In this week’s the Honolulu Blueprint, let’s take a look at several key strategies the Detroit Lions will need to do, in order to be victorious over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 7.
Shadow Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen
The Vikings have two of the best receivers in the league in Diggs and Thielen. The Lions have two of the best corners in Darius Slay and Justin Coleman. Square up and let’s go.
Thielen spends about a third of his time in the slot , so even if the Lions don’t give him a shadow, he will still see a lot of Coleman. And while Coleman is the Lions best option covering slot receivers, he proved in the game against the Chiefs and Sammy Watkins that he’s not just a slot cover corner. I believe the Lions would be best served by asking Coleman to stay in Thielen’s hip pocket, regardless of where he is on the field.
The Lions have always given Diggs a shadow, so pairing him up against Slay is an easy decision. Slay has the athleticism to travel with Diggs all over the field and Diggs also doesn’t spend a lot of time in the slot — roughly 13-percent of snaps per Player Profiler — which is where Slay tends to struggle.
The Vikings are expecting this matchup: “That’s what they do,” Diggs said to Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune . “From the games that I’ve seen since I’ve been here, they’ve had their guys just pretty much pick two guys: ‘You cover him, you cover him.’ That’s what I’ve seen. I expect the same thing. If they switch it up, we’re going to have to adjust on the fly.”
If Slay and Coleman can limit the impactfulness of the wide receivers, the Vikings offense will have to look at other options.
Keep Tracy Walker flexible
Outside of the two receivers, the Vikings’ next biggest passing threat appears to have shifted away from tight end Kyle Rudolph and towards running back Dalvin Cook. Rudolph still plays close to every snap but he has only been targeted 11 times in six games — and only saw more than one target in two of those games.
Walker has spent the last several weeks covering tight ends, but this week, he may need to shift away from the underutilized Rudolph when Cook is on the field — which is on roughly two-thirds of snaps.
Cook is on fire right now — both on the ground and in the air — and is averaging 6.08 yards per touch, the most of any running back in the league.
To cover Cook, you need an athletic, sure tackler who can both fill the box as a run defender, as well as turn and run will Cook all over the field — Walker is the ideal defender to fill this role.
Pressure the A-Gap
Single up the receivers, work on slowing down Cook, and then they’ll have only one job left on defense — rattle quarterback Kirk Cousins’ cage.
Coming hard off the corner can leave the Lions vulnerable at setting the edge for the run, so instead, expect the Lions to take a page from Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s book and attack the A-Gap.
For those not familiar, the A-Gap is, it’s the space in between the center and the guard on the offensive line. The B-Gap is between the guard and tackle, etc.
First-round pick Garrett Bradbury has struggled at center, right guard Josh Kline is returning from injury, and left guard Pat Elflein is still adjusting to his new spot at left guard. For perspective, Kline has the exact same Pro Football Focus grade as Kenny Wiggins and Elflein is only 1.6-grade points higher. Elflein is 2.6-grade points behind Joe Dahl and 16.6-grade points behind Graham Glasgow.
For Patricia to take a page out of Zimmer’s playbook, he should line up Jarrad Davis and Jahlani Tavai in the A-Gaps, threaten to penetrate, and the run the scheme from there.
Here’s an example of the Lions doing something similar in Week 1:
And to illustrate this wasn’t just a Week 1 scheme, here’s another example from last week’s game against the Packers:
Defend the A-Gap
The Lions also need to be prepared to face a similar attack of the A-gap and that means the interior linemen’s communication needs to be flawless — something that has been brought into question with the rotation at guard.
The Lions will need to be sharp in this area and they may need to do it with minimal assistance from blockers in the backfield because the biggest threats come off the edge for the Vikings.
OTs need to step up
Last year, in the two games Lions left tackle Taylor Decker faced off against Everson Griffen and Lions right tackle Rick Wagner faced off against Danielle Hunter, they allowed a combined six sacks and eight quarterback hits.
On paper, that looks bad, but when you step back a bit, things look a bit better.
Five of the six sacks and six of the eight QB hits all came in the first meeting, in Minnesota. By the second time these duos faced off, in Detroit, Decker only allowed Griffen one sack and two QB hits, while Wagner blanked Hunter.
Maybe the Lions tackles learned something about the Vikings EDGE rushers tendencies or maybe being in Detroit helped their cause. Regardless of the reason, they need to replicate and build on their previous successes this Sunday — in Detroit.
Keep the score at 17 and under
In the past 10 meetings between these two teams — five won by each team — there was an interesting pattern that emerged. When both teams score 17 points or less in regulation, the Lions won the game. If either team scored 18 or more points, the Vikings came out victorious.
Adding to the concept of keeping the point totals low, the two losses the Vikings have suffered this season have both been at the hands of NFC North opponents with the Packers holding the Vikings to 16 points and the Bears holding them to six.
The Lions won’t want to get in a shootout with the Vikings, just ask the Eagles how that goes. So, expect the Lions to try to establish an early lead — which they have done with regularity this season — and then try to slow the game down.
Obviously, if given the opportunity to score more than 17 points the Lions should take it, but the overall concept of slowing the game down and limiting possessions still applies.