The Detroit Lions (1-1) travel to Minnesota in Week 3 to take on the Minnesota Vikings in a 1-1 NFC North Battle of Teams. The Lions lost a tight game to the Eagles in Week 1, then handled the Commanders in Week 2, while the Vikings easily dealt with the Packers in Week 1, then went on to take a beating against the Eagles.
Let’s take a closer look at the key things the Lions need to do against the Vikings to earn their second win of the season.
Key game: Lions gap run pattern against Vikings new 34 defense
The Vikings have a new coaching staff and with it comes a new defense. Gone is Mike Zimmer’s 43 blitz and in its place is a more modern 34 base front led by Ed Donatell. Prior to joining the Vikings, Donatell spent the past three seasons as the Broncos’ defensive coordinator under head coach Vic Fangio. Fangio is widely credited with the design and execution of the modern 34, which was copied throughout the NFL due to its adaptability and ability to disguise itself. Donatell followed suit, implementing this program in Minnesota.
Last May, Ted Nguyen of The Athletic wrote a very thorough article breaking down the concepts of Fangio’s plan, calling him the most influential defensive coordinator in the modern NFL.
“The popularity of the outside zone system that stemmed from Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay has led to more teams using a Vic Fangio-style defense, which instructs defensive linemen to play slower and take a gap and a half, rather than flying up and only playing one gap,” Nguyen wrote on Thursday. “Theoretically, the defense can live in light boxes and invest more manpower in pass defense as long as their front can slow down ball carriers long enough for the secondary to help it.”
But this is where things get fun for Leos.
“(Fangio’s scheme) works well against rush runs because offensive linemen move laterally, but Lions like to run straight into the teeth of defenses with authority,” Nguyen continued. “They want their offensive line, one of the best in the league, shooting vertically and punishing defenders.”
In Nguyen’s detailed account of the Lions’ rushing attack – which is a must read – he highlights a ridiculous amount of things that make it so difficult to defend against, and the positive results that come from executing them. Perhaps the most impressive statistic is:
“Lions lead the league in yards before contact per rush (3.79)”
Essentially, this means the Lions offensive line is pushed so far forward that it blocks holes large enough for running backs to gain nearly 4 yards per run before they are even tagged by a defender. Scary.
When you look at Lions running backs yards after contact stats, things get even more impressive. D’Andre Swift is averaging 5.35 yards after contact, Craig Reynolds is at 4.33 yards, while Jamaal Williams is averaging 1.96 yards, although he’s usually been used in short range situations. Doubly scary.
In addition to the Lions’ positive running stats, the Vikings’ running defense was separated for two weeks. Against the Packers and Eagles combined — admittedly two strong running teams — the Vikings allowed 274 yards on 52 carries and three touchdowns. That’s an average of 5.27 yards allowed per carry, which ranks 28th in the NFL.
Conclusion: This is perhaps the Lions’ greatest advantage and they must continue to channel their attack through the trenches.
Make it rain under the umbrella
Another staple of Fangio’s plan was on display during the Vikings-Eagles game on “Monday Night Football”: The Fangio Shell.
Here’s a look at a 1st and 10 base in midfield for the Eagles:
Essentially, the Vikings are trying to conceal their cover by moving players below with an umbrella concept overhead. This keeps the game in front of defenders, allows them to attack, and removes some traditional areas you’d find in basic Cover-2 (like the infamous turkey hole).
The Eagles rarely deviated from this basic design as they wanted to reduce the chances of getting beaten on the big play, as well as corral Jalen Hurts if he scrambled.
Here’s how the above game went:
Vikings corners respect the speed of Eagles receivers and provide huge cushion – averaging 9 yards throughout the game – allowing Hurts to take the easy option and find his guy for a quick five yards. But look in the middle of the field, where the Eagles have two skillful players running free at the first scorer. A little more patience, or sweeping, by Hurts and he could have taken a bigger picture. But Hurts took the completion easy because frankly, he was there all night.
Vikings cornerback Cameron Dantzler was targeted eight times by Hurts, and he allowed five catches for just 31 yards. The rest of the secondary allowed 16 receptions on 16 targets for 205 yards. Meanwhile, the linebackers allowed just five of their seven targets but gave up 97 yards through the air. Hurts basically took what was there and moved upfield for 333 passing yards, completing 26 of 31 passing attempts.
With the Lions rushing attack being a potentially big problem for the Vikings, they can keep trying to deploy the Fangio shell against the Lions and keep the game ahead of them. If they do, the midfield is the most vulnerable, which means the Lions should be paying close attention to Amon-Ra St. Brown and TJ Hockenson when they go through the air in this game.
Earn the right to rush the setter
“When we get[non-mobile]quarterbacks and we have the opportunity to put our ears back together, I think we have the ability to go after the quarterbacks,” the defensive line coach said. of the Lions, Todd Wash, to the media this week. “But we have to do a good job on the first and the second (down). We did this last week. Like I said, we talked about it, if you earn the right to rush, I think we’ll get there. But what we’re preaching in this is that we have to win the right first and stop the race.
Lions coaches have consistently preached that good defense starts with stopping the run, and that means focusing on Dalvin Cook.
“The biggest thing with him (Cook) is – and we have a lot of respect for him,” Wash said. “I think he’s one of the best defenders in the league. We think they’re going to nurture him this week and try to bring him forward… So we have to be disciplined with our gap responsibility and stay a little longer than usual, just not to allow discount.”
The Vikings handed the ball to Cook 20 times against the Packers in Week 1 and he gave them 90 rushing yards. In Week 2, he saw just six carries for a disappointing 17 yards.
The Vikings’ scheme – modeled after the Los Angeles Rams – tends to be heavier, to start with, and they showed in Week 2 that if you get on the run, they have no problem leaving it behind. and put the ball. the hands of their quarterback.
Support Justin Jefferson
“There’s no question he’s one of the top five (receivers) in this league and he’s been improving steadily,” Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said of Jefferson. “He plays with a chip on his shoulder, he’s competitive, very competitive. They’ve put him in a lot of different positions on the right where they can give him the ball, which I think is a credit to that. personal.
Against the Packers, they tried to beat Jefferson and he went for 184 yards on nine catches and two touchdowns. The Eagles took a different approach and limited it to 48 yards on six catches and Cousins also threw two interceptions targeting Jefferson.
“They have guys playing above them so they didn’t want to be beaten deep and they just played hard man” Glenn discussed the Eagles’ approach. “They have a very good defense and they do things the right way, the way defense should be played. And I’m going to watch every team’s defense and see how they’re performing and like any coach I think we’re going to watch and see if you can get any advice on what they’ve been doing. But we’ll have our own plan, which we think they’ll go out there and be successful against them, and that’s what we’re going to use.
Ideally, this game plan will have more Eagles influences than Packers.
Dial the blitz
The Lions have been piling on the pressure this season and, in two games, they’ve recorded 50 under PFF, the most of any NFL team.
A big reason for the increased pressure this season is Glenn’s willingness to dial the blitz. Per PFF, for two weeks, Glenn called a blitz on 39 of the Lions’ 95 defensive shots against the pass and they produced 19 pressures.
That could be bad news for Cousins, who has struggled with the blitz this season.
Cousins has only been hit 19 times this season, and although collectively they’ve only driven in nine pressures, his PFF score drops from 69.2 (with a clean pocket) to 33.7. Last week, he was hit 12 times, and each time Cousins managed to throw, but he only completed four of those passes (for 21 yards), and two more were intercepted.
The Lions should benefit from Glenn remaining aggressive.
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