LIONS INSIDER

FOUR DOWNS: Lions' defense legit through four games

Posted Oct 1, 2017

Four downs following the Lions’ 14-7 victory over the Vikings includes legit defense, first quarter in the books, tight end trio and room to run.

FIRST DOWN: LEGIT DEFENSE

If the Detroit Lions proved one thing Sunday in Minnesota, it’s that their defense is legit.

The Vikings came into Sunday’s contest as the No. 2 offense in the league, and the Lions shut them down. Minnesota had under 300 yards of total offense, managed to get into the end zone just once, and turned the ball over three times.

Last week it was three interceptions by the Lions' defense. This week it was three forced fumbles. In all, this Lions defense now has 11 takeaways in four games. Detroit had 14 takeaways all last year.  

“We have resolve,” linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. “It shows the fight that we have as a team, that never give up mentality. We’re going to play 60 minutes, it’s never over until zero’s on the clock.”

Detroit’s defense held Minnesota to under 100 yards rushing (87), which is the third time in four games they’ve accomplished that feat against an opponent.

Vikings quarterback Case Keenum was just 16-of-30 passing for 219 yards, as the Lions continue to rush well and cover even better behind it.

Anthony Zettel continues to get after the quarterback (two sacks Sunday), Glover Quin continues to force turnovers (forced fumble) and this bunch of Lions defenders are proving to be about as opportunistic as they come.

They were without their starting MIKE linebacker, Jarrad Davis, which shows they have depth.

“We’re just tough,” Zettel said of himself and his defensive teammates. “We’re gritty. We get after it.”

SECOND DOWN: FIRST QUARTER IN THE BOOKS

Lions head coach Jim Caldwell breaks the season up into four quarters. Sunday’s 14-7 win in Minnesota means the Lions have gone 3-1 to finish the first quarter, falling only a half-yard short of a perfect 4-0.  

Caldwell said after Sunday’s classic NFC North showdown that he’s beginning to learn a few things about his team.

“Our guys are going to fight you,” he said. “If they’re close in the fourth quarter, we’re going to have a chance with our quarterback, offense, defense and kicking game. I think we have a solid group of guys, but we still have a long way to go.”

Whitehead said he’s also learned this team has some fight to it after a quarter of the season.

“That we’re going to fight you,” he said. “We’re going to scrap you tooth and nail all the way to the end of the game. We’re going to find a way to win. We’re going to come together. That’s why I love this team.”

THIRD DOWN: TIGHT END TRIO

Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter obviously came into Sunday with the game plan to run the football and attack Minnesota’s defense in the short and intermediate passing game, particularly with his tight ends. 

Veteran Darren Fells, who’s really just been a blocking tight end up to this point, led the Lions with four catches for 40 yards on five targets. All of his catches came in the first half and all were for big first downs.

Eric Ebron made a couple catches for 27 yards, including a 15-yard catch and run down the sideline that set up a Matt Prater field goal.

Even rookie tight end Michael Roberts got into the action. His 15-yard reception in the third quarter set up Detroit’s only touchdown of the game, a three-yard run by Ameer Abdullah.

It was good to see that position become a much-needed weapon Sunday.

FOURTH DOWN: ROOM TO RUN

Detroit running the football 31 times Sunday was more out of necessity than anything else.

“When you have pass rushers that you face like that, you better spend some time running the ball because they can create some problems for you,” Caldwell said. “So that was one of the things we wanted to make certain we did is make sure we could find some cracks in that defense.”

Thanks to Abdullah, the Lions did find some cracks. Abdullah recorded career highs in carries (20) and yards (94), and scored the team’s first rushing touchdown of the season. He left early in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury, but could have returned if the Lions needed him to.  

“It’s good. Obviously, rolled it up in the game a little bit, but came off, was thinking about going back in, the circumstances kind of changed from when I was going to go back in, we kind of got back into more of a two-minute mood, so offensively things kind of shifted for us, but I’ll be good,” he said.

Abdullah finished just six yards short of snapping Detroit’s 55-consecutive game streak without a 100-yard rusher. Had he not rolled his ankle, there’s little question he would have got to the century mark.

“We moved the line of scrimmage,” Abdullah said after the game. “It’s something that we always preach when we go into our run game meetings is establish a new line of scrimmage from where it started. Those guys did that consistently all night. You create creases, we got guys who can hit the hole and make things happen.

“I go into every game thinking up for a big day. So, I can’t really nail down which point of the game I thought I was in for a big day. I still don’t think it was that big of a day, but it was solid enough to get us a win.”

Detroit ran the ball pretty well in the second half of the Atlanta game, so that’s now six straight quarters they’ve been able to make moves on the ground. That’s a good sign moving forward.