1. Third down looked Golden … for Vikings
Sunday’s 24-9 win over the Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium came after five days of Vikings coach Mike Zimmer fretting about how Detroit would alter its third-down packages after trading away Golden Tate, its leading receiver and top third-down threat. The Lions entered the game with a 42.4 percent success rate on third downs. The Vikings came in with the top-ranked third-down defense (25.6). Breathe easy, Mike. The Lions were held to 27 percent (four of 15), although they did complete all three fourth-down tries. Matthew Stafford completed five of nine third-down passes, converting just three times. He also took four of his 10 sacks on third down. Asked about Tate’s absence, Stafford said, “I need to play better and find the players who are open, and go from there.”
2. The Lions are who we thought they were
One of last week’s story lines was rookie running back Kerryon Johnson and how the Lions had improved a running game that ranked last in yards per game and per carry last year. “We knew to beat this team today we had to stop the run,” nose tackle Linval Joseph said. Mission accomplished. The Lions ran the ball 24 times, but came away with only 66 yards and a 2.8 average. They were averaging 109.7 and 4.7 on the season. “Just everybody doing their job; everybody be in their gap,” Joseph said. “Everybody have a responsibility. If we do that, we’ll make negative plays. And we did.” Detroit had nine runs of 1 or no yards. They opened the second half with two consecutive runs that gained only 6 yards and led to a deflating three-and-out while trailing by 11.
3. Good clock management
It wasn’t perfect, but the Vikings did manage the clock well enough in the final 39 seconds of the first half to move 31 yards in five plays for a 39-yard field goal and a two-score lead at 17-6. It all started with punt returner Marcus Sherels, who broke loose for a season-high 24-yard return during a down season that’s been riddled by injuries. Starting at the Vikings 48, Kirk Cousins hit Laquon Treadwell for 22 yards, while Dalvin Cook got the ball into the red zone with a 5-yard run. Zimmer used his three timeouts with no confusion. And the Lions helped by committing two defensive penalties, giving the Vikings first downs at the Detroit 25 and 15. Cousins was sacked, but the Vikings’ third timeout and the field goal by Dan Bailey salvaged a decent ending to the first half.
4. Hey, Seattle! The old guy can still play
The Vikings were more than willing to re-sign Tom Johnson when Seattle released him one game into the season. In his 141st NFL game, the 34-year-old tackle posted a career-high 2½ sacks. He also played a screen perfectly for a 6-yard loss. He shared a key red-zone sack with Sheldon Richardson, but the sack that shows this guy’s true overachiever’s grit came on the third play of the second half. On third-and-4, T.J. Lang cut Johnson to the ground. “But there’s always a chance when the quarterback is holding that ball,” said Johnson. He got to his feet and sacked Stafford. “We anticipated … having a big pressure game,” Johnson said. “With these other dogs around, you better scrap to get anything you can. If not, somebody else is going to scoop it up [the sack].”
5. Miscommunication issues to work out
There wasn’t much to complain about defensively. Not with 10 sacks and the Lions averaging less than 3 yards per rush. But one negative play stood out early on because it cited the miscommunication the Vikings have been having at the nickel slot position and nearby defenders. On third-and-8 from the Vikings 39, Stafford connected easily with Marvin Jones for 18 yards. It was Detroit’s longest gain of the game and set up a field goal. On the play, slot corner Mackensie Alexander appeared to be playing zone, while outside corner Xavier Rhodes was in man coverage. When Alexander released Jones, no defender was there to pick him up. Obviously, the Vikings didn’t have many such issues Sunday. But this play is no doubt one Zimmer will want to correct.