The 0-4 Detroit Lions will play the 1-3 Minnesota Vikings in Week 5. Despite the slow start for both teams, Minnesota hasn’t looked like a 1-3 squad and will likely improve. The Lions can beat them, though. And if there’s one area they need to cash in on, it’s the running game with Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift.
Minnesota lost in overtime to the Cincinnati Bengals, a missed 37-yard field goal as time expired that would’ve beaten the Arizona Cardinals, and fell 14-7 to the Cleveland Browns in Week 4. The Vikings are better than other 1-3 teams like the New York Jets and Houston Texans.
However, their run defense has been subpar.
The Lions have had success running the ball with Williams and Swift. Their problems have come when they seemingly abandon that part of the offense. The Chicago Bears led start to finish in Week 4, but it was a close game the entire way. Yet Williams only carried the ball 14 times despite churning out 66 yards for a 4.7 average.
Some of it can be accredited to playing from behind so often, but with a legitimate one-two punch in Williams and Swift, it makes sense to optimize them. If they want to hang with the Vikings on Sunday, condensing the game and sticking to the ground attack would be a recipe for success.
The Browns beat the Vikings in an ugly, low-scoring game last week. Neither team could gain momentum on offense, and Baker Mayfield looked lost. But Cleveland found success was feeding their own duo in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Chubb had 100 yards on 21 carries while hunt went for 69 yards on 14 rushes. The perception is that the Vikings have so many monsters up front — Danielle Hunter, Dalvin Tomlinson, Everson Griffen, and Michael Pierce (when he’s healthy) — that they must be tremendous at stopping the run. The reality is that they are far better at rushing the passer and getting to the quarterback than foiling the ground attack.
Minnesota’s rushing defense ranks 25th in the NFL, giving up 135.5 yards per game on the ground. While the Browns are regarded as a stout running team, the Vikings have faced opponents like the Seattle Seahawks and Cardinals that are better known far airing it out with Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray.
Even Seattle had success with the run against Minnesota in Week 3. Chris Carson ran 12 times for 80 yards and a touchdown, but Seattle only ran 18 times total the entire game. Once they got down in the second half, they went into fire-drill mode and started slinging the ball everywhere. Often that works, and Wilson can keep Seattle in games. In Week 3, it did not.
If the Lions go with that method against the Vikings, they have almost no chance to leave Minneapolis with their first victory of the season.
Cincinnati, led by Joe Mixon’s 29 carries for 127 yards, and Cleveland have laid out a blueprint that works against this Vikings defense. It didn’t involve Joe Burrow or Mayfield taking five-step drops and uncorking nukes down the field. They leaned on their run game from start to finish, and both teams squeaked out wins against Minnesota.
This isn’t to suggest the passing game should be thrown by the wayside. In fact, Jared Goff has been really good this year given the circumstances and the lack of a true No. 1 wide receiver. The Lions just need to find that happy balance and use their top talent, which, outside of T.J. Hockenson on offense, is Williams and Swift.
“I’m all about riding the hot hand, and Jamaal ran really well last week,” Lynn said. “I probably should have used him more, to be honest with you. I’ve been looking at the tape the next day, like ‘That man ran his tail off.’”
Lions fans need not to worry about Williams handling an elevated workload either. He did so in Green Bay, and it’s something he embraces.
“At the end of the game, third quarter, fourth quarter, those are the golden quarters, especially for running the ball, because the defense is tired,” Williams said. “It’s all just about imposing your will. I just want to impose my will, if you catch my drift.”
If the Lions can keep it to a one-possession game, it’s in those “golden quarters” that the run game becomes even more critical. They have the talent in Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift to get it done.