ReFo: Lions @ Vikings, Week 10
The way things have been going in recent weeks, everything pointed to the Detroit Lions rolling over the Minnesota Vikings. After all the Lions’ offense was finding its form, Christian Ponder was playing like he’d never seen a football before, and Percy Harvin was out.
Well, football is a funny old game and the absence of Harvin seemed to force Ponder to take his game to another level. Coupled with some crucial plays on defense, and the decisive running of Adrian Peterson, the Vikings refound a formula that brought them much success earlier in the year.
Avoid mistakes and avoid beating yourself. If only the Lions had adopted such a mentality.
They didn’t and some serious question marks need to be asked about how this team has faltered.
Detroit – Three Performances of Note
Good Games, Bad Moments
It could have been so very different for Matthew Stafford (+3.2) and Calvin Johnson (+2.1). They regularly exploited zones in the Vikings’ defense, with Johnson catching 12 of 13 balls thrown his way for 207 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately both men made individual mistakes that would prove crucial, which shows you can play well for 98 percent of plays, only to make that one error which puts your team in a hole. For Stafford that came with 7:44 to go in the first quarter when he forced a throw into tight coverage, with Chad Greenway in perfect position to pick it off. For Johnson it was a fumble late in the game. Both turnovers led to field goals and a change in momentum as the Lions were constantly in chase mode.
Let’s be completely honest. The Lions’ defensive line this year has been a disappointment. They’ve failed to generate enough pressure, are still susceptible to the same old plays (like the Vikings’ constantly using a fullback or tight end to trap block Ndamukong Suh) and commit too many penalties. While Nick Fairley is as guilty as anyone in that regard (he now has seven penalties on the year), he continues to be the bright spot on this line. He got constant penetration, chiefly on Charlie Johnson, to pick up a sack, hit and three hurries while also adding two defensive stops in the run game. He’s up to a +8.8 rating on the year (with a -5.8 grade for all the penalties) and is only getting better the more he plays.
But the Rest?
It’s only fair to compare what the rest of the Lions’ defensive line rotation was able to do compared with Fairley. While he had his five quarterback disruptions, the rest of the line managed just that between them. Chief culprit was teacher’s pet Kyle Vanden Bosch (-3.6), who picked up a solitary hurry in 25 pass rushes while again struggling to make much of an impact in the run game. Teams have too often had no problem shutting down the Lions’ defensive ends in their vanilla scheme, and it’s a big part of why they are struggling so much this year.
Minnesota – Three Performances of Note
Harvin Goes Down, Ponder Steps Up
It’s the easiest thing in the world. You have a playmaker like Harvin, so you just dump the ball off to him and let him do all the work. That, for most of the season, has been the Vikings’ passing attack. Only with Harvin out Ponder (+2.5) was asked to do a lot more — and to the surprise of many he stepped up. He avoided making crucial mistakes and instead challenged the Lions’ defense with some big completions, none more so than the 54-yard bomb to Jarius Wright with 9:11 to go in the first quarter. With only four overthrows and a delay of game penalty dragging his grade down, he completed pass after pass for first down after first down. There were still those moments where he forgets he’s playing in the NFL (the sack he took with 3:38 to go in the first quarter), but after the horror shows of the past two weeks this was deeply encouraging.
Tough Day for Harrison Smith
It wasn’t the best day in the world for rookie Harrison Smith (-2.0). The Vikings’ deep safety had a number of problems coming up in his zone to cut off deep and intermediate balls to Johnson as the Lions attacked the seam, and he was badly beaten for Brandon Pettigrew’s touchdown. He rarely offered much support in run defense, and when he was in position to make a play he whiffed on a tackle that Mikel Leshoure ran straight through. He’s played better than this and will play better in the future.
Christmas Comes Early for Rudolph
Much was made that with Harvin down, the Vikings would lean on Kyle Rudolph (+2.7), and so it proved to be. With just 17 yards in his past three games, he had a point to prove and used his frame to pick up three first downs (one more was called back on a penalty) and a touchdown. He added some decent run blocking into the mix with the only real negative on his day being a false start penalty.
– Brian Robison batted another pass. That’s five in the past three games and is obviously an area he has worked on because he never had one before.
– Stafford went 11 of 17 on balls thrown more than 10 yards in the air for 226 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
– 67.8 percent of Adrian Peterson’s yards came on just four of his runs.
PFF Game Ball
This was the time for Christian Ponder to step up, make some plays and avoid making mistakes. He did, the Lions didn’t, and the Vikings won as a result.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled