rest of the field in this game. Jared Allen and Brian Robison both caused Matthew Stafford nightmares off of the edge in this game.
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