After giving up two touchdowns on the Detroit Lions’ first two drives, the Minnesota Vikings figured out what the Detroit Lions were doing on Sunday and made the adjustments.
“They had some rhythm in their first 15, their scripted plays. They got us on a couple of sneaky ones that got by us and we were able to adjust,” linebacker Chad Greenway said.
“We made some adjustments, we did. We kind of figured out what they were doing, try to make a few adjustments here and there that you can’t make on the sidelines. Just some tweaks and our coaching staff does a great job doing that.”
The adjustments made all the difference and the Lions were out-coached. If the first 15 plays by the Lions were scripted, they wrote them up perfectly. The first 11 plays yielded two touchdowns and a 14-3 lead, but things changed dramatically after that.
The Lions racked up 160 yards in their first two drives and 29 in their third series, with a 46-yard pass to Calvin Johnson being the biggest play of the first drive for the Lions. Knowing that the Vikings put Xavier Rhodes on Johnson led the Lions to lining up Johnson in the slot on that play to give them a mismatch with the 5-foot-9 Captain Munnerlyn on the 6-foot-5 receiver.
Munnerlyn figured that would happen a few times because his defensive backs coach Jerry Gray called it … or texted it.
“He texted me the morning of the game and was like, ‘Hey, be prepared for them to put 81 in the slot to try to get him the ball over the top’ and stuff like that. I was prepared already,” Munnerlyn said. “Like I say, I’ve got a smart coach. I don’t know what he saw or in his dreams, but he prepared me already so I kind of knew or figured they were going to come out with that.”
Johnson gave Munnerlyn a little shove on the 46-yarder, sending the smaller cornerback stumbling and opening up a void that left Johnson room to roam for his biggest gain of the day.
“They did a great job in the beginning scheming us. They really did,” Munnerlyn said. “They knew the coverage we were playing and they knew the weakness of the coverage. When Calvin had that big catch, we was in a coverage that should have put us outside leverage, safety over the top and everything, but they rolled out – if you see Matthew Stafford, it was a roll-out play and a quarterback that rolls out normally, they did the same thing in the first game. They motioned Lance Moore in and he got the first down on like third-and-3. He ran the out, Calvin was supposed to run the seven (route), Calvin acted like he was running the seven and took it up top. Matthew Stafford made a great throw across his body to give him the ball. We’re sitting out there like, ‘Whoa, man, they’re doing a lot of things different’ so we were trying weather the storm, weather the storm and play our game. At first, they wouldn’t allow us to. They did a great job at that. They made plays.”
And then they didn’t.
A stretch of six consecutive drives in the second through fourth quarters left the Lions with two first downs and 1 net yard as a 14-3 lead turned into a 28-17 deficit.
“We made some adjustments. We had to,” Vikings coach and defensive architect Mike Zimmer said. “They double-moved us once and then they snuck the tight end out the back side and we just missed it. They were also doing a lot of the ‘check with me’ things based on our coverages, so we had to fix a lot of those things. Once we got them into throwing situations, I felt pretty good about it.”
On Johnson’s 46-yard gain and tight end Eric Ebron’s 55-yard catch-and-run – both coming in the first two series – the Vikings sent four pass rushers. They didn’t sack QB Matthew Stafford on the first two drives.
The Vikings finished with seven sacks and all but the final one came on blitzes of five or more pass rushers. Two of them came when rushing six defenders, including the first one by Chad Greenway.
While limiting Johnson was a priority, the Vikings found that getting pressure on Stafford was perhaps the most effective way to keep Johnson in check.
“You obviously want to take care of Johnson, but he’s a great player, so it’s always hard to do that,” said safety Harrison Smith, who had one of the seven sacks. “But guys up front did a great job getting pressure on the quarterback. Stafford, he’s a tough guy, he hung in there all day and still got the ball around, but like I said, (we) did enough to win.”