Four Downs: A look at the sequence that lost it for the Lions

Posted Nov 11, 2012

The Lions lost Sunday because of key stretch in the fourth quarter where a penalty and a sequence of five plays completely turned the game around.

First Down

The Lions can look to a lot of reasons why they lost at Minnesota Sunday.

There are a few obvious ones, like their inability to stop Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (171 yards) or the slow start on offense that resulted in just three points by halftime.

But the Lions lost Sunday because of key stretch in the fourth quarter where a penalty and a sequence of five plays completely turned the game around.

The Lions trailed 24-17 and had just forced a punt to get the ball back at the midway through the quarter. Stefan Logan returned the Vikings punt 31 yards to the Lions 48-yard line and the Lions were in business having just scored the previous possession.

On first down, the Lions called a pitch-sweep left to Leshoure, but left tackle Jeff Backus was called for holding. All the sudden it's 1st-and-20. Two incomplete passes to Leshoure (one a drop on first down) ensued. Quarterback Matthew Stafford went incomplete to Calvin Johnson on third down and the Lions were forced to punt.

"That's tough," Stafford said of that offensive sequence. "First-down-and-20 with that defense is tough. I think the first down play we dropped a pass too. We had a chance to get 10 back and make it 2nd-and-10 and manageable, but it just ... that was definitely a point in the game where we could have taken advantage and we didn't. There were a lot of those."

The Vikings capitalized on the opportunity to get the ball back, though. Two plays after the punt, Peterson went 61 yards for a touchdown and the Vikings were back up by two scores.

That was essentially the ball game.

Second Down

Masked behind the 207-yard performance by Calvin Johnson was the inability of the other Lions receivers to clear the defense in the first five yards from the line of scrimmage.

The Vikings had a good plan to be physical with the Lions and it affected them all game.

Outside of Johnson's big game, the Lions got a total of five catches for 40 yards from their other receivers. Four of those catches and 35 yards came from Titus Young.

"We were getting jammed out of our routes," Schwartz said. "Made it hard to get guys open. They played some man coverage underneath and we didn't get open in the first half. We made some adjustments and started getting some in the second half, but (three points in the first half) isn't enough."

Stafford was sacked twice in the game and had just 97 passing yards and an interception in the first half, mainly because none of his receivers were getting open down the field for him.

After two good performances the past two weeks, Young and rookie receiver Ryan Broyles disappeared Sunday.

Third Down

It's one thing to be in third down. It's a whole other to be in third-down-and-long.

Too many times Sunday the Lions found themselves in long third-down situations.

The Lions finished 1-for-9 on third down (11 percent), but seven of those nine were of seven yards or longer.

"Every third down I felt like in the first half we were third-and-extra-long and that's a good defense," Stafford said of the Vikings. "That's a defense that's going to be able to take advantage of that more times than not. We just put ourselves behind the chains early and it made it tough on us."

The Lions entered the game 20-of-28 on third down over their last two games – both victories.

Fourth Down

Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder completed passes to nine different players, including himself.

The Vikings offense did a good of spreading the ball around in the absence of receiver Percy Harvin, and - for the first time since the Lions lost to Tennessee in Week 3 - an opposing quarterback easily exploited the Lions' beleaguered secondary.

The Lions started the same secondary in consecutive games for the first time all season on Sunday, but were still without starting safeties Louis Delmas (knee) and Amari Spievey (concussion).

The very first series set the tone when rookie receiver Jarius Wright split the defense, getting behind the Lions secondary for a 54-yard gain.

Both the safeties and linebackers had trouble covering Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, too. Rudolph had seven receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown.

Part of the blame has to fall on the Lions front four for not generating enough pressure, but Ponder made it look way too easy to complete passes.

With reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers waiting in the wings and also coming off a bye, Lions coaches should be worried about their secondary if Delmas can't play and cornerback Chris Houston, who hurt his ankle against the Vikings and did not return, can't play next week against the Packers.