Over the last four games, teams had figured out how to attack the Vikings defense — use their running backs to expose the edges and set up the passing game by picking up huge chunks of yards. It worked for the Giants, Packers, Chargers and Raiders, but that tendency and the Vikings' ability to stop it Sunday became the turning point of the game because it happened all game long.
The Lions struggled all day to get their running game going. While Olandis Gary and Shawn Bryson don't ring the same fear in defenses that LaDainian Tomlinson or Ahman Green do, Lions coach Steve Mariucci came into the game determined to establish the run.
It didn't work.
With the exception of a 13-yard run by Gary in the second quarter and an 11-yard run by Bryson in the final two minutes, the pair combined to run the ball 15 times. The result? Sixteen yards.
In the first quarter, the Lions running backs rushed three times — the result of those carries being minus-1 yard total. As awful as that was, it didn't get much better the rest of the game — at least until their final drive, at which point the Lions were behind by 17 points with the Vikings in a prevent defense.
Besides the 13-yarder and 11-yarder by Gary and Bryson, respectively, the Lions attempted to run on first down eight times for the game. The tally? A total of 7 yards gained. The best result they ever had was a second-and-8, and they accomplished that just twice.
By stuffing the Detroit running game on first down so consistently, the Lions were forced to become one-dimensional. Consistently pushed into second-and-long and third-and-long situations, the Vikings defense was able to bring pressure on Joey Harrington — knowing he would have to pass. While the four interceptions were a credit to the Vikings pass defense, it was the consistent and game-long ability to stop the run on first down that created the turning point of the game Sunday and got the Vikings out of their four-game tailspin.
"The Lions tried to run and we stopped the run," defensive tackle Chris Hovan said. "They become one-dimensional. For a team that has only given up six sacks, three against us, I thought we really harassed Harrington today."
Turning Point: First-Down Stuffers
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