Detroit Lions vs. Minnesota Vikings: Breaking Down Detroit's Game Plan

Jeff Risdon@@JeffRisdonContributor IDecember 26, 2013

DETROIT, MI - SEPTEMBER 08: Joseph Fauria #80 of the Detroit Lions catches a fourth quarter touchdown in front of Chris Cook #20 of the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field on September 8, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit won the game 34-24. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Detroit's 2013 NFL season will come to a close with a trip to Minnesota to face the host Vikings.

What: Detroit Lions (7-8) at Minnesota Vikings (4-10-1)

Where: The Metrodome, Minneapolis, Minn.

When: Sunday, Dec. 29, 1 p.m. ET

Watch: Fox, check local listings

This game will also close the Metrodome, home of the Vikings since the 1982 season. For Minnesota fans, the dilapidated stadium, much like this disappointing season, cannot come to an end soon enough.

As such, the motivations of both teams is questionable. Detroit has lost five of six to fall from controlling its own playoff destiny to playing out the finale under a coaching staff that certainly appears doomed. 

In fact, Pro Football Talk reported upon speculation that former Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt has already been contacted as a potential replacement for current coach Jim Schwartz.

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier could very well be coaching his final game in Minnesota as well. Numerous reports, including one from Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune, indicate Frazier's seat is as hot as Schwartz's. The Vikings made the playoffs last season but have plummeted to the bottom of the NFC North.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 1: Matt Cassel #16 of the Minnesota Vikings passes the ball during the fourth quarter of the game against the Chicago Bears on December 1, 2013 at Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minneso
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The biggest reason for the downfall is the quarterback situation. Minnesota has rotated between wildly inconsistent Christian Ponder, incredibly disappointing midseason acquisition Josh Freeman and underwhelming Matt Cassel. 

This provides the Lions with a distinct matchup advantage. Cassel, who will start for the Vikings, is less mistake-prone than the others but is also not as apt to challenge the defense down the field. 

Given the injury issues in the secondary and the problems with blown coverages even with everyone healthy, the Lions back end could use the break. 

That doesn't mean they can let down, however. One of the keys to victory will be containing dynamic rookie wideout Cordarrelle Patterson. He's a lethal weapon with the ball in his hands. 

The Vikings have been creative in getting him the ball. Aside from his downfield size and speed as a receiver, Patterson has found success getting the ball on end-arounds and toss sweeps. Here is an example of the latter from last week's blowout loss to Cincinnati.

Patterson lines up as the tailback in the I-formation. The Vikings overload the right side of the line with two tight ends. In other words, they're not exactly hiding their intention here.

NFL Game Rewind

It works regardless, but the Bengals help make it work. This is where the lesson lies for the Lions, and it's rooted in football geometry.

The tight ends double-team the defensive end, while the guard and fullback both pull around the edge to pluck off the front containment. That makes it incumbent upon the second wave of defenders to get in proper position to make smart plays. 

Unfortunately for Cincinnati, that does not happen. Two defenders with outside containment both choose to pursue inside and upfield angles (the yellow paths). Patterson has enough speed to outrun them around the perimeter.

NFL Game Rewind

Had either of those defenders taken the paths in red, Patterson doesn't get to the edge so cleanly. That buys time for the posse to arrive and help corral Cordarrelle. 

The Detroit safeties and corners must practice proper pigskin geometry, or else Patterson will toast them for some big plays. The Vikings happen to have another outstanding threat in Adrian Peterson, too, though he might not play according to Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune:

Leslie Frazier said Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart won't practice today. Gerhart looks doubtful for Sunday with hamstring injury

— chipscoggins (@chipscoggins) December 24, 2013

That means Detroit can expect to see a lot of No. 84 in purple and white. 

Even if the Lions surrender a big play or two to Patterson, Detroit still has plenty of firepower to outscore the Vikings. This is true, albeit not as easily accomplished, even with star wideout Calvin Johnson either hobbled or missing altogether. 

Earlier, I broke down a few ways for the Lions to manage offensively without Johnson. Expanding upon one of those concepts, this could be a real opportunity for Joique Bell to shine even brighter than he did against the Giants.

Bell's ability to break tackles is outstanding. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Bell ranks 13th in the league in forced missed tackles. 

What makes that more impressive is that Bell is 28th in rushing attempts. With 32 broken tackles in 158 attempts, Bell is breaking at least one tackle on every fifth run.

He's also rated fourth by Pro Football Focus' game charters in the passing game and plays like this one against the Giants illustrate why. Given that the Vikings rank dead last in passing yards allowed, this should work well in Minnesota.

Detroit spreads out the formation to stretch the defense. The idea is to get Bell isolated on a single linebacker in space. 

NFL Game Rewind

He releases after a count in the backfield and knifes through the left B-gap. His crisp footwork on the cut to his right increases the angular advantage on the trailing defender. 

Thanks to good protection and eye discipline by Matthew Stafford, Bell has time to pull away as his quarterback nicely leads him even further from his defender. 

NFL Game Rewind

Bell snares the ball in stride and quickly turns it up the field. He absorbs the contact from the first defender and continues to trudge forward before being gang-tackled just shy of the goal line. 

Getting Bell the ball in space figures to be tremendously effective against the porous Vikings defense. Plays like this are one way to do just that. 

Finally, the Lions have to protect the pigskin. That is a concept which is apparently easier said than done for Detroit's offense. It's time for the Lions to channel their inner Eazy-E, who once boasted "Eazy said it and it shall be dunn."

The Lions have been easy pickings for opposing defenses. They have committed at least three turnovers in six consecutive games. 

Pittsburgh 3 0 -3
Tampa Bay 5  0  -5 
Green Bay 4  3  -1 
Philadelphia 3  1  -2 
Baltimore 3  0  -3 
New York Giants 3  2  -1 

It's really nothing more than a case of simple math. Taking the ball away more often than giving it away typically equals success. If the Lions want to win, ball security must be at a premium. 

Even though this game has no bearing on the playoff race, and it probably doesn't matter in terms of Jim Schwartz's fate, it would still be nice to see the Lions roar one last time this season. That would say a lot about the professionalism and potential outlook for next year. 


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