After the Vikings’ offensive explosion in Week 6 against the Philadelphia Eagles, few expected a repeat performance on Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Even fewer expected a full-on shootout to break out at Ford Field, but that’s exactly what happened on Sunday. The Vikings and Lions combined for 72 points and 936 total yards of offense as the teams traded touchdown drives for much of the day.
Since the humbling loss in Chicago three weeks ago, the Vikings offense has been irrepressible. Kirk Cousins is playing quarterback like he had just hit three straight three-pointers in NBA Jam. Dalvin Cook continues to make extra rushing yards appear out of thin air. The offensive line has been—gasp—pretty good. They’re averaging 480 yards and 36 points per game during their current three-game winning streak.
Unfortunately, they needed every bit of that offensive efficiency against the Lions. Matthew Stafford threw for 364 yards and four scores of his own. All four touchdowns were to Marvin Jones Jr., who apparently becomes Jerry Rice every time he faces the Vikings. Minnesota’s secondary had their worst game of the season, repeatedly affording Jones and Danny Amendola lots of room to operate. It was a puzzling anomaly in what has otherwise been a solid season for Zimmer’s charges. Thankfully, Eric Kendricks is still playing like the best linebacker in the NFL while Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen finally got to Stafford late. The Vikings now have their first division win of the 2019 season and are 5-2 heading into a very winnable home game against Washington on Thursday night. Let’s take our weekly journey through the five biggest plays that got us there.
Play 1: Lions ball, 3rd & 8 at the Minnesota 37. First quarter, 12:48 remaining. (Shotgun) M.Stafford sacked at MIN 45 for -8 yards (Mac.Alexander). FUMBLES (Mac.Alexander) [Mac.Alexander], recovered by DET-J.James at MIN 34. J.James to MIN 34 for no gain (H.Smith). Minnesota challenged the fumble ruling, and the play was REVERSED. (Shotgun) M.Stafford pass incomplete short right to J.James [Mac.Alexander].
Whew. A lot to unpack with this one. Our first important play stems from what didn’t happen.
The Lions were in field goal range on the opening drive of the game and faced third down. Mackensie Alexander came on a corner blitz and hit Stafford while he was throwing, causing the ball to fall forward. Jesse James recovered what was originally called a fumble, giving the Lions 4th & 4 at the Minnesota 34.
You don’t often see a team challenging a play to say the opposing quarterback didn’t fumble, but that’s just what Mike Zimmer astutely did in this situation. The Lions gained four yards on the fumble; by challenging that it was actually an incomplete pass, the Matt Prater field goal attempt would be four yards longer. The ball was still in Stafford’s hand as his arm went forward, so the play was reversed.
Of course, Prater is still an awesome kicker, especially indoors, so there’s a decent chance that he still would have connected from 56 yards. Except the Lions had a false start penalty on the attempt, pushing them out of field goal range and forcing a punt. In what turned out to be a high scoring affair, it was nice to take potential points off of the board early.
Play 2: Vikings ball, 2nd & 7 at the Detroit 25. First quarter, 5:23 remaining. K.Cousins pass deep left to A.Thielen for 25 yards, TOUCHDOWN. MIN-A.Thielen was injured during the play. He is Out.
The Lions had struck first on their second drive of the game, so the Vikings needed an answer. They got it in a hurry. After an amazing Dalvin Cook run where he turned a Tracy Walker tackle for loss into a 15 yard gain...
...and a 28 yard play action pass to Irv Smith Jr. where Cousins had all the time in the world to throw...
...the Vikings went to play action again. It worked again for their first score of the game.
Damon Harrison Sr. bit so hard on the play action that he tackled Alexander Mattison, giving Cousins time to find Adam Thielen with a great throw in the back of the end zone. Thielen did his usual toe-tapping magic to stay in bounds. While the play itself had the perfect result, Thielen injured his hamstring and didn’t return to the game. Other pass catchers were going to have to pick up the slack, which they most certainly did. Kyle Rudolph, Smith, and Olabisi Johnson combined for 14 catches, 158 yards, and two touchdowns. Stefon Diggs threw in a few yards of his own as well—more on that later.
The Vikings and Lions spent the rest of the first half trading scores. After Thielen’s grab, Jones notched his second touchdown of the day to give Detroit a 14-7 lead. Minnesota answered back with two long scoring drives on either side of a Lions three-and-out for their first lead of the game and the first lead change of their entire season. The Lions managed to tie the game at 21-21 just before the half after an incredibly sloppy sequence by the Vikings defense. It was becoming apparent that the Minnesota offense was going to have to carry the day. That’s exactly what they did with the opening drive of the second half.
Play 3: Vikings ball, 2nd & goal at the Detroit 5. Third quarter, 9:08 remaining. K.Cousins pass short left to C.Ham for 5 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
The Vikings marched down the field with an impressive 75-yard drive that featured five runs, seven passes, and took almost six minutes off the clock. It was punctuated by this nifty touchdown pass to C.J. Ham.
If the play looked a bit familiar, it should have. The Vikings ran the same basic concept for their second touchdown of the game. Play action right to Cook, pass left to the receiver running across the formation behind the line of scrimmage. On this play, Kevin Stefanski had Ham running a pattern behind the line of scrimmage and Diggs running a high/low concept in the end zone. On their second quarter touchdown, it was Johnson who got the catch on the same route while Rudolph pulled defenders to the back of the end zone.
Running the same style of play with different personnel is an excellent way to catch opposing defenses off guard on a play you have already had success with. Once again, Stefanski had an excellent plan of attack and called all the right shots with his offense. While Cousins, his pass catchers, and a much improved offensive line all deserve credit, they wouldn’t be operating at such a high level without Stefanski pushing the right buttons at the right time.
The Vikings had the lead once again, but it was very precarious. After the Ham touchdown, the two teams traded punts before the Lions had a long drive that ended in a field goal late in the third quarter. It looked like the Vikings were going to take control for good on their next drive, but a dropped touchdown pass by Diggs followed by Dan Bailey missing a field goal negated that opportunity. The Lions were down only four points with the ball near the midpoint of the fourth.
Play 4: Lions ball, 4th & 2 at the Minnesota 41. Fourth quarter, 8:58 remaining. M.Stafford pass incomplete short left to J.McKissic (E.Kendricks).
An offensive pass interference penalty and an Everson Griffen sack had the Lions facing 3rd & 23 in their own end of the field. But after a yes-this-still-happens-once-almost-every-game encroachment penalty from Griffen and a 16 yard pass to Amendola, Detroit was going for it on 4th & short in Vikings territory.
Good thing Kendricks has a black belt in pass breakups.
The Vikings defense brilliantly diagnosed the play action. Mike Hughes made sure fullback Nick Bawden wasn’t able to get free over the top. Eric Wilson prevented any possibility of a Stafford scramble and forced J.D. McKissic inside, where Kendricks was waiting to get a hand on the pass. It wasn’t the defense’s best day by any stretch of the imagination, but they certainly stepped up in a big moment here. Six plays later, the Vikings offense came through again with a touchdown pass to Rudolph. The Vikings had their biggest lead of the game with only 5:40 remaining, and they could seemingly coast to another comfortable victory.
The Lions had other plans though. They quickly struck back in just over two and a half minutes, with Jones tacking on a fourth touchdown to his career day. The two-point conversion failed, but it remained a one-score game. With just over three minutes remaining, Detroit had all three of their timeouts and the Ford Field crowd in a frenzy. If their defense could make a stop, Stafford would have plenty of time to lead a possible game-winning drive.
Play 5: Vikings ball, 2nd & 5 at the Minnesota 30. Fourth quarter, 3:00 remaining. K.Cousins pass deep right to S.Diggs to DET 4 for 66 yards (T.Wilson).
On first down, the Vikings predictably handed the ball to Cook.
Detroit took their first timeout.
On second down, the Vikings lined up with three tight ends and one wide receiver in a heavy formation. Give it to Cook again and make them burn their second timeout, right?
Fortune favors the bold! The Vikings went for the jugular and got it in the form of a 66-yard catch and run from Cousins to Diggs. Two plays later, Cook punched it in for his second touchdown. Game, set, match. A nifty Trae Waynes interception stopped the last-gasp drive by the Lions. A few (rather feisty) victory formation snaps finished off the Vikings’ third straight win.
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.
What was the most important play from the Vikings’ win over the Lions?
This poll is closed
Alexander’s hit/Zimmer’s challenge that led to a punt instead of a FG
Cousins to Thielen TD
Cousins to Ham to take the lead in the 3rd quarter
4th down stop by Kendricks and the Vikings defense
Cousins to Diggs for 66 yards
Other (comment below)