After a fast 4-1 start, the Vikings (5-4) have lost three of their last four, including their last two to the Seahawks and Buccaneers.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier can point to a number of different factors for the recent decline of his ball club, but their run defense has to be at the top of the list.
Only one of the Vikings’ first five opponents during their 4-1 start had more than 90 yards rushing. Include the Lions in that list - they had just 55 rushing yards in a Week 4 loss to Minnesota.
Over their first five games, the Vikings were one of the stingiest rushing defenses in the league, giving up an average of 78.6 yards per game.
That’s not been the case in their recent slump.
The Redskins (183), Cardinals (126), Buccaneers (159) and Seahawks (195) have torched the Vikings on the ground over the last month. Opponents are averaging 165.8 yards per game over that span.
The Redskins, Buccaneers and Seahawks rank in the top 10 in the league in rushing offense, but that’s still not nearly good enough effort by this defense, according to Frazier.
“We haven’t been as gap-sound as we have been in the past and we aren’t tackling as well as we need to tackle so we’re trying to shore that up,” he said in a conference call Wednesday.
Heading into a key division game vs. the Lions on Sunday, Vikings defensive end Jared Allen knows something has to change.
“(Detroit) is running the ball well right now and we’re not defending the run well right now,” he said.
“We’ve got to come in and if we can stop the run and we can be good on first and second down then we can force them into passing situations and then as a defense you get dictate what you throw at (them), but if you allow a team to run the ball and you get into 3rd-and-5s and 3rd-and-shorts then the offense gets to dictate.”
That’s been the difference with the Lions over their recent upswing. They’ve been able to dictate the pace on offense, in part, because of their run game.
The Lions’ run game has steadily improved through the course of the season and had its best performance in Jacksonville last week with 149 yards and four touchdowns.
In the first four games of the season, the Lions averaged 90.3 rushing yards per game. Over their last four, that’s improved to 117.5.
The Lions have reached 100 yards rushing just once against the Vikings defense in the last six meetings, but could they be catching the Vikings at the right time Sunday in Minneapolis?
"It's steadily improving each week," Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said of his run game. "We're getting the personalities of the guys we're going with Mikel (Leshoure) and Joique (Bell) now starting to hit their stride. It's kind of a 1-2 combination.
"Those guys are starting to heat up and our O-line just gets confidence with every game they’ve played."
The Lions have 10 touchdowns through eight games. They had nine all of last season. Rushing touchdowns through eight games in a 16-game season