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NOTEBOOK: Vikings' defense presents many challenges

Matthew Stafford didn't mince words when asked Wednesday how difficult a job he and the Detroit Lions offense has this week in Minnesota.

"Everything you want out a defense, they do," Stafford said.

The Vikings have one of the most complicated blitz packages in the league, putting a lot of pressure on the interior of the offensive line with multiple double A-gap blitz looks. Not only that, but the Vikings' run defense has held opponents to 62.7 yards per game (third in NFL), 3.0 yards per run (fourth in league) and hasn't allowed a run longer than 11 yards in three games (the best mark in the league).

Talented defensive end Everson Griffen already has four sacks (third in league), and Minnesota is fresh off a three-interception performance vs. Tampa Bay last week. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Harrison Smith are Pro Bowlers in the back end.

"They definitely present a bunch of challenges and it's not only their scheme, which is tough to prepare for, but their players as well," Stafford said. "They've got a bunch of first-round draft picks on that defense, a bunch of really talented guys.

"They do a great job of getting after the quarterback. They stop the run on their way there, and guys in the backend who are really tied together. They play well off of each other."

Minnesota's defense doesn't give opponents many opportunities to make plays, so when Detroit does dial something up with the right look, they have to take better advantage of those opportunities than they did in a loss to Atlanta last week. Detroit can't be 1-for-3 in the red zone or 3-of-13 on third down and expect to go into Minnesota and score enough points to win.

"We're going to have to play better than we did last week, I think, offensively in order for us to beat these guys on the road," Lions receiver Golden Tate said Wednesday.

Head coach Jim Caldwell said one of the keys Sunday on offense is not making a big mistake against their aggressive defense, like creating a huge turnover that turns into points. The Lions have to pick their spots, and make the most of them when they do.


It's a little unusual to currently see Minnesota as the No. 2 offense in the league, averaging more than 400 yards per game. It hasn't been the norm over the last few years to see them ranked among the NFL leaders in passing (285.3), either.

But credit the Vikings for being able to run the football with rookie Dalvin Cook, and then throw behind defenders when they creep up to stop him. Cook is currently second in the league in rushing (288 yards).

The Vikings have completed 15 passes of 20-plus yards this season, the fifth most in the NFL. Minnesota quarterbacks (Sam Bradford and Case Keenum) have a combined 124.7 passer rating on attempts that travel at least 21 yards in the air. 

"They are taking shots and throwing the ball down the field and giving those guys opportunities to make plays," Lions safety Glover Quin said Wednesday. "A lot of time in the past they were a bunch of quick throws, short throws, but they are throwing the ball down the field and those guys are making plays, so you have to expect that to continue."

On the flip side, Detroit leads the NFL through the first three weeks by recording seven interceptions, two of which have been returned for touchdowns.

Quin has two of those interceptions and one of the touchdowns, and he's looking forward to the opportunity to get a couple more if the Vikings' aggressiveness throwing the ball down the field continues this week.

"Always," Quin said, when he was asked if he's looking forward to playing a team that takes shots and challenges him. "I say it all the time, when the ball goes in the air, it's a 50-50 ball. They are giving their team an opportunity to make plays. They also give us opportunities to make plays. We have to come down with more than they do."


Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was talking about Detroit's special teams in a conference call Wednesday, and made the comment that Lions kicker Matt Prater can make it from anywhere.

Prater has certainly proven that to be the case early on this year. He's perfect on the season, and has already made four field goals of 55-yards and beyond, becoming the first player to do so in a single season. And it's only Week 4. He's tied an NFL record with 12 straight successful field-goal attempts from beyond 50 yards.

Prater is a weapon, which isn't lost on Detroit's offensive players.

"I realized how huge (having a good kicker is) my first year here (2014), when we were going through kickers pretty quickly until we found Prater," Tate said. "He's big time. I mean, this guy, there's no such thing as a moment being too big for him. He's showing up week-in and week-out just handling business.

"It's a good feeling knowing that once you get around the 50, the 40 and the 30, chances are he can hit those. It definitely helps me sleep at night knowing Prater is really good."

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