The Detroit Lions defeated the Minnesota Vikings 17-3 in what was a hard fought defensive battle. The Lions came into today’s game without their top two offensive weapons in Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush. They also came into the game with two big question marks, one being the offensive line and the other being the kicking game. The one part of the Detroit Lions that so far this season has not been a question mark is the defense. That proved true again today as the defense was key to the Lions victory.
On the first drive of the game, Matthew Stafford looked sharp, hitting Eric Ebron for 12 yards, Golden Tate for 7 yards, and Theo Riddick for 41 yards to move the ball into Vikings territory. They also got a nice 10 yard run out of Joique Bell on the drive. Ultimately though, it was Riddick’s second catch of the drive that scored the touchdown, a 7 yard pass from Stafford.
Teddy Bridgewater, they dynamic rookie quarterback for the Vikings, led the team down the field on the very next drive, mostly utilizing the run from both him and his running back Jerick McKinnon. He also got a nice 21 yard run by Jarius Wright on an end around. In the end though, it was Bridgewater’s only pass attempt of the drive that sealed their fate. From Detroit’s 15 yard line, he stared down Cordarrelle Patterson and launched a pass right into the arms of Glover Quin, who was waiting in the end zone for the telegraphed pass.
After a stalled drive for each side, Detroit got the ball on a punt at their own 45 yard line. They moved the ball into field goal range on a 15 yard pass to Golden Tate and a 7 yard pass to Theo Riddick. That set new kicker Matt Prater up for a 50 yard field goal attempt. Prater missed his first attempt, causing Detroit fans to groan, fearing that the kicking woes were to continue. The Lions and Vikings both had drives stall for nearly the entire second quarter. With less than a minute to go before halftime, The Vikings moved the ball on an 18 yard pass by Bridgewater to running back Matt Asiata. The very next play, Bridgewater had his pass intercepted by Tahir Whitehead. The Lions then moved the ball just enough to get into Vikings territory, where the drive stalled, leaving Matt Prater to attempt another field goal, this one from 52 yards. He nailed it, in 17 mile per hour winds, to show he should not be defined by his first miss.
On the Vikings’ first drive after halftime, Bridgewater had his offense on the move until they got into Detroit territory. Once in Detroit territory, Bridgewater had his pass tipped and again intercepted by Tahir Whitehead. Detroit drove into Minnesota territory on an 11 yard run and a 7 yard run both by Joique Bell. Then Corey Fuller snagged a 5 yard pass from Stafford. Bell then ran for 13 more yards to get into the red zone. The drive stalled there on two Viking sacks. Prater was up for what should have been an easy 44 yard field goal. He missed it though.
Minnesota had their next drive stall and Detroit started to move the ball. From their own 40, Joique Bell had a run and pass that combined for 14 yards. Minnesota had a pair of costly penalties that extended the drive as Stafford connected with Golden Tate. With runs from George Winn, Joique Bell, and Jed Collins, Detroit got down to Minnesota’s 17. Stafford was then sacked leaving the lions with a 3rd and 16. Stafford completed a 15 yard pass to Joique Bell, but he was just short of the first down marker. On fourth and one, instead of sending Prater out for another attempt, they sent in Winn, who ran for 4 yards easily picking up the first down. Bell then ran twice to get the Detroit touchdown.
After a pair of 3 and outs, the Vikings started driving into Detroit territory. The Detroit defense, which by now was in prevent mode, held firm forcing Minnesota to kick the 40 yard field goal, which veteran Blair Walsh made. Detroit then started draining the clock with run plays, and the defense held strong against Bridgewater and the Viking offense. Detroit drained time off the clock starting in Vikings territory already. On 4th down, instead of attempting the field goal to seal the game, they ran the ball with Bell. The game ended with Detroit on top 17-3.
In today’s game, the Detroit offensive line allowed constant pressure on Stafford, even though he was only sacked 4 times. They really struggled against the Vikings defensive line which ultimately caused the offense to look as anemic as it did today. The offense only accounted for a mere 255 yards, with 100 of them being rushing yards. With Stafford and Bush both out though, the offense was expected to struggle. Stafford was very pedestrian compared to his usual, but he protected the ball well even under the ridiculous pass rush he faced all day. With only 185 yards passing and 1 touchdown on 57.6% passing, he needs to get better protection for this team to take the next step.
The kicking game was a mess again today, with 2013 Pro Bowl kicker Matt Prater making one of three field goals, which could have been a recipe for disaster had the game been closer. Fortunately for him though, coach Jim Caldwell re-affirmed the team’s faith in him and attributed his rough day kicking to the fierce winds down at field level. Prater was quoted after the game as saying that the snap and hold was good for both of his misses. He stated that he expects to make every kick he attempts and did not play the wind properly. We can expect a better Prater next week against the New Orleans Saints and we will likely need to as the Saints offense is very good and every point will matter in that game.
Finally, the Detroit defense is not getting anywhere near enough praise for the fantastic season they have had so far. They are the top ranked defense so far this year, and Teryl Austin has turned a weak pass defense into a strength of the team. Today, the defense had 8 sacks against a mobile quarterback. They also snagged 3 interceptions, had consistent pressure on Bridgewater, and nearly held the Vikings scoreless. In total, the Vikings had 197 total yards, with 69 of them being rush yards. If the offense can catch up to the defense, or at very least to 2011’s productivity, this team is an easy Super Bowl favorite with the way the defense is playing. Unfortunately, I do not think the offense will be at that level this season as the complexity of the offense this year is much higher than in past years under Scott Linehan.