One of the recurring themes engrained in every football game is one that belies what high-scoring fantasy football has thrived upon: Stop the run on defense. Run the ball on offense.
In their first two games of the 2015 season, the Vikings have displayed how being able to control the running game can be the difference between winning and being battered and bruised.
In the opener against San Francisco, the Vikings could accomplish neither of those pregame goals and took their lumps. Sunday, just the opposite was true. The Vikings held Detroit to just 38 rushing yards – more than half of that coming from QB Matthew Stafford – and dominated the Lions much of the game.
Instead of reveling in their success, defensive tackle Linval Joseph said this is what the Vikings are going to look like more weeks than not defensively, not the sad showing the team put in a week ago against the 49ers.
“We were just doing our job; it wasn’t a statement,” Joseph said. “We practiced all week just to do our job. (Sunday) we converted practice to the game. We want to do that every week.”
Defensive end Brian Robison had one of his best statistical days in some time, recording six tackles and consistently blowing up plays and forcing Stafford off of his spot.
Like Joseph, Robison reiterated that the design of the Vikings defense is to funnel players toward the ball. Sometimes a player can have a great game and not get any tackles or sacks. Other times, the plays unfold right in front of them and they have to make plays. In the end, it’s all about timing and making the most of plays that come your way.
“I think it’s all about opportunities,” Robison said. “Sometimes you don’t get as many opportunities as you do in other games. The only thing I do is play 100 percent every play and, if the opportunities present themselves, you’ve got to make the plays.”
The Vikings’ ability to bottle up running backs Ameer Abdullah and Joique Bell was a pregame goal. Being able to achieve that goal made the Lions one-dimensional and allowed the Vikings to pin their ears back and come after Stafford.
While it was a day Stafford would just as soon forget, the Vikings gained a measure of respect for him after he took a beating all day long from a Vikings defense convinced he had to pass on most downs.
“He’s a very tough kid,” Joseph said. “I have a real respect for Stafford every week he gets hit and he gets back up. I’m just glad we got after him and beat them. We’ve got to play them one more time, and we made some mistakes so we’ve got to get better.”
Over the years in Detroit, teams being able to shut down the run and force Stafford to beat them with his arm has been nothing unique. It has happened many times and the result is similar. Stop the running game and bring the heat on Stafford. It’s a time-honored key to success and the Vikings had to give a tip of the cap to Stafford for the beating he was willing to endure and keep on coming in hopes of rallying his team.
“That’s a tough kid,” Robison said. “We watch him on tape. I know we’ve played him numerous years now. That kid takes hits and he gets up and keeps on ticking. I got a lot of respect for Matthew Stafford just because of his toughness.”
The night and day difference between the Vikings of last Monday and the Vikings of Sunday could be summed up simply in the way the defense handled the running game. San Francisco went off for 230 rushing yards and the Vikings got crushed. Detroit ran for 38 yards and the defense returned the favor.
The Vikings defense wasn’t nearly as bad as it looked against the 49ers and may not be as good as it looked against Detroit. But when they’re on their game, you will see many more performances like the one that was witnessed Sunday and the more of those that happen, the closer the Vikings will be to the team that can make a legitimate playoff run.
It’s a bit cliché, but the old mantra is true – stop the run and you win games.
“We contained him and this was a team win,” Joseph said. “Everybody just did their job. We played small ball. That’s what we want. Everybody does their job and wins will come.”