The Detroit Lions entered Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings averaging 29 points per game with receiving weapons throughout their lineup and feeling the urgency to win at home before heading into their bye week.
Instead, the Vikings left Ford Field feeling more like the "Built Ford Tough" team. The defense gave up yards in the end, especially when it went into a deep shell look to be sure Calvin Johnson and company didn't get over the top for a quick touchdown. The final statistics looked a lot more favorable for the Lions than they were throughout most of the game.
When it was done, the Lions had 341 total net yards, but while the Vikings built their lead in the first half, they yielded only 120 yards of offense and held the Lions to only 1.5 yards per rush on 10 attempts.
"Last week we got a lot of first downs. One of the reasons is that we were able to rush the ball against good looks," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "We got our butts kicked up front. We got sacked and couldn't run the ball. Again, physically we need to be able to do that better."
It was much of the same for the Vikings defense in the second half. The Lions tried to stay balanced, running 10 more times, but by the end of the game they had only averaged 2.8 yards per carry and Mikel Leshoure, who had his first 100-yard game the previous week, was held to 26 yards on 13 carries, including a long run of 14 yards.
"We have to be able to run and last week I think we did. I think we accomplished what we needed to accomplish from our running game. But (Sunday) we didn't slow their rush down and we didn't get those first downs or explosives," Schwartz said. "The one time we did, we fumbled and it makes it hard to continue to stick with it. Last week we were able to continue to stick with it because we rushed for 11 first downs and we were moving the chains. This game we didn't do that and that had a big effect on our pass game and had a big effect on the pass rush that we faced."
The Lions had only two first downs rushing. They had 17 passing, but 11 of those came in the second half, including eight in the fourth quarter, when the Vikings were content to allow short passes underneath to take more time off the clock with a 20-6 lead early in the fourth quarter.
But it wasn't just in the run game that the Vikings frustrated the Lions. Matthew Stafford finished with 319 yards and didn't throw an interception. However, it took him 51 attempts to get there and he was sack five times. In the previous three games, he was sacked a combined four times.
Everson Griffen and Letroy Guion each had two sacks, and Jared Allen had one. Stafford was hit nine times and the Vikings' defensive approach seemed to frustrate him.
"That's a good defense – they have good personnel – but they play the same two coverages the whole game and, other than one blitz on the goal line, that's two games in a row without a blitz. Nobody wants to blitz us," Stafford said. "We've got to find ways to stay ahead of the chains. Had too many negative runs, I missed too many guys, we had too many dropped passes, too many penalties. All of that … margins in this league are not that big and we're on the other side of the margin right now."
The Vikings were well aware of the damage that Johnson and Stafford can do. Johnson entered the game leading the league 369 yards – more than 120 yards per game – but the Vikings held him to 54 yards on five receptions.
"We went into the game not wanting to give up any big plays," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier admitted.
The approach worked. The Lions only had two plays go more than 20 yards, and neither of them were to Johnson.
The Vikings were also the beneficiary of dropped passes that have plagued the Lions this season.
The Lions entered the game with nine dropped passes, the most in the NFL, and they only added to their problems Sunday, ending the day with an estimated four dropped passes, with two of them coming at critical junctures.
In the second quarter, TE Brandon Pettigrew, who led the team with seven catches for 67 yards, dropped a third-down pass to the end zone, forcing Jason Hanson on for a field goal.
Trailing 20-6 midway through the third quarter, WR Titus Young dropped a third-down pass, forcing a punt. And on the final drive, Johnson dropped a third-down pass that was quickly rectified with a 17-yard fourth-down reception, but in the final minute of the game each snap counted.
"Five or six sacks. We couldn't run the ball against good looks to run the football. We dropped touchdown passes and we fumbled the ball in the plus territory," Schwartz said. "And that's why when I say we deserve to be 1-3, those are the reasons."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings defense frustrated Lions
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