If the Minnesota Vikings were caught off guard by Reggie Bush, they shouldn't have been.
While the typical line of questioning last week focused on Detroit Lions record-setting WR Calvin Johnson, there were plenty of questions asked about what kind of an impact RB Reggie Bush would have on the Lions offense, and the way the Vikings defended it. Both angles were answered.
Bush had a game-altering impact for the Lions, and the Vikings did little to counter the way they approached it.
Yes, QB Christian Ponder's three interceptions and the fumbled exchange between him and RB Adrian Peterson will rightfully draw plenty of criticism from fans and media, but the defense – players and coaches – can't be viewed as blameless in the 34-24 loss in Detroit.
Thankfully, their highest paid defensive player, Jared Allen, wasn't making excuses.
"We were on the field a lot, but that's our own fault. We couldn't get off the field," said Allen, who played 75 of the 80 defensive snaps. "I am a firm believer in 24 points wins you a game. I mean, 17 points should win you a game. I think our offense put up enough points. At some point we have to make stops."
The Lions' first three drives went for 10, 10 and seven plays, respectively, and 58, 60 and 35 yards. Amazingly, they had only six points to show for that because of a bobbled hold on what was supposed to be a field goal attempt.
Eventually, the defense settled in, allowing only 15 plays over the next four drives with the help of an interception and a fumble recovery, but that effectiveness didn't last.
Over the next three drives, the Vikings allowed Detroit a combined 205 yards of offense and three touchdowns, including a 77-yard passing play. It wasn't to Johnson – the Vikings held him to four catches for 37 yards – but rather Bush, who could be the next shifty NFC North thorn in the Vikings' side.
"It was just a play that we felt that we could really exploit them with the way they play their defense, Tampa-2," Bush said. "Their linebackers kind of drop really deep in the coverage in third-and-long situations. We felt like we could really take advantage of that. We hit them with it, I think twice, early in the first half. This one just happened to work out perfectly. I was able to score a long touchdown. I think it gave us a lot of momentum throughout the game."
The Vikings were essentially forced to pick their poison – covering Johnson over the top or bracketing additional help on Bush underneath. They chose to guard against Johnson more and Bush, the new Detroit dynamo, took full advantage of it.
"These guys played us very similar to the way they played us last year. Very soft zone coverage. Hardly any snaps to Cover-1 or anything like that," QB Matthew Stafford said. "Just his ability to run after the catch was huge for us (Sunday). Just whether it's second-and-long getting back to third-and-short or converting a third down, the guy did it all. The more weapons you have on offense the more confidence everybody has. We're all going to get it down and that's what happened."
Bush said the Lions knew the Vikings would be playing two safeties deep.
They should know that. The Vikings do occasionally bring a safety down, but not often with Johnson the ever-present deep threat. The Vikings defense took the conservative approach and the Lions were ready.
No matter what kind of defense the Vikings played, or even what team the Lions were playing, Bush realized having Johnson pulling defenders downfield with him would open up the shallow routes for him.
"This was the stuff we were looking at (during free agency). They really didn't have to show me much," Bush said of the Lions' recruiting effort to land him in free agency. "All they had to do was just turn on a few plays and show me that they were doubling Calvin, rolling coverage over to him and six-man boxes, five man boxes sometimes in there and that's a running back's dream. I was facing eight- and nine-men boxes in Miami so this is very refreshing for me."
Bush did his work all across the field. He rushed eight times for 32 yards to the left, nine times for 39 yards to the right and four times for 14 yards up the middle.
But it was in the passing game where he hurt the Vikings most, including a short pass in the middle of the field that Bush turned into a 77-yard touchdown. Of course, the Vikings were without their 11th-year veteran defensive tackle, Kevin Williams, who was out with a knee injury.
"They didn't have Kevin Williams, but they have an outstanding front. (Brian) Robison, Jared Allen, I mean those guys are tough," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "First-round draft pick in (Sharrif) Floyd. Pro Bowl linebacker in (Chad) Greenway – a lot of respect for him. I mean, that's a very, very good front and they've given us a lot of problems – last year they gave us an awful lot of problems. We had a hard time getting a pass off without getting hit last year. We couldn't run the ball for an inch. This year was a different story."
It wasn't just physical errors. The Vikings had plenty of mental errors on defense, too. Some of it was missing gap assignments or contain, but they were also guilty of back-breaking penalties.
In the fourth quarter, with the Vikings trailing 27-24, they had the Lions facing third-and-15 and forced an incompletion … followed by a roughing the passer penalty on Letroy Guion. That gave Stafford a fresh set of downs. Three plays later, on third-and-5, he got a pass interference penalty on Xavier Rhodes. It took only four more plays and the Lions had a touchdown and a 34-24 lead that ended the scoring.
"We had a chance there in the fourth to get off the field twice. We had penalties to keep the drive going. We're down by three and we're then looking at a totally different game," Allen said. "We go down, let them score and waste a bunch of clock. I mean I don't know how many eight-play, 10-play drives they had today, but it was a lot and it was embarrassing. It's indicative of who we are. I meant it when I said we have the potential to be the best front seven that I've been a part of and guys have to play better."
If they don't, it won't just be Ponder getting buried in criticism.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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