Minnesota Notes/Highlights –
- Play Calling: The Vikings’ offensive play calling has been exceptional all year. OC Pat Shurmur adapts well to the talents of his players. One example was the read option call on QB Case Keenum’s rushing TD from 1st and 9 at the Lions’ 9. That’s likely not a call Shurmur makes with Sam Bradford as QB, but Shurmur can with Keenum’s ability to move.
- Personnel Utilization: The Vikings have done an excellent job at integrating new players such as OL Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers. They’ve gone from having one of the worst OL units in the league in 2016 to one that is stable and much more consistent in its performance. OL coach Tony Sparano deserves much credit. The Lions have an active front, and they showed up in this game, but for the most part, the Vikings held up well enough.
- Game Plan: The Vikings are one of the few NFL teams that can pressure the quarterback with just 4 rushers, and in this game, they largely only rushed 4. And while they were having success for most of the game simply dropping 7 into coverage, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer gets itchy at times with his blitz calls, and he got away with one in this game. Up 13-0 in the 2nd quarter, Detroit had a 2nd and 10 on the Minnesota 14 when Zimmer sold out on a blitz call that the Lions caught them in, but Lions QB Matt Stafford missed the throw and a sure TD. The Lions had to settle for a FG.
- In-Game Adjustment: Detroit is an up the field defensive team with an active front, but sometimes their aggressiveness works against them. Vikings OC Pat Shurmur outdueled Lions DC Teryl Austin this day on some critical calls, constantly adjusting to address the Lions’ tendencies. One critical play in the game came with the Vikings up 27-23 and Detroit regaining momentum in the game. The Vikings faced a 2nd and 14 on their own 43 yard line with 4:10 remaining in the game. For Lions DC Austin, one choice was to just rush 4, play coverage and keep things in front of him. But Shurmur sensed that the Lions were going to show aggression, so he called for a screen pass to WR Stefon Diggs, which was a correct guess as he caught the Lions in a blitz to the screen side. The play gained 37 yards and led to a Vikings FG and a 30-23 lead.
- Clock Management: Ahead 27-13 with just over 2 minutes left in the the 3rd quarter, Zimmer decided to challenge an official’s call that Lions RB Theo Riddick was down by contact. The replay was clearly not in his favor, but Zimmer threw the flag. He lost the challenge and burned a time out.
- What We Didn’t Like: Up 13-0 on the road (which is the best way to start a road game obviously), and facing a 4th & 1 on his own 39, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer decided to go for the first down. Luckily, his team committed an illegal procedure penalty, and he was forced to punt. We just don’t understand the reasoning there at all – Detroit was doing nothing at this point, the crowd was largely out of the game early on, so why risk flipping the momentum in such a way? And finally, one other decision is a good example of the kinds of close judgments head coaches have to make all game long. Up 13-3 in the 2nd quarter with just over 3 minutes left, the Viking faced a 4th and 18 from the Detroit 35. Zimmer could have decided to pooch punt it since Detroit’s offense was struggling and he had 2 timeouts left. Instead, Zimmer decided to try the 52 yard FG, even though K Kai Forbath already had had one PAT blocked. Detroit got the ball with an excellent field position, but failed to capitalize.
Detroit Notes/Highlights –
- Play Calling: OC Jim Bob Cooter largely does reasonably well with what he has, but in this game, struggled on some key series in this game. Down 27-13 at 5:05 in the 3rd quarter, the Lions began a possession on their own 27. They were moving the ball well, and had a 1st and 10 on the Minnesota 40 yard line, when Cooter decides to get a bit too cute and calls for a flea flicker. He got bailed out with a penalty on Minnesota, but once again had to settle for a FG on this drive. On the final offensive series of the game, the offense came up short again. Head Coach Jim Caldwell had managed the game well enough to give his team a chance to tie the game, as the Lions took over down 30-23, with 3:41 left in the game and a 1st and 10 on their own 25, and one timeout, i.e., plenty of time to move the ball. And when you have the game’s highest paid QB and a good WR group, getting at least 2-3 first downs should be doable. But once again, the Lions could not move the ball in a critical situation. Stafford missed an open throw to WR Golden Tate on one play, and ended up throwing an INT on 4th down. So with a chance to tie a critical divisional game, at home, the Lions failed to execute.
- DC Teryl Austin largely has done well with his group, but sometimes can get caught out of position with an itchy blitz trigger finger as we’ve described above. The failure to stop the Vikings on a 2nd and 14 call late in the game was costly.
- Personnel: Much is made of QB Matt Stafford ‘having to carry the team’ since the Lions have struggled to run the ball. Much of the blame game narrative has fallen on the Lions’ running backs. However, our observation is that Detroit’s failures running the ball fall on the OL talent, some of the play design, and the lack of a fullback on the roster. The Lions also don’t have an elite TE group, and could show a little more creativity with more multiple TE looks from time to time.
- Game Plan: This is where the Lions will struggle in our view. Teams know they simply are not committed to running the ball. They cannot run downhill, they are not good in short yardage near the goal line, and they don’t carry a fullback. Opposing teams know that QB Matt Stafford is going to throw it 35+ times every game. Given this, there is only so much they can do offensively, Stafford is going to be asked to convert a lot of 3rd and longs.
- In-Game Adjustment: Lions OC Jim Bob Cooter gave more opportunities to backup TE Daniel Fells – he almost had to since the Vikings were doing a good job with their other matchups. Cooter’s adjustment here worked well…if only Fells had held onto a couple of attempts where he could have made a big play.
- Clock Management: Jim Caldwell, despite being in chase mode all day, managed the game well from a clock standpoint – when you’re down 13-0 early, to have an opportunity to tie the game with over 3 minutes left in the game is good clock management. However, there are 2 areas where we feel the Lions could have either improved or done things differently. One, the Lions perhaps could have picked up the offensive tempo just a bit earlier in the game – their pace was a bit inconsistent. Two, sometimes the offensive play calls don’t get in quickly enough, and in this game, one sack was the result of a snap that was made too close to the expiration of the play clock.