Grading the Game: Lions

The Vikings escaped with a wild victory Sunday, but it didn't come easy by stretch of the imagination against the winless Lions. Some units were excellent, while others were simply average at best.

PASSING OFFENSE: C — Brad Johnson threw a touchdown pass for the second week in a row and the veteran quarterback rebounded after a shaky opening half (11-for-17, 80 yards, one interception, 51.1 rating) to finish 26 of 34 for 201 yards with a fourth-quarter scoring pass to Travis Taylor and an 88.0 QB rating. Johnson was hurried on eight occasions but avoided being sacked for a second consecutive week. The big play continues to be missing from the Vikings' offense — the longest pass play was a 21-yarder to Travis Taylor — but Johnson is working the ball to a variety of receivers. Eight players caught passes against the Lions, with running backs Mewelde Moore and Chester Taylor leading the way with five receptions apiece. Keeping in mind, the Lions' pass defense is among the worst in the NFL these numbers still should have been better.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B — The Vikings did not score a touchdown on the ground but did establish the run, gaining 135 yards on 30 carries against the 10th-ranked rushing defense in the NFL. That averaged out to a season-high 4.5 yards per carry. Workhorse running back Chester Taylor led the way with 123 yards on 26 rushes for a 4.7 average. This performance came one week after Taylor gained only 23 yards on 10 carries at Buffalo. The production of the rushing offense — coupled with the fact that quarterback Brad Johnson was not sacked — is an indication the Vikings' much-vaunted offensive line appears to be coming together.

PASS DEFENSE: B — Lions quarterback Jon Kitna might have thrown for 225 yards but this was only because the Lions were forced to abandon the running game. And the Vikings, for the most part, made life miserable for Kitna. The veteran quarterback was picked off three times, with linebacker E.J. Henderson returning a fourth-quarter interception 45 yards for a touchdown. Minnesota's defensive line had a season-high five sacks from five different players, including a key fourth-quarter sequence in which nose tackle Pat Williams forced a Kitna fumble at the goal line. Linebacker Ben Leber picked up the ball and walked into the end zone for a touchdown that pulled the Vikings within one point. The Vikings did give up a passing touchdown to Lions tight end Dan Campbell but it was hard to find much fault with this group.

RUSH DEFENSE: A — If it was difficult to find fault with the pass defense, it was downright impossible to find anything wrong with this area. The Lions gained a measly 16 yards on 11 carries, a 1.5 average, and Kevin Jones had 8 yards on 10 carries. The other 8 yards came from quarterback Jon Kitna on one play. This came one week after nose tackle Pat Williams and Co., held Bills running back Willis McGahee to an average of 2.8 yards on 28 carries. In fairness, the Lions went into the game without starting left guard Ross Verba and right tackle Rex Tucker. Things only got worse as right guard Damien Woody was injured early. Nonetheless, the Vikings line simply isn't giving up many yards and tackles Pat and Kevin Williams are both on top of their games right now.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus — This grade could have been worse but the Vikings overcame two mistakes and got lucky in another instance. The first mistake came in the second quarter when Mewelde Moore fumbled on a punt return after taking his eye off the ball and turned over the ball. The Lions, starting at the Vikings 43, went three-and-out. The second gaffe occurred in the fourth quarter when kicker Ryan Longwell had an extra-point attempt blocked by Jared DeVries. This left the Vikings trailing by one point but a later rally helped them earn the victory. The luck came shortly before the blocked PAT, when Longwell's kickoff following a touchdown was returned for what appeared to be a 98-yard score by the Lions' Eddie Drummond. However, Detroit's Donte Curry was called for an illegal block above the waist and the Lions were forced to start on their own 10-yard line. Shortly thereafter, Vikings nose tackle Pat Williams forced a Jon Kitna fumble and linebacker Ben Leber scored. Longwell does deserve credit for executing a perfect pooch punt after lining up for what appeared to be a 52-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter. The punt pinned the Lions at their own 7-yard line and the after Detroit went three-and-out, the Vikings drove down for a field goal and a 19-17 lead.

COACHING: C-plus — This grade is largely based on the fact that defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin continues to get the most of his players. Tomlin has brought much more than the Tampa-2 scheme to Minnesota, he has brought a willingness to adjust at a moment's notice and a belief that he can get the most out of the personnel he has been given. Tomlin is only 34 years old, but the Vikings' early-season success likely already has teams taking notice of him as a potential head-coaching candidate. While everything Tomlin has touched seems to be turning to gold, the same can't be said for head coach and chief play-caller Brad Childress. The Vikings seem to have no problem moving right down the field on their first series each game — the first 15 plays are scripted by Childress — but after that it's a crapshoot as to how the offense will perform. Things seem to be getting better, but Childress needs to loosen up his play-calling and establish the fact that his offense can go vertical. If this doesn't happen, Tomlin's defense is going to have to continue winning games.


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