Vikings

Defensive Change Is Necessary To Slow Down the Lions

Photo credit: Junfu Han-Detroit Free Press via USA TODAY Sports

As heartbreaking as the Minnesota Vikings have been, fans long have taken solace in the fact that at least they weren’t the Detroit Lions. A game against the bottom-dwellers at home has usually been a cakewalk. The last time the Vikings lost to the Lions in Minnesota was back in 2017, and they are 8-2 overall against Detroit in the past five years.

However, the Lions have a much-improved offensive attack this season. They scored 36 and 38 points in their first two games, respectively, surprising many with their high-flying attack. Some of that might be due to poor defense by their opponents — not to mention their own squad — resulting in a pair of shootouts to begin their season.

But you could also make a case for the incredible talent that the Lions’ offense boasts this season, and the Vikings may struggle to contain it. The Lions are a lot more competitive this year than in the past. Sunday’s game will not be an easy win.

Detroit’s weapons are flying under the radar, probably because they are on the Lions. If you look closely, you can see why the team has succeeded so far. Detroit may have one of the best offensive position groups in the NFL.

It all starts with D’Andre Swift. In 2020, Detroit spent a second-round pick on him, which is high draft capital for a running back. He was the second rusher taken that year and looks like the solution to the backfield that the Lions have been searching for since Barry Sanders left in 1999.

Swift is a dual threat at running back, 10 yards per carry and 12.4 yards per reception, totaling 131 all-purpose yards per game. Although it’s a small sample size headed into Week 3, it still signals a third-year leap for a player they already expected to be one of the best at his position.

Swift is a huge obstacle for the Vikings’ run defense, which is ninth-worst in yards allowed. He’s also a threat to Minnesota’s pass coverage, which has given up 12 catches to running backs for 81 yards this season. Most of that was against the Green Bay Packers and A.J. Dillon, where the Packers exploited the lumbering Jordan Hicks on passes to the flat. Swift is much more shifty in space than Dillon and should get even more yards after the catch if the Lions peruse the same strategy.

The Vikings and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell have committed to keeping two-high safeties, meaning fewer stacked boxes to defend the run. They may have to change that to slow Detroit’s lethal rushing attack.

Amon-Ra St. Brown is another Lions breakout player this season. The second-year wide receiver had nine catches for 116 yards and two scores against the Washington Commanders. St. Brown signaled his breakout at the end of last season. He finished with six-straight games of 73 or more yards to end his rookie campaign. St. Brown is the real deal, a true No. 1 receiver.
He is a contested-catch specialist who also excels at tracking deep balls.

That presents another issue for the Vikings. If they show more loaded boxes against Swift, it will allow St. Brown more opportunities when Jared Goff throws a 50/50 ball his way in single coverage. If they don’t, St. Brown isn’t the most refined route-runner and may struggle to get open with a safety over the top. Minnesota may want to play off St. Brown to limit the deep ball and take advantage of his average route-running.

Aside from these two stars, the Lions have a lot of complementary pieces for their offense. First-round tight end T.J. Hockenson has shown bursts of greatness. The Vikings’ linebackers, especially Eric Kendricks, will be tested by his incredible speed for his position.

D.J. Chark is a free-agent signing who hasn’t shown much lately. But the former Jacksonville Jaguars receiver is a 6’4’’, 204 lb. wideout who ran a 4.34 40-yard dash, which is very fast for his size. If he gets deep, he is a threat for a home run ball.

Finally, running back Jamaal Williams is a hammer in the red zone; he scored two touchdowns on the ground in Week 1. If the Vikings focus too much on Swift or St. Brown, the Lions still have the talent to get it done with their auxiliary pieces.

The Lions have a surprising glut of talent on the offensive side of the ball, only held back by Goff at QB. Goff’s supporting cast has been enough to elevate his game so far this season. He’s thrown six touchdowns to only one interception so far for a 100.2 QBR.

After blowing out the Packers and getting crushed by the Philadelphia Eagles, the Vikings have a chance to show what kind of team they are against the Lions. Detroit is a competent opponent, with plenty of offensive playmakers for Minnesota to contend with. If the Vikings right the ship, they will show that they have more resilience than in years past.

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