The biggest storyline for the Detroit Lions through the first quarter of the season has been the defense and its ability to generate takeaways. They collected three more in Sunday's 14-7 win in Minnesota, giving them 11 now for the season, which ties Baltimore for the league lead.
Lions head coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin emphasized generating turnovers this offseason and in training camp, and it's really paid off. Detroit is now plus-nine in the turnover differential, three better than the next best teams (Buffalo and Jacksonville with six).
Detroit is getting their hands on footballs and flying around the ball. Sunday, those two factors led to three fumble recoveries, which ended up being the difference in the game.
Those recoveries are the focus of this week's Film Review.
Detroit's first fumble recovery was more opportunistic than anything else. The Vikings tried to get cute on offense by running the Wild Cat with running back Jerick McKinnon taking the direct snap and running back Dalvin Cook in the backfield. McKinnon and Cook botched the zone read handoff. McKinnon drops the ball trying to pull the fake to Cook back and run with the football.
Lions defensive end Anthony Zettel got by right tackle Mike Remmers and was aware enough to see the present waiting for him on the turf and jump on it. It's one part screw-up by the Vikings and one part hustle by Zettel to beat his man and have the awareness to find the football and jump on it.
The Lions turned this fumble recovery into a 37-yard Matt Prater field goal to trim Minnesota's lead to 7-6.
Detroit's next takeaway came on the very next offensive play for the Vikings. Cook broke through the first level of the Lions' defense. While attempting to make a cut in the second level, he suffered an unfortunate knee injury. At that same moment, Lions safety Tavon Wilson hit him with a perfectly placed helmet on the football.
If you've ever watched a Lions practice, one thing that sticks out is that every defender runs to the football. Even if it's after a play 30 yards down the field when the running back has turned to come back to line of scrimmage. Every guy goes and puts a hand on the running back or tries to knock the football loose. It's been ingrained in every rep to run to the football. Practice certainly translated to game on the second fumble recovery. Check out the next screen grab. There are 10 Lions who could have potentially recovered Cook's fumble. Tahir Whitehead won the race.
This takeaway led to Ameer Abdullah's game-winning 3-yard touchdown run.
Detroit's final takeaway, also a fumble recovery, clinched the game with less than two minutes to go.
Vikings receiver Adam Thielen (#19) caught an 11-yard pass in Lions territory. As he turned up field to get extra yards, Lions Pro Bowl safety Glover Quin came in from behind and punched the ball loose.
Again, look at the Lions around the football to recover this fumble. Whitehead gets his second recovery of the game, but safety Miles Killebrew was right there and could have gotten it as well.
This is a defense through the first quarter of the season that's creating opportunities for itself. Detroit's 3-1 record is a direct result.