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Vikings vs. Lions Week 9: Five Game-Changing Plays

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Looking back at the most important plays from the 24-9 win over Detroit.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
Pictured: Danielle Hunter waiting to be handed the NFC Defensive Player of the Week award.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re feeling depressed or down on your luck on this dreary Tuesday morning, you can take solace in two very important facts:

  1. If you live in the United States, you can vote today. Making your voice heard is an incredible privilege that we should all take advantage of. You truly can make a difference.
  2. At least you aren’t Matthew Stafford.

The beleaguered Detroit Lions quarterback was sacked ten times on Sunday, which was a franchise record for the Minnesota Vikings. Detroit was kept out of the end zone and scored one less point than the amount of sacks they allowed. While the Vikings offense sputtered for a large portion of the game, the resurgent Minnesota defense stymied a Detroit team that was definitely missing the newly jettisoned Golden Tate. The Vikings passed the first obstacle in their three-game divisional gauntlet with flying colors. They now have the bye week to rest injuries to key players and prepare to battle for first place in the NFC North next Sunday night in Chicago.

Since we’re already a day late due to the lack of Wi-Fi at my deer hunting cabin, let’s get right to our weekly review of which plays made the biggest difference in the game.

Play 1: Vikings ball, 4th & 2 on the Detroit 37. First quarter, 11:38 remaining. (Shotgun) K.Cousins pass short right to C.Beebe to DET 24 for 13 yards (T.Tabor).

With Stefon Diggs out, Chad Beebe got his first NFL action after being promoted from the Practice Squad. It didn’t take long for the undrafted free agent out of Northern Illinois to make an impact in his first game as a pro.

On fourth down in the game’s opening drive, Beebe made quick work of Teez Tabor to get open on the right side. Kirk Cousins found him for the crucial conversion. Three plays later, Latavius Murray was (just barely) holding the nose of the ball over the goal line for a touchdown.

Beebe was impressive in Training Camp despite giving up a lot of size to most of his contemporaries. The route he ran on this play was indicative of what he excelled at in Eagan. I wrote this about him in my offensive player evaluations article back in August:

If NFL passes were only allowed to travel ten yards or less in the air, Beebe would be an invaluable weapon. He was incredibly quick and shifty on everything underneath. I really liked the little things he did to consistently get open throughout camp.

Being incredibly quick and shifty underneath proved to be invaluable for getting the Vikings started right on Sunday. It looked like the rest of Cousins’ options were well covered on the play.

Play 2: Lions ball, 3rd & 13 at the Minnesota 15. Second quarter, 5:27 remaining. (Shotgun) M.Stafford sacked at MIN 16 for -1 yards (D.Hunter).

Fun fact: the Vikings didn’t actually have a sack in the first quarter on Sunday. The Lions ran 18 offensive plays blissfully unaware of the historic beating they were about to take. But after Tom Johnson and Sheldon Richardson took down Stafford to hold Detroit to a field goal early in the second quarter, the floodgates were officially open. The Vikings racked up ten sacks on 51 defensive snaps in just under 44 minutes of game time.

And they needed just about every one, especially when the game was still in the balance. After Cousins forced a deep ball to Adam Thielen that was intercepted by Darius Slay, Detroit was looking to take the lead. They faced 1st & 10 from the Minnesota 12 with just over six minutes left in the half. Their next three plays:

  1. Throwaway
  2. Sack by Eversion Griffen and Danielle Hunter
  3. This play

The entire Vikings defensive line did well on this play. Griffen and Richardson diagnosed the screen early and both jumped to deter Stafford making the quick throw. Johnson kept Stafford in front of him while Hunter finished the job and forced the field goal attempt. But after looking at the All-22, you realize why this play had little chance of success regardless of how the Vikings line played it.

None of the Lions receivers looked back to catch the screen; they all went out to block. This play was a perfect example of two intertwined themes that dominated the game: while the Vikings defense was amazing, Jim Bob Cooter and the Lions offense didn’t seem to be doing themselves any favors with their execution.

While the Vikings offense had execution problems of their own most of the game, the first play on the ensuing drive went exactly how they drew it up.

Play 3: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 at the Minnesota 25. Second quarter, 4:45 remaining. (Shotgun) D.Cook left tackle to DET 5 for 70 yards (G.Quin).

Dalvin Cook. What a sight for sore hamstrings. Err, eyes.

In my preview on Thursday, I wrote about how the Lions had struggled against runs out of the shotgun. Regardless of whether that was something the Vikings staff had also noticed or just dumb luck on my part, Cook nearly took this run to the house. While Murray has been an excellent fill-in during Cook’s struggles with a hamstring injury, the second year back adds another element of speed and explosion. Two plays later, Cousins found Thielen in the end zone and the Vikings were up 14-6.

Play 4: Lions ball, 4th & 6 at the Detroit 37. Second quarter, 0:50 remaining. S.Martin punts 39 yards to MIN 24, Center-D.Muhlbach. M.Sherels to MIN 48 for 24 yards (A.Jones).

Sometimes you have to scroll down to the bottom of the box score for some of the biggest plays.

This 24-yard punt return by Marcus Sherels didn’t make many highlight packages, but it proved to be crucial. With under a minute remaining, the longtime special teams ace put the Vikings in great field position to try for points before the break. One has to wonder if Zimmer still would have gone after a score if the Vikings were farther back in their own territory; he didn’t last week against the Saints. Despite the requisite two-minute drill adventures from the Vikings offense, they were able to get a 49-yard field goal from Dan Bailey with four seconds remaining.

Adding the field goal just before half meant Minnesota was taking a double-digit lead into the locker room. Suddenly the Lions were in catch-up mode for the remainder of the game, and the Vikings defense took full advantage. If they didn’t snatch the three points set up by Sherels’ punt return before half, perhaps the mindset is a bit different on both sides of the ball.

Play 5: Lions ball, 2nd & 14 on the Detroit 37. Fourth quarter, 7:11 remaining. (Shotgun) M.Stafford to DET 38 for 1 yard. FUMBLES, RECOVERED by MIN-D.Hunter at DET 32. D.Hunter for 32 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

The first 23 minutes of the second half basically went like this:

  1. Lions get the ball. Stafford gets sacked a bunch, Detroit punts.
  2. Vikings get the ball. Promising drive stalls due to wholly avoidable mistake.
  3. Repeat.

Despite a historically commanding performance from the Vikings defense, Detroit was still hanging around halfway through the final quarter. Cook had just dropped a pitch from Cousins to stop a drive that could have been the knockout blow. So Danielle Hunter just did it himself instead.

Once again, Stafford was flushed out of the pocket by a four-man rush and the coverage didn’t leave anything open. He tried to improvise a pitch to Kerryon Johnson, which went horribly wrong. Hunter, who started the play getting double-teamed by Johnson, kept pursuing and took advantage of the fortuitous bounce. The NFC Defensive Player of the Week (it hasn’t been announced yet, but he’s going to win it) scored the only points of the second half for the Vikings and the Lions never threatened again.

There is still plenty to clean up, especially on the offensive side of the ball, as the Vikings head into their perfectly-timed bye week. But the performances this Mike Zimmer defense has strung together since getting ran off the field in Los Angeles have been very impressive. They appear to be rounding into form for the second half of the season. The race for the six playoff spots in the NFC should be riveting down the stretch, and it’s a race that the Vikings should be heavily involved in.

As always, we welcome you to vote in the poll to tell us which play you thought was the biggest and encourage you to suggest any we may have missed in the comments.

Poll

What was the most important play from the Vikings’ win over the Lions?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    Beebe’s fourth down conversion
    (76 votes)
  • 7%
    Hunter’s sack to maintain the early lead
    (54 votes)
  • 18%
    Cook’s 70-yard run
    (137 votes)
  • 4%
    Sherels’ punt return just before half
    (30 votes)
  • 59%
    Hunter’s scoop and score
    (444 votes)
  • 0%
    Other (comment below)
    (2 votes)
743 votes total Vote Now