FIRST DOWN: RUN DEFENSE
The Detroit Lions knew they had to limit Vikings running back Dalvin Cook Sunday to have any real chance of walking out of Minnesota with a win. I say limit, because it's hard to completely shut down a player as skilled as Cook. Unfortunately, that did not happen for the Lions' defense.
Cook rushed for 206 yards and two scores to help lead the Vikings to a 34-20 win over the Lions. Minnesota rushed for 275 yards as a team, which is the second time the Lions have allowed more than 250 rushing yards in a game (259 Week 2 vs. Green Bay) this season.
"I think first thing for me is I have to just give Minnesota credit," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said after the game. "Dalvin did an unbelievable job running the ball today. I thought their o-line blocked us and we weren't able to get off those blocks and make some plays."
There were a lot of holes for Cook to run through, but he also did a terrific job gaining yards after contact. Detroit really didn't have an answer for him all game, which has to be concerning for the coaches on defense, knowing that was a big part of the game plan this week.
It's hard enough to stop Cook, but Detroit made the task even harder by having 10 players on the field for Cook's 70-yard score in the second half. It's the third time in three weeks the Lions have had only 10 defenders on the field for a play.
SECOND DOWN: MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
Winning football games on the road in the NFL is tough business, but it's even harder when teams hurt themselves with bad plays and turnovers.
There was certainly some of that for the Lions Sunday in their loss in Minnesota, particularly in the way they squandered good scoring opportunities.
The Lions essentially let 21 points slip through their fingers on offense. The two red zone interceptions by quarterback Matthew Stafford at the Vikings' 12-yard line and in the Minnesota end zone wiped 14 potential points off the board.
"Just mistakes," Stafford said after the game of the two picks. "I felt like I was playing at a pretty good clip there for a little bit ... the two interceptions were bad decisions. First one bad decision and second one poor throw, probably have to throw it higher."
Then there was a missed 46-yard field goal by Matt Prater, his sixth miss of the year, that took three points off the board. That's 17.
Then look to the failed 3rd and goal from the 1-yard line, where running back Adrian Peterson was tackled for a 4-yard loss back to the 5-yard line. Detroit had to settle for a field goal, which takes another four points off the board.
Those are 21 points that could have made this a much closer game and given the Lions a chance to win on the road.
THIRD DOWN: BLOCKED PUNTS
One of the real positives through the midway point of the season for the Lions has been their collective efforts on special teams, led by first-year special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs.
Detroit recorded their first blocked punt since 2007 last week against the Colts.
Now it's apparently just becoming a thing the Lions do, because defensive ends Austin Bryant and Romeo Okwara each got a block in Minnesota. It's the first time in franchise history Detroit has blocked two punts in a game. The last time they blocked three in a season was 1975. Detroit got seven points off the two blocks.
"We've been working hard at it here all the way from training camp and I think it's showed itself the last couple weeks," Patricia said of the blocked punts. "We've seen a couple things where we thought we had a good opportunity and I'm glad we capitalized on them. I would say that's the one thing last week to this week that did carry over."
FOURTH DOWN: RED ZONE WOES
Turnovers and red-zone percentage, which is how often a team has to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns, are two ways teams can let a football game slip away. Detroit lost the turnover battle 3-0 in Minnesota, and they were 2-of-5 converting touchdowns in the red zone. Two of their turnovers came in the red zone.
Detroit entered the game converting touchdowns in the red zone 62 percent of the time, which was tied for 15th in the NFL. It's been an Achilles heel for coordinator Darrell Bevell and the Lions' offense at times this season.
The 3rd and goal play Sunday from the Minnesota 1-yard line that saw Peterson take a 4-yard loss was an example. That wasn't executed well all the way around, from the protection upfront and from the back. The Vikings were more physical upfront and imposed their will in a key situation to blow the play up.
Not taking advantage of those opportunities more often has to be disappointing for the offense.