FIRST DOWN: RUN DEFENSE
Another week, another big rushing performance from a Detroit Lions opponent.
Detroit entered Sunday’s game vs. Minnesota ranked 27th in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing 133.8 yards per game. But that total is about to go up after surrendering 166 yards on the ground to the Vikings in a 42-30 loss at Ford Field. Vikings running back Dalvin Cook accounted for 142 of those with two touchdowns.
“They knocked us off the line of scrimmage,” Lions head coach Matt Patricia said of his defense. “We have to get it coached better and we have to play it better and definitely have to tackle. There’s some situations there we didn’t finish the plays off.”
Detroit’s allowed at least 120 rushing yards in five of their six contests this year. Teams have found a formula that works against the Lions' defense on the ground and it’s playing itself over and over again every week in a copy-cat league. There are too many big seams and open gaps for opponents to run through.
When the Lions struggle to defend the run, the play-action game becomes that much more effective, which we saw Sunday against Minnesota with the Vikings also torching Detroit’s defense for 337 passing yards and four touchdowns, a lot of those on play-action passes.
Patricia said he has to coach it better, but the players definitely need to play it better, knowing they don’t have a winning formula on defense right now.
SECOND DOWN: NOT ON STAFFORD
Quarterback Matthew Stafford did what any good captain and quarterback would do after a loss. He stood at the podium postgame and said the loss was on him for not playing better or scoring more points.
Sunday’s loss was certainly not just on Stafford.
He threw for 364 yards and four touchdowns with a passer rating of 111.7. His lone interception of the contest came late in the fourth quarter trying to bring the Lions back from a 12-point deficit.
Stafford and the Lions put up 30 points against a Vikings' defense that came into the game ranked in the top 10 in every major statistical category.
Sunday’s loss was more on the Lions' defense than any other unit or player.
The Vikings scored six touchdowns, they were 5-for-5 in the red zone, they racked up over 500 yards of total offense, they punted just twice and were 6-of-10 on third down.
“It’s very frustrating, disappointing and nobody is coming to save us,” Lions linebacker Devon Kennard said. “We have to bond together on defense and figure this thing out and find ways to stop these offenses.”
THIRD DOWN: MARV'S BIG DAY
What a day for Lions wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr., who accounted for all four of Detroit’s touchdowns with catches of 16, 3, 10 and 2 yards. Jones finished with a career-high 10 receptions for 93 yards.
He becomes only the third player in NFL history to produce two games with at least four touchdown receptions, joining receivers Jerry Rice and Sterling Sharpe.
His performance Sunday is only the second time a Lions player has recorded four receiving touchdowns in a single game. The only other time it’s happened was Cloyce Box at Baltimore back in 1950.
Jones admitted after the game that the accomplishment was a bit hollow coming in a loss, but he did talk briefly about what he thought was working for him Sunday.
“I think we had some success going down the field, especially when we needed it,” he said. “When we needed it at times, we went in and punched it in. But you know, it just was what it was.”
Jones now has 13 receiving touchdowns against NFC North opponents since joining the Lions in 2016, tied for the most receiving touchdowns a player has had against his own division in that span.
FOURTH DOWN: 4TH & 2
It was back and forth between these two teams for most of the game Sunday, so a big turning point in the game ended up being Detroit’s failed 4th and 2 play at the Minnesota 41-yard line trailing 28-24 with a little under nine minutes to play.
“We tried a little play-action pass to the left and they played it really well,” Stafford said after the game. “Kind of covered the No. 1 (option), No. 2 and No. 3. Tried to sneak one in there to J.D. (McKissic), didn’t work.”
The Vikings took over possession and scored six plays later on a 15-yard pass from Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins to tight end Kyle Rudolph to extend their lead to 35-24.
Patricia said after the game he debated going for it or forcing Minnesota into a long field, but the way the game was going, with Detroit’s inability to stop Minnesota’s offense, it was the right call to go for it. Credit Minnesota for making the right defensive call and making the play.