Vikings vs Lions: Drawing Up a Gameplan for Minnesota
The Vikings are coming off a stunning and amazing victory, but can't rest on their laurels as they travel to face Detroit, a team coming off an equally surprising outcome from this weekend—a loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Detroit is going to come out hard, and the Vikings need the same focus and attention to detail they showed against the San Francisco 49ers.
Even more vital is that they come out and play as physical a game as they did last Sunday.
That's the over-arching key to beating this team. No matter what game plan the Vikings come up with, they need to hit the Lions early and often on both sides of the ball.
As Junior Soprano once said, "You come heavy, or not at all."
Let's take a closer look at how that could play out for both sides of the ball.
When the Vikings are on Offense
The best angle to take here is a combination of the plan the Vikings used to get after the 49ers last week and the way the 49ers countered the pass rush with tight end and fullback traps.
First, as we talked about last week, when we broke down a plan of attack for San Francisco, you disrupt a tough pass rush with quick strikes and some run plays.
Actually, a lot of run plays. The Lions are a little worse off in the run defense department, but not much. That said, as with last week, you don't shy away from the rush.
While Adrian Peterson didn't have a tremendous statistical day, he wore the defense down and, as I have said before during the fallout from Sunday, chipped away a little of their confidence just by not giving up and the team not moving away from the run.
The 49ers were very successful running on the ground against the Lions, totaling 148 yards on the ground. Adrian Peterson, if the Vikings are dedicated to the ground attack as they were against the Niners, could have a very good day against this unit, NFL ranking aside.
Running Peterson into this defense is also one way to bring the physicality the Vikings need to hit the Lions with.
Another way is for Percy Harvin to play as hard as he did against San Francisco. Harvin didn't get hit—he delivered hits. Again, this was not something the Niners were used to, and the Lions will like it no better.
The Lions aim to be the physical team, but the VIkings have to do so as well.
Harvin, along with tight end Kyle Rudolph, has to be heavily involved in the early portion of the game to set the tempo.
Let's not overlook the matchup issue Rudolph presents at 6'6". He's a lot to handle and the linebackers for the Lions aren't great in coverage. The secondary for the Lions is struggling as well—and many of them far are shorter than Rudolph.
The Vikings have a huge matchup advantage with their tight end and they should use him, not just in the red zone, but everywhere on the field.
The temptation will be to air it out with the return of Jerome Simpson. That has to be curtailed.
Sure, some carefully chosen spots should be taken advantage of. They do need to go vertical on occasion. However, Christian Ponder was successful last Sunday because the game plan was conservative and played to the strengths of his current level of development.
Which is fancy talk for "Ponder is only so good right now."
Plus—and here's where the Packers and Lions have both made mistakes against fierce pass rushes—you cannot wait for your vertical receiver to get open against a pass rush which will probably give you a handful of seconds at best.
So you need to loosen up the rush first, and you do that the same way you did last week—short passes and lots of runs.
Then, as the game goes, mix in a few vertical routes for Simpson, who, let's remember, hasn't played since the preseason and will have some rust to knock off anyway.
The other way to counter a pass rush with guys like Ndamukong Suh and Cliff Avril (Corey Williams just had knee surgery and Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com tweeted he is out for the game this weekend) is, again, the way the Niners did it.
They often allowed what looked like a clear shot at Frank Gore or Alex Smith to form, sucking in Avril, Suh, Fairley or anyone else.
The Lions player would shoot the gap—and get hammered by the tight end or fullback.
As you can see by the screen caps above, it's shockingly simple. The Lions want to get at the quarterback, want to get into the backfield. Sometimes you can let them do that—and hammer them when they do.
Not to mention, if you have a screen pass or short route set up, you can usually gain some good yards to boot.
Again, it helps to bring a physical style of play which will set the tone for the game.
The Lions defense was abnormally quiet last week, and while the expectation is that they will bounce back, the Vikings have options to make that a trend not an aberration.
Move the chains, keep the ball moving forward, hit them every chance you get.
When the Vikings are on Defense
As with the offense, the defense has to come hard.
You aren't stopping Calvin Johnson through coverage. I know the Vikings improved the secondary, but they aren't going to beat him with man coverage, and they won't beat him with zone.
They can double or triple team him, sure, then watch as Nate Burleson and Titus Young kill them.
The way to slow Johnson down is to make sure he doesn't get off the line cleanly.
Of course, Johnson is going to get his, and if the Lions are smart, they will involve him short if he cannot get open cleanly on long routes.
When he goes long, I would expect support in the form of rookie Harrison Smith over the top.
So, with the assumption that there is only so much to do about Calvin Johnson when you don't have a top shutdown corner (and even then, good luck), the other key is getting to the quarterback.
Jared Allen gave Niners left tackle Joe Staley fits as he beat him for a sack as well as a QB hit and constant pressure. Insult to injury note: The sack produced the fumble which ended the game.
Allen, along with Chad Greenway, were big factors against the 49ers and need to keep it up against the suspect Lions offensive line. Allen will test Jeff Backus, who is coming off a pretty dominant performance against Kamerion Wimbley, allowing just one hurry on 60 passing plays, according to Pro Football Focus.
On the other side of the line, Brian Robinson will be attacking right tackle Gosder Cherilus, who has played very well this year.
The upside to the tough matchups Allen and Robinson have is it may allow Greenway and Erin Henderson to get into the backfield often enough to cause problems.
The defense will also need to watch Mikel Leshoure, who looked sharp in his regular season debut.
They did an excellent job of slowing the 49ers' Frank Gore and nullifying Kendall Hunter. While Gore made some nice runs, he was nowhere near the factor he'd been in the previous two games.
Leshoure is not in Gore's category as a back, not at this point (if ever). He's a solid runner, but the team should be able to contain him, thereby limiting the impact of the play-action as well as making the offense a little more one-dimensional.
The defense has its work cut out for them, and in fact, this will probably be a much tougher test than the Niners were.
Ultimately, this comes down to—say it with me now—playing a tough, physical game for four quarters. They need to wear the Lions down in much the same way they wore the 49ers down.
The Lions have some very clear holes in their game—they start slow and have struggled on defense, most notably this past week.
If the Vikings come out fired up like they did last week, with a solid gameplan, there is every chance they could win what could be a huge early division game.
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