Defensive Back Depth Shows Against Detroit

Despite a dearth of qualified receivers Sunday, the Detroit Lions used enough offensive formations to put the Vikings in their dime defense. Cornerback Ralph Brown showed that the Vikings' defensive backfield may be the deepest it has been in a decade.

Detroit was so thin on wide receivers Sunday that a player picked up in the middle of the week actually had a regular role. The surprise of it all was that the Lions would actually line up enough receivers to put the Vikings in a dime defense, six defensive backs, throughout the game.

Defensive back Ralph Brown, who normally has been used mostly in the dime defense, had a strong game on defense and a big play on special teams.

Brown provided tight coverage in the first half, and ended the Lions' second drive. On second-and-11, Joey Harrington went to Mike Williams and with Brown in tight coverage the pass went incomplete. On the next play, Harrington went for wide receiver Glenn Martinez, who was just added to the Detroit roster last week, and Brown deflected that pass out of bounds.

Brown, a former fifth-round draft pick by the New York Giants, did a solid job on Williams, a first-round draft pick that many Vikings fans coveted.

"I saw (Harrington) was not throwing the ball deep to (Williams)," Brown said. "I saw that he's not really polished yet because he's a young wide receiver so I knew I could take advantage of some of his releases on man-to-man press going down the field.

"If you take away that deep ball, then they don't really have a chance to beat you."

In all, the Lions were limited to 289 yards of offense and were sacked four times, about half of them being credited as coverage sacks.

After the Vikings' next drive stalled at midfield, they punted. When the ball came down, Brown was there to down it on the 5-yard line, which eventually led to the Vikings offense getting its best position of the first half and scoring a touchdown.

"As a head-hunter on punt, I just try to make a guy make a false step," Brown said. "If I can make him make that false step, I can get down and use my speed and then look up to see if I can catch the ball. Since I couldn't, I just tried to make sure I could keep it from going into the end zone."

He did exactly that, which started a trend of the Vikings dominating in field position throughout the game.

Brown's first half ended on a lowlight when Scottie Vines beat him late in the second quarter down the left sideline for a 40-yard reception to the 1-yard line, leading to Detroit's only score of the first half.

In the third quarter, Brown suffered a contusion on his left calf but returned for more solid play.

He surfaced on special teams later in the third, when the Vikings were pinned against their own 5-yard line and Chris Kluwe bombed a 61-yard punt that Brown ended with a tackle of Eddie Drummond for a 1-yard loss on the return.

But it was Brown's play on defense that showed the solid depth the Vikings have in the backfield, a statement that couldn't be made with any certainty in almost a decade. They are still only the league's 23rd-ranked pass defense, but progress is definitely being made each offseason, and having a dime defensive back like Brown is one of the reasons, even if the Lions were going after him.

"I thought they were (targeting me)," Brown said. "I thought they were targeting their left, our right. A lot of times when they threw, they were throwing my way, Then, as the game progressed, they started throwing balanced more.

"Today they threw the ball my way and I made the plays. Other games, I hadn't gotten the chances to make any plays."

Then there is the great qualifier — Detroit's lack of receivers entering the game.

The Lions elected to not activate former first-rounder Charles Rogers, who was serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy and didn't show much determination in practice last week, so he wasn't even an option to play Sunday. Detroit coach Steve Mariucci would like it if Rogers showed the practice-field intensity necessary to get himself ready to play in games.

"I've already had a conversation with him," Mariucci said. "It was a private conversation between him and I ... and he's going to come this week, ready to go and show us he's got a better week of practice."

Injured wide receiver Roy Williams, the Lions' most talented threat, didn't start and barely played. And their most productive receiver to date, Kevin Johnson, is out for the season as well.

Vines led Lions receivers for a third consecutive game with nine catches for 109 yards on Sunday. He had five catches in each of the previous two games and was tied with RB Shawn Bryson for the team lead in receptions with 21.

Brown said he doesn't look at the inactive list distributed about an hour before game time. In this case, it wouldn't have been much help. He probably wouldn't have recognized some of the names in uniform anyway.

"We knew they had a really good receiver corps, so we expected the best. We didn't know who was going to play so we prepared for the best," Brown said. As it turned out, Detroit's best were either left in Detroit or left on the sideline.

What Detroit trotted out was far from their best, but the Vikings defensive backfield did its best to hold down whatever the Lions had in reserve.

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